Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Posts Tagged ‘Khe Sanh Veterans’

Documentary Film,Eulogies,Khe Sanh,Listening Posts,Marines,Other Musings,Veterans,Vietnam War

April 21, 2021

No Better Friend

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The phone jangled—1992 or 1993—and when I answered it, a voice out of my past said, “Is this Kenny Rodgers?”

I wondered who it was and then kind of remembered and then he said, “You may not remember me but…”

It all hit, the way he liked to stand, cocky, even though he was just a kid.

He told me about a reunion in Washington, DC, for survivors of Khe Sanh, and that he wanted me to come, and he told me about who he’d contacted, who he’d met up with. I think he’d made it his duty to find all the men who’d served in Third Squad, Second Platoon, Bravo Company, 1/26 during the siege of Khe Sanh.

If he hadn’t called me, our lives—Betty and mine—might have been very different. But we went to the reunion and for 28 years, Michael E. O’Hara has been a big part of my life—our lives.

We were lucky in that.

Michael E. O’Hara at Khe Sanh

He was in our film, BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR, and his powerful, emotional words were, and still are, a testament to the long-lasting effects of combat and to the reverence he, and most of us who served at Khe Sanh, felt for our comrades.

Michael passed on last week after a battle with cancer.

I feel his absence already, a voice over my shoulder encouraging, scolding, scoffing, laughing at me. I find myself thinking, “Okay, O’Hara, what do you think about…,” and then I realize we won’t share any of those moments again. Only in my imagination.

We didn’t always see eye-to-eye. We argued more than we should have, but none of that matters now. And never really did.

An image comes to mind when I think about him. Maybe the first time I really recognized him as one of our Bravo Company Marines. I’d been on R & R in Bangkok, and right after I came back, we moved out of the lines at the combat base and up to 881-S. It was October of 1967.

We had gotten a lot of new guys in the squad while I’d been on R & R. Including him.

We humped it from the base up to the hill. I see Michael now, in my mind’s eye, on that trek. His clean helmet cover, his clean jungle boots, his clean jungle dungarees, his sleeves rolled up, a pack of Marlboros stored in the rolled left sleeve, his young biceps bulging, his M16 held in his right hand, butt against the right thigh, the business end into the sky. He was easy like that, and confident.

For three months we were in the same fire team. Long, wet patrols, humping up and down, once into Laos when we weren’t supposed to be there. Ambushes off the south end of 881-S. Soggy, miserable listening posts. Leaking hooches, everything wet: your socks, your boots, your mummy bag. Leeches, leeches, leeches.

We charged up hills into the enemy’s trench more than once, and we watched men die, watched them get maimed. We carried the dead and wounded off the battlefield.

During the siege, we endured the fury and the fear and while there, O’Hara earned three Purple Hearts.

Michael was an outstanding Marine.

One night in March of 1968, the artillery battery that was right behind our lines in the Gray Sector suffered a direct hit on their ammo dump. All night, ordnance exploded. Some of the rounds threw out smaller bits of explosives that detonated here and there, until after sunup, like they were randomly intent on killing whoever chanced to wander along our trench.

I was on radio watch most of that night in the platoon command post. Off and on, through those dark and dangerous hours, Michael came down that trench line delivering messages to us in the command post.

He was like that. Undaunted. Carrying out orders in the face of extreme danger.

Michael E. O’Hara.

My definition of a hero is someone who does what needs to be done against long odds, even though fear gets on his back like a big cat. Even though he or she doesn’t want to do it.

That was Michael E. O’Hara.

There’s a saying about Marines: No better friend, no worse enemy.

If you crossed Michael, he might chase you down and tackle you in the middle of the street and straighten you out. No worse enemy.

Years later, when the men he served with needed help or when their families needed help, he was there. He’d fund your dreams, he’d bury you. He’d show up to speak your name and remember you.

That, too, was Michael.

No better friend.

We will miss him. I will miss him. Man, will I.

Semper Fidelis, Michael E. O’Hara.

Eulogies,Khe Sanh,Marines,Veterans,Vietnam War

March 25, 2020

Requiem

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Steve Wiese was an American Hero. I think he would dispute that statement and would have said something like, “The real heroes are the dead, the ones who didn’t come home.”

But he was a hero.

Unlike so many of us who fought with Bravo Company, 1/26 at Khe Sanh, who did 12-month-and-twenty-day tours, Steve extended his time in country and served 18 Months. He joined up with his Bravo Marines when 1/26 was headquartered at Hill 55 southwest of Danang, and could have rotated home in late autumn of 1967, but chose to come back from his leave just in time to endure the Siege of Khe Sanh.

Marines of Bravo Company, 1/26, in Vietnam. Steve Wiese is the third man on the left in the front row. Photo courtesy of Steve Wiese.

In many regards, I think, he was the Marine’s Marine, a leader and a warrior who loved his Bravo Company mates.

A lot of Khe Sanh vets knew Steve better than I did, but what we shared was special: intense and intimate in the ways combat veterans share. We’d been to war and we’d made it home and after decades of keeping our traps shut about our experiences, we opened up and told our stories, separately and together.

And boy, did Steve’s stories impact the message that, after thirty-plus years, went out to America and the world.

Steve Wiese at a reunion of the Khe Sanh Veterans. Photo courtesy of Ken Rodgers

The things Steve said in BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR illuminated the service of all Vietnam Veterans. He said it like it needed to be said, blunt and bold and no-holds-barred. He bared his soul and revealed his vulnerabilities while edifying the men with whom he served.

There were a lot of tragedies in Steve’s life. In Vietnam, with Bravo, he was involved in every battle or firefight of any consequence that happened during his tour.

While I managed to not be in a number of the fights that Steve was in, I lived through enough to get an inkling what it was like for him.

On June 7, 1967, in what has lately been termed by historians to be the last clash in the Hill Fights segment of the Battle of Khe Sanh, Bravo went on a two-platoon patrol off the north end of Hill 881-S. Back then, we patrolled in soft covers and no flak jackets, and we generally ran patrols on the same routes every few days.

Photo of Steve Wiese, second from left along with, on the left, Marcia Franklin of Idaho Public Television’s Dialogue, Betty Rodgers, second from the right, and Ken Rodgers. Photo courtesy of Idaho Public Television.

So, when the NVA ambushed Bravo out there that day, the casualties were devastating. I wasn’t out there. Our squad stayed on the lines but I heard it and I saw it, and how it felt to me then, sticks with me now: emptiness, like some part of me hightailed it and can’t come back. So with that in mind I can only imagine how those men who fought that day—like Steve Wiese—felt.

He gained some notoriety that day when, upon coming in the gate after the patrol returned to the combat base, he barked at a colonel, maybe, or a lieutenant colonel, or a major who tried to soothe the returning warriors with platitiudes. (A load of officers came up on the hill at the end of that fight.)

After returning to his squad area, he expected to be standing tall in front of The Man because of what he said, but instead he was approached by a general, whose name I don’t think he ever enlightened me with, who told Steve to not pay attention to anything that officer had said.

On July 21, 1967, First Platoon of Bravo went out on a patrol on Route 9, east of Khe Sanh, which was ambushed. Steve was out there that day, too, and men with whom he served and bonded, died.

And then there was the Siege and all that came with it.

Including the Ghost Patrol. Steve was a squad leader on that debacle and even though he survived, a lot of the men in his squad didn’t. He carried a ton of grief and guilt over that. His narrative about how he managed to escape and evade the NVA to return to the base is one hell of a story.

Steve Wiese during his interview for BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

And then there was the savage Payback Patrol where he was a squad leader in First Platoon and again, lost a lot of good Marines.

After he came home, he put up with all the guff and lack of respect that came with being a Vietnam Vet, and he suffered tragedies that would break folks with less steel in their spine.

He loved his Marines and he cherished and honored them whether dead or alive.

IF you were one of his Marine Brothers, he supported you. He showed up when the manure hit the fan.

One of the strongest moments in BRAVO! Is when Steve says this, “I’ve had people say, ‘Well, that was 30, 40 years ago. Why don’t you get over it?’ You know, I wish I could. I wish I could get over it. But on the other hand, it’s like I don’t ever want to forget these guys. I don’t want to forget what I’ve seen, what I was witness to. And I don’t want to forget them and their memories.” And he never did.

Steve wouldn’t have called himself a hero, but I will.

***

Documentary Film,Film Screenings,Khe Sanh,Marines,Veterans,Vietnam War

April 8, 2019

News From La Grande, Oregon

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Ten days ago, we were privileged to show BRAVO! in La Grande, Oregon, to an enthusiastic crowd of 150 folks in a jam-packed auditorium at Eastern Oregon University. The event was scheduled as a way to do something special for local Vietnam veterans on March 29 which is National Vietnam War Veterans Day.

Photo of the cake at the La Grande Screening. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers

La Grande is located near the home of BRAVO! Marine Ron Rees, whose story is one of the rock ribs of the film. Picturesque snow-capped ranges of mountains surround the valley where La Grande sits near the Grande Ronde River. The valley sported a spring green that shone in the daylight, no matter what time of day. After a long, wet, cold winter it was a pleasure to feel the force of the new season.

The evening began with a chance to feast and visit with Ron and his family, his friends, and numerous local veterans and other folks interested in the film, including Master of Ceremonies Brian Westfield and local Congressman Greg Walden.

After the screening, the audience engaged in a lively panel discussion with Vietnam veterans Ron Rees, Dennis Ross, George Knight and Ken Rodgers about war, veterans and the military.

BRAVO! Marine Ron Rees with his daughters. Photo courtesy of Kim Mead.

Ron made a special request to honor the men who have passed away since the making of BRAVO!. We remembered Marines Ken Pipes, Daniel Horton, Mike McCauley, and Lloyd Scudder, and cinematographer Mark Spear.

Betty and I felt honored to show our film to such a receptive group and to spend time visiting with friends, old and new.

These screening events are the direct result of a group of citizens working together, and this occasion was no exception. Hosting an Oregon premiere of BRAVO! was a dream come true for us, and we thank Ron and his wife Tami Murphy for putting the event together in concert with this impressive list of local sponsors: American Legion Post 43, Auxiliary Post 43, Legacy Ford, Copies Plus, Starbucks (Island City), Safeway, Hines Meat Co., Mission 22, The Landing Hotel, Side A Brewing, Fitzgerald Flowers, Dominos Pizza, and other individuals.

***

BRAVO! is now available in digital form on Amazon Prime.

This link will take you directly to BRAVO!’s Amazon Prime site where you can take a look at the options for streaming: In the US you can stream at https://amzn.to/2Hzf6In.

In the United Kingdom, you can stream at https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07BZKJXBM.

***

If you or your organization would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town, please contact us immediately.

***

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject?ref=hl.

Documentary Film,Eulogies,Khe Sanh,Marines,Veterans,Vietnam War

September 5, 2018

I’d Rather Take a Beating

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When my father died, one of his friends stood outside the chapel before the funeral service and told me, “I’d rather take a beating than go in there.”

I’ve often thought about that moment and I’ve even used the phrase from time to time, but I particularly felt that emotion twelve days ago as we laid Bravo Company, 1/26’s Skipper, Ken Pipes, in the ground at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego.

Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery. Photo courtesy of Ken Rodgers

The Skipper passed on in April, and in May there was a memorial service for him, but it didn’t seem like matters would be settled for family, friends and his Marines until he was finally interred in the place he wished to be laid to rest.

Getting the Skipper buried there turned out to be a four-month chore for his family and friends, and took the efforts of General Neller, the Commandant of the Marines Corps, General Dunford, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Secretary of Defense, General James “Mad Dog” Mattis, to override the bureaucratic layers that seemingly obstructed the Skipper’s last wishes at every turn. And it took a friend of BRAVO! Marines and the Skipper, Mr. PJ Staab, to help the family negotiate the heartburn of getting the appropriate location within the cemetery so that the Skipper’s wife, Sharon, could be buried next to him when her time arrives.

Left to right, Sharon, Conner, Sandra and Tim Pipes. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

The graveside service for the Skipper itself was well done and the folks who showed up, including a number of Skipper Pipes’ family, friends, former Sheriff’s Department pals, military contacts, Marines and Corpsmen, witnessed a fine ceremony conducted by the family pastor and the United States Marine Corps, lead by Brigadier General Ryan Heritage, commanding general at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego. General Heritage presented the ceremonial flag to Mrs. Pipes.

There was a rifle salute, a rendition of taps and a placing of mementos in and around Skippers burial urn, made by his son Tim.

The weather that day began with a light cloud cover but by the time we arrived at the service, it had turned sunny with a slight breeze from the Pacific Ocean to our west.

I served with Lt Colonel Pipes fifty years ago and for a long time I didn’t think of him often unless a flash of unpleasant combat memory invaded my thoughts. Even after our reintroduction in 1993, he wasn’t yet a big part of my life. But after making BRAVO!, that all changed and we became pretty close and talked often about . . . well, a lot of things.

The Skipper’s Urn. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

Betty and I went to visit Sharon and the Skipper a number of times at his home in Fallbrook, usually associated with some event related to the film. He and I would sit out on his back patio and drink coffee, and invariably our talk would turn to the events of early 1968 at Khe Sanh.

We’d recall people and actions, death and horror, and quite often our palaver would veer into the realm of the intellectual. Discussions on the nature of war and combat and the behavior of individuals in the stressed world of a full-blown siege.

Earlier I mentioned my father, and it is interesting to me as I write this blog that he and I never had the kind of discussions about war and men that the Skipper and I had. Father and I didn’t discuss those sort of things because he had no combat experience even though he was an Army top sergeant in World War II, serving in India.

The Smith Brothers, Lt Colonel John and Lt Colonel Michael, add insignias to the Skipper’s urn. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

But the Skipper and I, yeah, we could talk about those things and reminisce and rue the deaths of all those fine men with whom we served.

And in some ways, since my father has been dead for almost thirty years, Lt Colonel Pipes became a kind of father figure to me. Someone who understood what I had become post-combat. Someone who’d felt the rage, the fear, the grinding memories that refuse to relent their hold on how a survivor of long-term combat sees the world he or she lives in.

We would sit and remember the men associated with the names of the dead and the living and our reactions—or mine did, at least—welled up from the soles of my feet, roared up through my legs into my innards and often made themselves manifest by the tears that eked out of my eyes, forcing me to look away and fight to get control of my emotions.

He was brutally honest with me about how he felt about the Siege and the men with whom he served. Sometimes the discussion turned loud and raucous as we recalled one of our comrades who acted out as big as all the hills around Khe Sanh. We talked quietly, we argued, and then agreed, then argued again, then hugged. What we knew, down in the bottom of our guts, no one else knew unless they had undergone the terrible initiation into the club of those who have faced the awful fangs of combat. And we tried to articulate that. He liked to call it, “riding the elephant and looking the tiger in the eye.”

He could rocket from laughter to rage to laughter. He pondered man’s inhumanity to man. He kept close watch for those who would harm his loved ones. Not unlike me.

Ken Pipes understood things about me that my real father never understood, and because the Skipper is now gone, there will be a big void in my life and I’d rather take a beating than think about that.

To know him was a privilege, a gift.

***

BRAVO! is now available in digital form on Amazon Prime.

This link will take you directly to BRAVO!’s Amazon Prime site where you can take a look at the options for streaming: In the US you can stream at https://amzn.to/2Hzf6In.

In the United Kingdom, you can stream at https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07BZKJXBM.

***

If you or your organization would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town, please contact us immediately.

***

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. Please consider gifting copies to a veteran, a teacher, a history buff, a library, a friend or family member. For more information, go to https://bravotheproject.com/store/.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject?ref=hl.

Documentary Film,Eulogies,Khe Sanh,Marines,Veterans,Vietnam War

April 30, 2018

Requiem for the Skipper

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On Thursday, April 26, 2018, the men of BRAVO! lost their Skipper, Lt. Colonel Kenneth Pipes, USMC Retired.

I had talked to him the day before. We laughed, reminisced, talked about other vets, the kind of conversations we always had.

He didn’t say to me that he thought the end was near, nor did he complain about the many ailments that tormented him. He was stout and incisive and funny.

Kenneth Pipes

If I wasn’t so slow-witted I might have picked up some hints that he sent me, but I didn’t get them right away. They eased their way back into my recall as I sat there the rest of the day and on into Thursday. Our last conversation was a moment where the ties that bound us became much more apparent than I’d ever noticed. How deep and wide and long and thick the bonds were.

As I sat there thinking of him and how intimate our conversation had been, how what we said to each other bore into the inner shields I have managed to keep in tact for over fifty years; it sunk in that he was telling me that he was moving on.

And just as I finally got it, we got news that he had passed on and the rest of us who are left behind to grieve his leaving won’t have that rock-steady, low key, humorous leadership and advice that had become so much a part of our lives.

Ken Pipes at Khe Sanh.

The Skipper was a career Marine. As the saying goes, “A Marine’s Marine,” but he was also a fiercely loyal, compassionate, intuitive man who could dig right into what might be bothering you and help you expose it to the light of reason.

He commanded a company of Marines throughout the Siege of Khe Sanh. Under his command the company gained fame—if somewhat belated—but the casualties that ensued in that horrible and ugly 77-day battle rode him. And the load was heavy.

Besides a career in the Corps, Skipper Pipes was a longtime volunteer with the San Diego Sheriff’s Department and retired recently at the rank of Captain. As a mark of his standing with the SDSO, there were only two volunteer captains—a sign of the Skipper’s abilities as a leader of women and men—when he retired.

Skipper Pipes at the 2010 Khe Sanh Veterans Reunion in San Antonio, Texas. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

In that final phone conversation between us, he spoke about his wife, Sharon and their family. He spoke about his fifty-plus years of marriage and how much Sharon meant to him and how she had helped him carry his burden. It was all there in that last conversation, his final goodbye.

I could write for pages and pages about my relationship with this man, but this is not the time for that. It’s the time for those of us who knew him and loved him to hole up and let the pain rack us until we can move on while never forgetting how fortunate we were to have known and served with Kenneth W. Pipes.

Semper Fi, Skipper.

Documentary Film,Film Screenings,Khe Sanh,Marines,Veterans,Vietnam War,Warhawk Air Museum

April 16, 2018

At the Warhawk Air Museum

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On April 7, 2018, BRAVO! was screened to an over-flow crowd at Nampa, Idaho’s Warhawk Air Museum. The day began with a bluster but turned off to be beautiful as people from all over Idaho’s Treasure Valley and beyond came out to see the film and participate in the panel discussion that followed.

Around five hundred folks showed up and were greeted by the friendly museum staff. A bonus to anyone who came to see the film was a chance to tour the Warhawk’s spacious environs and spend time learning about the warplanes on exhibit and the lives of warriors whose memorabilia has been shared with the museum.

Vietnam veterans visit with members of the Eagle chapter of the DAR. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

If you come to Idaho, this is one of the places you might want to visit. The bulk of the exhibits are intensely personal and speak to the visitors about the men and women who have put their lives on the line for something they believe in, their country.

Besides the exhibits, the Warhawk is instrumental in working with schools to ensure that the military history of America gets taught. They are also involved in Honor Flights for World War II vets to visit Washington DC. An additional asset they provide the community is interviewing veterans on video. The finished products are sent to the Library of Congress as well as the interviewees. The Warhawk schedules a wide variety of special events as well as a monthly Kilroy Coffee Klatch on the first Tuesday of every month where guest speakers present programs of interest. The Klatch is free to veterans.

At the screening, the Eagle, Idaho, chapter of the Daughters or the American Revolution provided snacks and water, and the Boise Police Department’s Honor Guard sang the National Anthem à capella.

Boise Police Department Honor Guard singing the National Anthem. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

As always, when large groups of people gather to view BRAVO!, the combined empathy in the facility was palpable. And the emotional power emanating from the crowd poured over into the discussion afterwards. On hand to talk about the Siege of Khe Sanh were BRAVO! Marine Ron Rees who came over with his family from the La Grande, Oregon area, Dennis Ross, also from eastern Oregon who flew B-52s over the battlefield of Khe Sanh, Dave Crosby, a flight engineer on C-130s that came in several times a day to keep us supplied with ammo, chow and mail, and Phil Nuchereno, who served with Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 26th Marines at Khe Sanh during the Siege. BRAVO! co-producer and co-director Ken Rodgers was also on the panel.

The audience heard some different points of view from what normally arises in these panel discussions following screenings of BRAVO!. Besides hearing about the men trapped in the combat base, we heard from men who flew bombing missions to beat back the NVA and men who made the dangerous journeys into the base to keep the warriors of Khe Sanh stocked with the necessities of surviving a siege and men who were outside the base, on the hills, running patrols to interdict NVA forces moving to overrun the base.

One of the surprises of the day happened right after the screening and before the panel discussion when we asked everyone who had been at Khe Sanh to come forward for a group photo. Five additional men who had served with the Army and the Marines came forward and we got to meet some new friends.

A big thanks to the Warhawk Air Museum’s John and Sue Paul, Colonel Pat Kilroy, Heather Mullins and the crew of efficient, personable volunteers who made this event one of the big milestones in BRAVO!’s history of film screenings. Thanks too, to veteran Frank Turner who came up with the original idea to screen the event to commemorate the Siege of Khe Sanh after fifty years.

Mike Shipman of Blue Planet Photography shot photos for the event. Mike has been a stout supporter of BRAVO! from the beginning. So here’s a shout out to Mike and you can find out more about his work here.

Some of the Khe Sanh veterans who attended the screening at the Warhawk Air Museum. Photo courtesy of Mike Shipman/Blue Planet Photography.

Thanks also to Barbara Grant and the caring members of the DAR for their unsung work providing repast to our audience.

We would also like to thank KTVB Channel 7 for enthusiastically getting the word out, and the Idaho Division of Veterans Services for helping sponsor the event.

Screenings like this are one way we keep the discussion rolling forward about what war and its aftermath is really like and as a way to recognize our military veterans.

Ooorah!

You can find out more about the Warhawk Air Museum and all they do for veterans and the community at large here.

***
NEWS!

BRAVO! is now available in digital form on Amazon Prime. Please check it out if you are interested, and please consider sharing this news with your friends and contacts whom you think might be interested in seeing the film. And please ask them to give us a review if they would. It will help get the film out to a broader audience.

This link will take you directly to BRAVO!’s Amazon Prime site where you can take a look at the options for streaming.

***

ON THE SCREENING FRONT:

At 3:00 PM on May 27, 2018, BRAVO! will be screened in Paris, TN at the Krider Performing Arts Center. You can find out more about this event and the Krider Performance Art Center here.

***

If you or your organization would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town, please contact us immediately.

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. Please consider gifting copies to a veteran, a teacher, a history buff, a library, a friend or family member. For more information, go to https://bravotheproject.com/store/.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject?ref=hl.

Documentary Film,Guest Blogs,Khe Sanh,Marines,Veterans,Vietnam War,War Poetry

April 6, 2018

Juxtaposition

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We have posted poems here friends as well Marines who fought at Khe Sanh and elsewhere during the Vietnam War, including poetry from friend and supporter Betty Plevney, Vietnam veteran and Marine Barry Hart and most recently Bravo Company’s Skipper, Ken Pipes. Poems are a good way to capture the imagery and action related to combat.

Recently I wrote a blog about the Payback Patrol of 3/30/1968. One of our friends, Susan Parker, who is an ardent supporter of BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR, read that blog and was moved to compose a poem.

Susan Parker. Photo courtesy of Susan Parker

She captured, in my opinion, both the agony of combat and the disconnect between the world at home and the world of war. Check it out!

Juxtaposition—March 30, 1968

By Susan Parker

Dressed in jungle green,
you ran through the hell fires of war,
blood trickling down your face,
the stench of phosphorus and death
pungent on the tropical air, dragging
dead and dying men through a muddy trench,
grenades and bombs exploding,
sounds of gunshot ringing in your ears.

Fearless in facing the enemy,
you were “cutting the mustard.”

Dressed in virginal white,
I strolled the length of a red-carpeted aisle,
sheer tulle veil covering cheeks ablush with excitement,
high-heeled satin pumps pinching manicured toes,
gardenias glistening with morning dew
softening the early spring air,
organ music of “Here Comes the Bride”
echoing through the church.

Ignorant of your courage and sacrifice,
I was cutting the wedding cake.

Writer and poet Susan Parker was born in a small town in Northern California but never enjoyed the cold, gray and damp weather. One who embraces change, she traveled south throughout the years finally moving to Tucson, Arizona where she found warmth and inspiration for her writing. Susan is the author of Angel on My Doorstep—An Ordinary Woman’s Journey with Those from the Other Side, an autobiography of her lifelong paranormal adventures, with emphasis on those that took place before, during and after her husband’s passing. She has also published a book of poetry, Lady by the Bay, and recorded a CD, She Rode a Wild Horse, which includes her original Western poetry along with poems written by others.

Susan Parker on the left with Vietnam veteran Eric Hollenbeck of Blue Ox Millworks, Eureka, California. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers

About her inspiration for her latest poem, “Juxtaposition—March 30, 1968,” Susan says that during one of her conversations with Ken several years ago he mentioned the importance of the date to him. Susan realized that this was the same date that she married her first husband, and how different their lives were on that day. With a twinge of guilt, she thought to herself, Ken lived in a nightmare world while I lived in a fairy tale world, oblivious to the horrors of war.

Reading Ken’s blog post this March 30th, she was moved to tears. Her muse shook her by the shoulders and shouted, “You have to write this, this juxtaposition of your lives on that day!”

And so she did.

***

On the screening front: On April 7, at 1:00 PM Bravo will be screened at the Warhawk Air Museum in Nampa, Idaho. following the screening, there will be a panel of Khe Sanh survivors who will talk about the experience. You can find out more about the event and the Warhawk Air Museum here.

At 3:00 PM on May 27, 2018, BRAVO! will be screened in Paris, TN at the Krider Performing Arts Center. You can find out more about this event and the Krider Performance Art Center here.

***

If you or your organization would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town, please contact us immediately.

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. Please consider gifting copies to a veteran, a teacher, a history buff, a library, a friend or family member. For more information, go to https://bravotheproject.com/store/.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject?ref=hl.

Documentary Film,Khe Sanh,Marines,Veterans,Vietnam War

April 4, 2018

Out of This Place

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50 Years Gone—April 4, 1968

Early that morning, I got the word to go home. Staff Sergeant A stomped down the trench and told me as I sat with Marines of 3rd Squad sharing C-ration coffee and unfiltered Camels and palavering about women and GTOs.

He’d told me twice before that I was going home: once, the day after the Payback Patrol, and then two days later, only to find out he was joking, as he liked to call it. When he said that, “I’m just joking,” he laughed and leaned over and slapped his quadriceps.

I didn’t think it was funny. And on this particular morning, as I looked at him like he was full of crap, he glared at me like all staff non-commissioned officers in the Marine Corps were wont to do. I still didn’t believe him, and I sat there looking into his eyes and I’m sure my feelings swarmed across my face.

Photo of Dong Ha, 1968. Reminiscent of the transient barracks where the blogger spent the night of 4-4-68. Photo from Pinterest.

He said, “Get up and go home, Rodgers. That’s an order.” And he clomped off.

I followed him down to the platoon command post and stuck my head in and Lieutenant D said, “Good luck, Rodgers, you’ve been a pretty good Marine. Occasionally damned good. Sometimes not so good. Gather your gear and get down to the company CP and report to Captain Pipes.” He got off his cot and stuck out his hand. His big mitt enveloped mine as we shook.

I divvied up my M-16 magazines and poncho liners and other gear among any of the men who needed them and figured I’d fight it out later with the supply personnel when I showed up short of gear in Phu Bai.

I walked up and down the trench slapping hands and jive-assing with everybody in 2nd Platoon that I knew, and then marched for the company CP. When I stuck my face into the bunker men crammed the innards: radio operators, the company gunny, the executive officer and Captain Pipes who sat against the sandbagged walls with his arm in a sling and other parts of his head and torso bandaged due to the wounds he received on the Payback Patrol.

The executive officer told me I was a day early, and that I should go back to 2nd Platoon. Captain Pipes asked me what platoon I was in, and when I told him I was in 2nd Platoon and was the platoon sergeant’s radio operator, he asked me if I’d been out there on Payback (we didn’t call it that, then, we called it March 30th). I nodded and he smiled. In an earlier blog where I wrote about Christmas Eve, I said that when Captain Pipes smiled at me back then, it was the only time a Marine Corps captain had ever smiled at me. But it wasn’t because he smiled as I stood there at that moment. And he said, “Let him go.”

The executive officer sent me down to Battalion where I explained my situation to a bunch of corporals who sent me to see sergeants who referred me to staff NCOs who sent me on to see a major who sat alone in a big room in a deep bunker. This is one of the damndest memories I have of this experience. When he asked me if I’d been on the Payback Patrol and I said, “Yes, Sir,” he took my orders and signed them and then he stood, snapped to attention and saluted me. For a moment I felt flummoxed, and then I saluted him back. Then he shook my hand. That was pretty amazing, a major saluting me in reverse order of how it should be.

I headed for the LZ where the helicopters came in to deliver men and gear and pick up men and body bags filled with people killed in action.

On the way down there, I stopped and looked off to the southwest to Hill 471 which was under assault from elements of the Walking Dead, 1st Battalion, 9th Marines. As I watched the tiny figures head up that hill, I thought about hand-to-hand combat, bombs and incoming, dead people. And then I went on down to the LZ where I sat for hours as chopper after chopper came in. When I tried to get on each one, the crew chief would shake his head or yell, “That’s a negative, Marine.”

Sometime during my wait, another Marine showed up who’d been through training with me back in The World. He was also going home. He was a lance corporal whose last name was R. He looked battered, skinny, his face gaunt after seventy-some-odd-days of incoming and pitched battles. He needed a new set of dungarees.

We chatted, but not much, mostly just sat there as I pondered all I’d seen. The horrors and the blood and the flesh separated from the tendons and bones of men I’d come to revere. Every time a loud noise sounded, R would flinch and so would I, and I wondered if I looked as bad as he did, and then I understood that I did.

A pile of filled body bags were stacked against a sandbagged revetment. I kept looking at them and wondering if I knew any of the intelligences that had once inhabited the remains.

Blogger Ken Rodgers at Khe Sanh, 1968. Photo courtesy of Michael E O’Hara.

Late in the day, a CH-46 came in and R and I got on along with those body bags. On the flight to Dong Ha, even though I was ordered to do so, I refused to sit down in case we took anti-aircraft fire through the bottom of the bird. I wanted to make the smallest target possible.

At Dong Ha I checked into the transient barracks and spent over an hour in the hot shower trying to get the red mud of Khe Sanh out of the pores of my skin, as if cleansing myself of the dirt of that place would purge me of all that I had seen.

Later, after chow—real chow, hot chow—I stood outside the mess tent with a group of Marines, one of whom I’d known well in boot camp and ITR. For several hours I listened to men talk about Tet and Hue and Con Thien, including that Marine. I could tell by the way he kept staring at me that he wanted to hear my tale. But I didn’t say anything about anything.

No words could dig their way from my thoughts to my mouth.

***

On the screening front: On April 7, at 1:00 PM Bravo will be screened at the Warhawk Air Museum in Nampa, Idaho. following the screening, there will be a panel of Khe Sanh survivors who will talk about the experience. You can find out more about the event and the Warhawk Air Museum here.

At 3:00 PM on May 27, 2018, BRAVO! will be screened in Paris, TN at the Krider Performing Arts Center. You can find out more about this event and the Krider Performance Art Center here.

***

If you or your organization would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town, please contact us immediately.

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. Please consider gifting copies to a veteran, a teacher, a history buff, a library, a friend or family member. For more information, go to https://bravotheproject.com/store/.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject?ref=hl.

Documentary Film,Khe Sanh,Marines,Veterans,Vietnam War

January 29, 2018

January 29–50 Years Gone

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Fifty Years Ago—29 January 1968

Right before the siege began, a bunch of new Marines arrived to beef up Bravo Company to nearly its full complement of warriors. One of those Marines was a staff sergeant whose real name I never knew. Upon his arrival, he spent a large portion of his supervisory time hard-assing all of us who had been with the company a while.

What rankled a lot was the fact that most of his Marine Corps service was as a reservist, so when he came down the trench line kvetching at us for not filling sandbags fast enough or for too much jiving around, we waited until he moved on before muttering about “Mr. Macho Gung-ho Green Machine Maggot,” or badmouthing him for being a “weekend warrior.”

The man talked trash and bragged that he could kick our asses and do serious damage to the NVA, too.

But it wasn’t long after January 21, eight days or so, when one of my buddies, Corporal A, came marching down the trench with news of Mr. Macho Gung-ho Green Machine Maggot. Corporal A had arrived at Bravo Company three or four days before me and we’d palled around some even though he was in Weapons Platoon (his killing specialty was rockets).

A stark image of the damage war can do. Photo courtesy of Mac McNeely.

Corporal A was a pretty quiet guy who wasn’t given to overemphasis, so it was a great surprise when he came dancing down the line, a big smile on his face.

He yelled at me, “Rodgers, he’s gone.”

“Who’s gone?”

“Staff Sergeant Macho Gung-ho.”

I said, “Already? Did he get hit?”

“Naw, man, he lost it.”

“Lost it?” Right then I felt a little surge rocket up through my legs.

“Yeah. He went total dinky-dow.”

Right then, a notion leapt into my mind that here we were, the men of Bravo, privates and privates first class, lance corporals and corporals—what we often called the “Snuffy Smiths” of the Corps—and none of us had gone total dinky-dow. (Dinky-dow is the American bastardization of the Vietnamese dien cai dao which roughly translates as “crazy.”)

In my mind, I could see Staff Sergeant Macho Gung-ho Green Machine, his face the color of blood as he hard-assed us for some stupid stateside Jarhead idea that he thought accounted for something in the trenches, and how we’d bitten our bottom lips so as not to tell him exactly what we thought.

I mused out loud, “Dinky-dow, hunh?”

Corporal A surprised me when he jumped up and down and yelled, “Hell, yeah, just like this,” before dropping down on his hands and knees, digging in the bottom of the trench like a dog attacking a gopher hole, then howling and barking like said canine.

“Aw, hell, I don’t believe that,” I scoffed.

He jumped up and said, “No, Rodgers, I saw it, after that last little barrage of 122-millimeter rockets came in and hit behind the open space up by 2nd Platoon’s command post. He was ordering me and the rest of my rocket team to make sure our gear was squared away when those rounds came in and scared the hell out of all of us. Then he started running back and forth in the trench with a face that looked like it had been stretched in seven different directions. Then he dropped down and started digging like a dog and barking.”

At the time, I didn’t feel sorry for Staff Sergeant Macho Gung-ho Green Machine. I felt . . . I felt vindicated, proud. I might have stuck my chest out. We didn’t like that Marine and he hadn’t been too smart about how he treated all us old salts, so his breakdown made me proud. I think it made Corporal A and the men in my fireteam and any other “Snuffy” who had experienced the distinct displeasure of one of his butt-chewings proud. We held up. We could stand up to the fury. We were the real Mr. Macho Gung-ho Marines.

I don’t know what happened to Staff Sergeant Gung-ho Green Machine, but I do know I never saw him again.

Of course, later, as the Siege drug on, I had my moments where I came close to losing it, although I never lost it as bad as that staff sergeant.

That Marine didn’t last long before the mental aspects of incoming got to him. Over the succeeding years, many of the rest of us ended up exhibiting our own symptoms of what has been called over the decades, “Soldier’s Heart, Shell Shock, Battle Fatigue and PTSD” as the effects of warfare picked and whittled at our attempts to be the young men we had been before it all began.

Blogger Ken Rodgers at Khe Sanh, 1968. Photo courtesy of Michael E O’Hara.

At Khe Sanh We were macho and we were tough. Emotionally fragile yet for the most part also supple, we survived the direct onslaught of mental effects that combat bestows upon those who survive. Yet the siege made us brittle, too, and deep down some of us shattered, went “Dinky-dow” on some level. Some of us sooner than later. And like Staff Sergeant Macho Gung-ho, some not just on the inside where most of us stuff our feelings about the war, but on the outside: prison, jail, alcoholism, suicide, insanity.

One of the things I pride myself most on in surviving the Siege of Khe Sanh is how I, for the most part, held myself together in the face of maiming, death and the constant pressure of fear. But as I said, I had my moments of being “dinky dow,” too, and sometimes (for decades) I wondered if the Siege of Khe Sanh would ever let me be.

Now, fifty years later, I don’t feel compelled to judge the staff sergeant so severely. War and fear take a heavy toll on all of us, leaders and “Snuffies” alike.

***

If you or your organization would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town, please contact us immediately.

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. Please consider gifting copies to a veteran, a teacher, a history buff, a library, a friend or family member. For more information, go to https://bravotheproject.com/store/.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject?ref=hl.

Documentary Film,Khe Sanh,Marines,Veterans,Vietnam War

January 21, 2018

Fifty Years Ago Today–The Big Shebang

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Fifty Years Ago Today—January 21, 1968

I jerked awake as one of the Marines in my fire team yanked at my leg and screamed, “Incoming.”

Explosions roared and the earth shook. Dust filled the air along with the scent of fright.

Outside in the black of early morning, Marines screamed, rockets and artillery rounds boomed, our ammo dump went up like ten thousand 4th of Julys.

Men sprinted hear and there.

Khe Sanh Combat Base

My head spun and a notion of what waited out in the dark infected my mind. Along with a lot of other Marines, I fell down in the bottom of the trench and buried my face in the mud.

Something hit my back and burned through my flak jacket. I yelled, “I’m hit, I’m hit.”

The Marine whose skull I split open the day before crawled over and began to laugh.
I thought, “He’s getting even.”

His hand swept across my back as he leaned next to my right ear and whispered, “Clods, Rodgers. Just clods.”

The CS gas that was stored in the exploding ammo dump began sneaking down the trench lines.

I found my gas mask, pulled it over my head and face, and crawled inside the nearest machine gun bunker. The gunner knelt behind his M-60 as we stared out at the edge of our lines. We all knew what would come, an assault led by sappers breaching our concertina wire and then hard core warriors of the NVA following through the holes blasted in our perimeter.

Everyone looked like weird beetles. It was the gas masks.

The platoon right guide sat against the north wall. A nasty gash on his right shin dripped blood. A corpsman came and patched him up after telling him, “Aw, hell, it’s nothing. You’ll get a Purple Heart.”

I don’t know how long we waited for the attack to come. But as the light of day glowed, it seemed we weren’t to be overrun.

Outside, the ammo dump continued to cook off like the worst artillery attack in the world.

Sometime later, a runner came down from the platoon command post and told me the lieutenant wanted to see me. I followed the messenger out the bunker’s back hatch and down the trench.

The lieutenant told me that the unit to our left could not be contacted and he wanted me to go down and see if I could assay the situation.

I didn’t want to go down that trench to see what was happening, but I did. I passed the men of 1st and 2nd squads then came to a bend in the trench, closer to the ammo dump, which by that time had calmed down.

I wondered if there were NVA soldiers around that crook in the trench and that’s why no one could contact the Marines who manned that area.

Debris at Khe Sanh. Photo Courtesy of David Douglas Duncan.

I crept, my M-16 ready if I needed it.

A Marine lay in the trench. He looked like he was dead. All around him spent ordnance that had come from the ammo dump littered the red mud.

I duck-walked up and leaned close. His eyes opened and he blinked. I knew this man. We had arrived at Bravo Company about the same time. I don’t remember his name.

He had a jagged hole ripped in his right trouser leg and the flesh looked like raw hamburger.

He said, “One of those 155 rounds in the dump went up and came down on my leg.” He laughed.

I said, “Need some morphine?”

He shook his head, “I’ve had plenty.”

Ken Rodger at Khe Sanh. Photo courtesy of the late Dan Horton.

The next Marine I found had been hit between the legs by Willie Peter (white phosphorus). I don’t remember the conversation between us but remember wondering if he’d lose his family jewels.

On down the trench, I found men in similar situations—wounded. And if not wounded, in a state of shock that reminded me of stories from World War I.

But they weren’t wiped out.

I reported back to the lieutenant and then marched back to my bunker.

It was day one.

***

If you or your organization would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town, please contact us immediately.

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. Please consider gifting copies to a veteran, a teacher, a history buff, a library, a friend or family member. For more information, go to https://bravotheproject.com/store/.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject?ref=hl.