Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Posts Tagged ‘Khe Sanh Veterans’

Documentary Film,Guest Blogs,Khe Sanh,Khe Sanh Veteran's Reunion,Marines,Other Musings,Veterans,Vietnam War

February 6, 2017

…A War That Forever Changed Them

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Five years ago, in February 2012, BRAVO!’s principal videographer, Mark Spear, wrote the following guest blog about his experiences interviewing ten of the men in the film.

Mark passed away on March 22, 2014 at the age of forty-five. I remember Betty and I were sitting in a café having breakfast with BRAVO! Skipper Ken Pipes and his wife Sharon. When my cell phone rang—I don’t know why I answered it. I normally don’t answer the phone when the calls are from numbers I don’t recognize—and his step-dad, Dan Votroubek, gave me the devastating news.

It was like we’d lost a member of our family and in untold ways Mark had become a member of the BRAVO! tribe. Mark left a son to follow in his steps.

Mark was an artistic and sensitive man. I think you will see this as you read this blog which he wrote those five years back. Please join us in remembering him.

It’s been over a year now since I was given the task of filming interviews of some of the siege of Khe Sanh survivors at an annual reunion in San Antonio, Texas for a documentary titled Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor, Ken and Betty Rodgers’ first film. Ken, a Marine with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines (B 1/26) who was there for the siege, felt it was time to tell this story…so did Betty. I felt I was up for it and thankfully they trusted me. After all, I’ve been on some pretty important shoots through my career, some seemingly less important, but all I have tried to give my best work to.

Mark Spear at the Khe Sanh Veterans Reunion in San Antonio. Texas, 2010. © Betty Rodgers 2010

Mark Spear at the Khe Sanh Veterans Reunion in San Antonio. Texas, 2010.
© Betty Rodgers 2010

If you had met Ken on the street you would probably assume a first impression of an easy-going normal guy which he is, although he joked with me that he isn’t! I admittedly was very humbled by his experience and a bit intimidated by his intelligence. He is not the normal stereotyped Vietnam veteran…now. Ken’s poems and writing enlighten me as well as his ability to tell the story of the siege so matter of factly. Ken also acted like a bridge between me and his fellow Marines we were to interview, more so than I think he knew.

Betty and her knowledge of photography and art was a welcome relief to the pressure I put on myself. She did so much coordinating and calmly complimented me at every turn, giving me strength she did not know I thought I did not have. This made production so smooth and enjoyable.

I knew this was going to be big, the greatest challenge I had ever worked on. Deep down, I admit now, I was terrified! Ken and Betty, using their seed money and a small grant from the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation, were relying on ME to help give this story a face. Me!…me…(gulp).

Working on a war documentary was something I had dreamed of doing forever it seemed, and now it was really happening. I remember going home after I interviewed Ken and crying in sadness, fear, honor and respect…and for the gravity of the situation. It turns out this particular shoot was something I didn’t prepare for emotionally. I didn’t think I needed to. After all, the siege was history by the time I was born in 1968. I’ve seen plenty of war movies and documentaries, but this was different. Ken was there, and every time I talked with him my mind started to drift in thoughts of what it must have been like.

I kept my focus more on the lighting, sound, location, the way one might manipulate an interviewee to get the best “stuff.” The technical preparations paled in comparison to hearing these men, these Marines of Bravo Company, now in their 60’s and 70’s, tell a story about how they survived, as very young men, a war that forever changed them.

I remember sitting behind the camera listening to every one of their words, fighting off the tears my imagination was creating from the pictures they painted. Think of these men as 15 different camera angles on a shoot, all different perspectives and styles. Here are these hardened veterans remembering, reliving, telling their recollection of the Ghost Patrol and Payback, stifling their tears, choking up, needing to take a break from being in that place again.

I realized it was almost therapy for these guys, some of whom had not spoken extensively about these events for 40 years…and now were laying what they could out there. I had to stay on task…not get too caught up in the story…don’t forget my job, I thought…don’t say anything stupid…don’t cry, don’t cry I told myself. I saved that for my first night in my San Antonio hotel room after we filmed the first round of interviews.

Mark Spear shooting an interview in San Antonio, 2010. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers

Mark Spear shooting an interview in San Antonio, 2010. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers

It’s as amazing to me now as it was when the stories and production all started unfolding. I look back at this experience as one I will never, ever forget. These Marines who welcomed me into a sacred reunion…their reunion…where I looked into their eyes and saw more than historic facts…I saw men who had the courage to not give up then…and to not give up now, and still fight this battle every day.

To the friends I made there, to the Marines of Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines (B 1/26), my hat is off to you. This is in the top 3 productions I have had the honor of being a part of in my career…funny thing is, I don’t know what numbers 2 or 3 are! Thank you.

If you are interested in reading the original blog, you can find it here.
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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,Other Musings,Veterans,Vietnam War

January 11, 2017

Why We Make Films

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It’s 2017 and as always my mind turns to thoughts of the coming months as well as the approach of the anniversary of the Siege of Khe Sanh.

What I am going to dwell on right now is the stories we tell through our films BRAVO! and I MARRIED THE WAR, which is now in production.

Recently I had a discussion with a retired Army veteran about what we are trying to do with these projects.

Initially, with the making of BRAVO! I think we saw the effort as storytelling in its simplest notion. We saw the film as a narrative about a small unit of Marines at the Siege of Khe Sanh which, having lived through it, I personally thought was an amazing tale of bravery, death and endurance.

I don’t know that I can speak for Betty here, but for me, in the beginning, it was just about getting the story told and I wasn’t thinking about what good the film might do in terms of secondary reasons.

Nevertheless, during the journey we have made with BRAVO! from 2009 to today, we have become keenly aware that there are other reasons to make and screen these films about war and its aftermath.

In 2013 Terry Hubert, who was a Marine who served in Vietnam and was instrumental in helping us screen BRAVO! in a variety of venues in the west, advised us that our duty as filmmakers—or our primary duty as filmmakers—is to educate.

I have come to the conclusion that the vast majority of American citizens have very little knowledge of the true cost of war—both during deployment, during combat and the years after the warrior comes home.

Betty and Ken Rodgers, co-producers, co-directors. Photo courtesy of Don Johnson.

Betty and Ken Rodgers, co-producers, co-directors. Photo courtesy of Don Johnson.

So, I think it’s fair to say that for both Betty and me, filmmaking is a process by which we can help educate the American public—the world—about the costs of combat. In addition, these films are an opportunity to present some history that a lot of our citizens are not aware of, or if they are aware, it’s often in a way that doesn’t reveal the visceral magnitude of war and its aftermath.

But there is something more to be said about these films and the mental chronicle of their participant’s lives, and a large number of those stories beg to be told and by making our films we allow the folks we interview, as well as viewers who have similar stories to relive, to rethink and revalue certain experiences that have been part of their lives.

Stories of being trapped in battle, seeing the death of friends, and being shunned for the most part by your fellow citizens, are important narratives not only as educational tools but also as vehicles for the storytellers to articulate and examine their lives and the meaning of their experiences.

This type of benefit seems to drill down, for me, to something more personal, more individual. A woman or a man tells her or his story of war and horror and caregiving that has for all intents and purposes remained untold. After telling the story, the load seems to lighten to some degree. It happened to me and I know it happened to a number of the men we interviewed for BRAVO!, and there are indications that the same is true for at least some of the women in I MARRIED THE WAR.

A similar benefit of these stories happens when a viewer of one of these films has his/her own moments that allows him/her to process experiences.

One particular instance comes to mind. We screened BRAVO! in California a few years back and one of the folks who came to see the film was a Khe Sanh Veteran who had survived the Siege as an artillery man and who went on to stay in the Corps and reach the rank of gunnery sergeant before getting out. After leaving the Corps, this gentleman’s life nosedived and he found himself living in a dumpster in San Francisco.

When we met him, he was in a halfway house for folks trying to kick abusive addiction. I spoke to him before the screening and found his dialogue to be extremely fractured and the folks hosting the screening were concerned he may have a breakdown if he watched the film.

So, as he watched, we watched him. After the film was over he came up to our co-producer, Carol Caldwell-Ewart, and very calmly and coherently touched his chest and said, “Thank you for making this film. It relieved my heart.”

That scene is etched in my memory and every time I recall it I feel that all the resources and emotional effort spent on the film were worth it. For a moment—I don’t know how long—we helped someone, and we did so because we told a story. It wasn’t his story specifically, but in a more general sense, it was: He lived through the Siege of Khe Sanh. We often hear from other folks, too, who served elsewhere in Vietnam, who say that BRAVO! tells their story, too.

We also often hear: Wow, that’s the true story of combat.

But the reactions we hear don’t stop there. It seems the messages people gain from the film cast a wider net, such as, for instance, people commenting: Now I understand my dad, or thanks for showing our story, or thanks for not gussying the story up with nothing but images of noble sacrifice like they do in Hollywood.

Marines from Second Platoon, Bravo Company, Gray Sector, Khe Sanh Combat Base. Photo courtesy of Michael E. O'Hara

Marines from Second Platoon, Bravo Company, Gray Sector, Khe Sanh Combat Base. Photo courtesy of Michael E. O’Hara

So, thanks to my veteran friend for leading me into the discussion about what it is we do with our films, which prompted me to sit and think about what it is we really do.

We educate, yes, but we really want to get down to the personal level and help people understand on a level that just reading history doesn’t often deliver. Not that reading is bad. It’s extremely important, too.

But there’s nothing like a film that pulls you in on an emotional level that makes what you watch so personal, it becomes your story, too. And you find yourself caring about the characters because you see yourself in them. This is what we also hope to accomplish with our telling these important stories and the history they impart.

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,Khe Sanh Veteran's Reunion,Marines,Other Musings,Veterans,Vietnam War

October 28, 2016

Ironies and Coincidences

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Thirteen days ago Betty and I left San Antonio, Texas, after the completion of the 2016 Khe Sanh Veterans reunion.
We were glad to see all our Khe Sanh Veteran friends, and to meet some folks we hadn’t met before.

We were also saddened because a lot of the men in BRAVO!, a number of whom we interviewed in San Antonio at the same location in 2010, were not able to be with us for a number of reasons. We did get to see and visit with John “Doc” Cicala, Frank McCauley and Tom Quigley who are in the film. As always, it was great to talk about the present and to remember the past. It is especially nice to sit and talk to men who are the only ones who understand what one went through at Khe Sanh.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial at Angel Fire, New Mexico. Photo courtesy of Ken Rodger

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial at Angel Fire, New Mexico. Photo courtesy of Ken Rodger

Besides Doc Cicala and Frank McCauley and Tom Quigley, we also got to spend time with Marines and Corpsmen of Bravo 1/26, Bruce “T-Bone” Jones, Mike McIntyre, and Jim “Doc” Beal. What a heartening time we had with these fine men.

After all these years we tell our tales, our eyes big, sometimes with the faint acceleration of the heartbeat. Sometimes we slap a table top and laugh, some somber and dark moment remembered because of the black humor we employed to mitigate the constant fear that ground inside our guts.

Marines and Corpsmen of Bravo, 1/26. Left to Right: Ken Rodgers. John Cicala, Bruce Jones, Jim Beal, Mike McIntyre. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

Marines and Corpsmen of Bravo, 1/26. Left to Right: Ken Rodgers. John Cicala, Bruce Jones, Jim Beal, Mike McIntyre. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

While in San Antonio visiting with our friends and comrades, we spent some time working on our new project, a documentary film about the wives of combat veterans. The working title for this new effort is I MARRIED THE WAR.

We met with a woman whose husband, whom we also spent time with, served during the Middle East war. In addition, we met a couple who have been married since he came home after the war in Vietnam. In addition, we also visited with a woman from the east coast whom we will interview about her experiences as the spouse of a Khe Sanh vet.

On our journey down to San Antonio from our home in Idaho, we managed to stop and spend a few moments of reflection at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Angel Fire, New Mexico. The memorial is a somberly beautiful structure that seemed to fit in an almost ungainly way against the flaming autumn colors of the surrounding Sangre de Christo Mountains. It wasn’t a complementary fit between the memorial and the red, golds and russets of the aspen and cottonwoods and maples and oaks. It was something more with a hint of irony. The memorializing of something horrible in contrast with something beautiful. The man-created versus the natural, and the stark dissimilarity between the two, was quite marked and emotionally attractive.

BRAVO! co-producer Betty Rodgers, left, and BRAVO! Marine Frank McCauley. Photo courtesy of Ken Rodgers

BRAVO! co-producer Betty Rodgers, left, and BRAVO! Marine Frank McCauley. Photo courtesy of Ken Rodgers

Betty and I also had the opportunity to spend some time with our longtime friends from Central Texas, Mary and Roger Engle.

We got to visit with Gregg Jones, author of LAST STAND AT KHE SANH. Gregg was in town speaking to a group associated with B-24 crews from World War II about his upcoming book concerning the B-24 Liberators of World War II.

The 2016 Khe Sanh Veterans Reunion was a fine experience, and on the road home, as always, we made time to stop and spend some moments taking in the locales we passed through. Particularly meaningful was the opportunity to journey off the more beaten paths of freeways and national highways and go to Pleasant Hill, New Mexico, in search of the grave site of Ken Pipes’ great-grandfather, Andrew Jackson Pipes, who is buried in the Pleasant Hill Cemetery. Ken Pipes was the Skipper of Bravo Company, 1/26, and is dearly revered by the surviving men who served under him.

Ken Rodgers at the grave site of A J Pipes in Pleasant Hill, New Mexico. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

Ken Rodgers at the grave site of A J Pipes in Pleasant Hill, New Mexico. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

Pleasant Hill isn’t a town, it’s a community of farmers and cattle ranchers near the border with Texas. The locals congregate around a fire house, a church and the cemetery which are all separated by a quarter or half section of farm or grazing ground. The land is flat, part of the high plains where the wind loves to blow and you can see for miles.

We did find the Skipper’s great-grandfather’s grave, and it has been well maintained.

One of the many other ironies and coincidences I thought about on the trip was how, in the 1980s, I used to hunt pheasant at Pleasant Hill, New Mexico. At the time I had no idea the Skipper had relations buried in the cemetery there. I didn’t know anything about the Skipper other than he had led us through the Siege of Khe Sanh and he let me leave Khe Sanh a day earlier than my orders allowed. I can see him now in my mind as I recall him then, sitting in the Bravo Company command post, his arm in a sling and other parts of his body bandaged in clean white material already smudged with the blood red mud of Khe Sanh.

Adding to the eerie air of coincidence is the notion that my great–grandfather was also named Andrew Jackson, last name Rodgers, who also hailed from the same region as the Skipper’s Andrew Jackson.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial in San Antonio, Texas. Photo courtesy of Ken Rodgers.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial in San Antonio, Texas. Photo courtesy of Ken Rodgers.

And then it was home for a time to get caught up before we move on with BRAVO! And I MARRIED THE WAR.

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,Khe Sanh Veteran's Reunion,Marines,Other Musings,Veterans,Vietnam War

October 5, 2016

Full Circle

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Next week Betty and I will be journeying to Texas, to the Khe Sanh Veterans Reunion which will be held at San Antonio’s El Rancho Tropicana Hotel.

Just a little over six years ago, we set out from Montreal, Canada, where we were attending the Montreal Jazz Festival with our friends and relatives, Chuck and Donna Dennis, to head out to San Antonio for the 2010 reunion, and to film nine of the interviewees in the film, BRAVO!.

Back then, when we began the journey to tell the story of Bravo Company, 1/26 at the Siege of Khe Sanh, we had little to no knowledge of how to make a film. But, we knew we needed interviews, so undaunted, we marched on and showed up in San Antonio, made arrangements for a space to conduct interviews, picked up our videographer at the airport and proceeded to film the men.

John “Doc” Cicala, Frank McCauley, Mike McCauley, Michael E O’Hara, Ken Pipes, Ron Rees, the late Lloyd Scudder, Peter Weiss and Steve Wiese sat down and talked to me and the crew about their remembrances of the siege and what it meant to them then, in 1968, and what it meant to them in July 2010.

The late Mark Spear at the Khe Sanh Veterans reunion in San Antonio, Texas, July 2010

The late Mark Spear at the Khe Sanh Veterans reunion in San Antonio, Texas, July 2010

I often think of the intestinal fortitude these men demonstrated as they sat down and let their emotions bleed out for all the world to see. I recall sitting there across from them, hearing their stories, marveling at the way they just let it all spill out, and if it wasn’t all, it was certainly enough to wow the folks who would eventually work on and sit down to watch their powerful testimonies about fear, death, loss and ultimately, their victories over the obstacles that their experiences at Khe Sanh threw in front of them. The men were inspiring.

Now, six years later, we are going back to San Antonio and for me, it feels like we are coming full circle. Two of the men in the film, Dan Horton and the aforementioned Lloyd Scudder, are no longer with us as is also the case with videographer Mark Spear, and it makes me very happy that we got the interviews done—in the case of Dan and Lloyd—before these Marines left us.

I am also very grateful that we got to know Mark Spear before he made a way too early journey from those he loved and those of us who appreciated his sensitive, funny, artistic nature.

Some of the men in the film will not be there in San Antonio to sit around and talk about the war and our memories of it and how the film affected our views of that experience. And I wonder, in the case of those who have not said so, if BRAVO! in any way changed their lives, helped or hindered them in their ongoing drive to live on in spite of the mental and physical affects of the combat we faced during the Vietnam War.

The Late Lloyd Scudder at his Bravo! interview.

The Late Lloyd Scudder at his Bravo! interview.

Personally, what can I say about what BRAVO! has done for me? Well, for starters, I can say that I am now hooked on making films.

And I am now immersed in the world of combat veterans and all the accoutrements both good and bad that come with having let oneself become so immersed. Organizations, acquaintances, events, travel—yes, it’s greatly changed the world I personally inhabit.

And I think, in some ways, it’s helped me come to grips with my own horrors, the ones that lurk just behind me as I try to keep the memories of January, February, March and early April 1968 caged in some form of mental box.

It taught me that the men I knew in the trenches at Khe Sanh survived (as did I) second-by-second high grade fear, wounds, loss, and in most cases came out the other end able to deal with all the bad stuff. It taught me that the soul, however one wishes to describe or define it, can be ripped, stripped, battered and stabbed, but in the end, it can still emerge in triumph.

The keenest knowledge I’ve gained is the realization that instead of being alone, I know that there are a multitude of warriors who have experienced what I did—the constant fear that rides you like you were an underfed jackass, the need to be brave even though it may lead to your death, the loss of your friends’ lives. I have siblings, so to speak, who have trod or are now treading the treacherous ground with me.

The late Dan Horton at his Bravo interview at Ann Arbor, MI

The late Dan Horton at his Bravo interview at Ann Arbor, MI

For years, intellectually, I understood that I endured what millions have endured in war, but emotionally, I felt all alone, out there on a limb so to speak where no one could reach me.

Making BRAVO! taught me that there are others, right now, out there with me.

So I’m looking forward to getting to San Antonio and seeing who I know so we can sit around and talk about it all. Maybe we will laugh and maybe we won’t, but it will not matter, because I will not be alone.

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,Khe Sanh Veteran's Reunion,Marines,Veterans,Vietnam War

March 9, 2016

Requiem for Ex

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One of the things about the war in Vietnam was the importance of body counts of enemy dead. Yet what body counts don’t tell you is the human side of those people who were killed. So much of what we read about in war news is related to the big picture and not to the little picture, the details of what happened on the day, at the place where the people in a particular body count died.

On March 28, 1968, according to Chaplain Ray Stubbe’s Battalion of Kings, eight men died at Khe Sanh Combat Base. Two of those men, Greg Kent and Jimmie McRae, were Marines from Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines. Those two men, along with Ron Exum, were standing in a trench when an incoming round landed near them and that was the end.

Ron Exum at the 2012 Khe Sanh Veterans Reunion

Ron Exum at the 2012 Khe Sanh Veterans Reunion

For years, after this event, I was under the impression that Ron Exum had also been killed in action, so it was with great surprise and some relief that I sat at a table with him at the 1993 reunion of the Khe Sanh Veterans. He sat there with his son and looked at me and I don’t think he recognized me until I smiled, because it was then that he nodded and said, “Yeah.” He smiled back and if you knew Ex, because that’s what we called him, you knew one of the premiere smiles on Planet Earth.

He first showed up at Bravo Company in mid-June of 1967. The company was on Hill 881 South. We had just lost a bunch of good Marines and Corpsmen in a nasty fight with the NVA and everyone in the company was staggered, so to speak.

Ex brought us some sunshine. He livened us up and made us laugh. I remember sitting with him and some other Marines in a hooch one afternoon after we had just finished a meal of C-Rations. He led us all in an off-key (not Ex, but the rest of us singing with him) medley of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles songs.

Those nine months that I knew Ex in Vietnam, he always seemed to have that smile on his face. It may be in the dark of the night, a mist so heavy it drooped down on us like the breath of doom. You’d hear his big voice challenging someone moving down the trench. “Who’s there?” When the other voice identified itself and gave the password, something very American, like “Joe DiMaggio,” then you’d hear the smile. Yes, you’d hear it.

Or out on patrol, humping straight up the side of some steep hill, the rain dripping off the triple canopy jungle, the leeches lying in wait to ambush you when you brushed some jungle grass, the red mud clutching the bottom of your jungle boots. You’d see him and he’d smile.

Some of the men of Bravo Company, 1/26 at the 2012 Khe Sanh Veterans Reunion. Ron Exum is in the second row, second from the right. Tom Steinhardt is in the second row, third from the left.

Some of the men of Bravo Company, 1/26 at the 2012 Khe Sanh Veterans Reunion. Ron Exum is in the second row, second from the right. Tom Steinhardt is in the second row, third from the left.

Every few years Ex would travel from Philadelphia to the Khe Sanh Veterans reunions and you’d get to laugh and reminisce with him. And still, there was always that smile.

Ron Exum was a fine man, a spiritual man.

Several weeks back I got a call from Tom Steinhardt who served with Ex and me in Bravo. Steinhardt told me that Ex had passed on unexpectedly. It was a surprise to Tom, to me, and I think to everyone who knew Ron.

Sometimes we think that the people who inhabit our lives, the really good ones, will be with us forever. And then they aren’t. I will miss Ron Exum.

Semper Fi, Ex.

If you or your organization would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town this coming spring, summer, fall or next winter please contact us immediately.

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

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

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

November 26, 2014

Last Memorials

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November is a thoughtful and busy time for veterans of the United States military. Celebrations, parades, reunions and remembrances occur from big cities to small towns up and down and all across the country.

While a large number of the Men of BRAVO! were in San Diego with the Khe Sanh Veterans group participating in Veterans Day ceremonies, in Liberty Lake Washington, former Navy Corpsman Greg Vercruysse was being honored with a memorial at the Liberty Lake Fallen Heroes Circuit Course.

The mayor of Liberty Lake and Greg Vercruysse's mother cutting the ribbon for the ceremony honoring Greg. © Dean Vercruysse 2014

The mayor of Liberty Lake and Greg Vercruysse’s mother cutting the ribbon for the ceremony honoring Greg.
© Dean Vercruysse 2014

I have written to some extent about Greg and the other men of Bravo Company who were killed and wounded on June 7, 1967 in an ambush off of Hill 881 South, so return readers to this blog are familiar with Greg’s story as well as what occurred to the other twenty men who were killed in that action.

With that in mind, I am not going to belabor the memory anymore except to state that what happened at Liberty Lake on 11/11/2014 was a fine example of the honors that have belatedly come to a lot of veterans of the Vietnam War.

Former Bravo Company Corpsman John Kerr being interviewed by KREM-TV. © Dean Vercruysse 2014

Former Corpsman John Kerr being interviewed by KREM-TV.
© Dean Vercruysse 2014

Also remarkable to me was the fact that Navy Corpsman John Kerr, also with Bravo Company at that time and Greg Vercruysse’s buddy, traveled across the country to Liberty Lake to honor Greg’s memory along with Greg’s mom and brother and respectful citizens of Liberty Lake.

You can read more about the event at http://spokanevalleylibertylake.kxly.com/news/news/143231-liberty-lake-honors-sailor-killed-vietnam or watch a well-produced news report from TV station KREM here.

Navy Senior Chief Spinden and former Staff Sergeant Bob Wiese were instrumental in honoring Greg. © Dean Vercruysse 2014

Navy Senior Chief Spinden and former Staff Sergeant Wiese were instrumental in honoring Greg.
© Dean Vercruysse 2014

The pictures in this blog post of the Liberty Lake event are courtesy of Greg’s brother, Dean Vercruysse.

Semper Fidelis from the men of BRAVO! to the Vercruysse family.

On the screening front, we are pleased to announce that BRAVO! will be shown at Idaho’s historic Egyptian Theater in Boise on March 30, 2015. We will post updates to this event here as they become available.

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

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. For more information, go to https://bravotheproject.com/buy-the-dvd/.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject/. It’s another way to stay up on our news and help raise more public awareness of this film.

Documentary Film,Film Screenings,Khe Sanh,Khe Sanh Veteran's Reunion,Marines,Vietnam War

November 19, 2014

On Sweet Pacific Breezes and Film Screenings, Reunions and Survival

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This past week the BRAVO! team spent the week at the Khe Sanh Veterans annual reunion at the Town and Country Resort in San Diego, California.

We met again with men who served with Bravo Company, First Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment before, during and after the Siege of Khe Sanh. We also met new friends and old friends from other outfits and shared stories, memories, tears and laughs.

Every year these events get more intimate and emotional for us. The ties that bind the survivors of any crisis are strong and can only be severed by death. This is very true for the men who served during the Siege. For those of us who endured the horror of that prolonged battle, the bonds of comradeship are stout. As one looks across a room full of veterans of that action, he knows that the people sitting out there, even if he does not personally know them, all understand the lifelong tensions and anxiety that simmer down inside.

One of the most exciting things that happened to us at the 2014 reunion was being joined by our family. Son Jim and his wife Norma, along with their daughters Justyce and Jayden drove over from Casa Grande, Arizona. Daughter Sarah and husband Baruch along with their daughter Isadora came in from Seattle, Washington. We were all present at the reunion banquet when Justyce, who received a scholarship from the Khe Sanh Veterans Association, was recognized by the scholarship committee chair, Dan Fisher.

BRAVO! Corpsmen and Marines: Back (L to R): Jim Beall, Charles McIntire, Tom Quigley, John Cicala, Tom Kupcho, Ken Pipes, Front (L to R): Ken Korkow, Ken Rodgers, Mike McCauley, Ben Long © Betty Rodgers 2014

BRAVO! Corpsmen and Marines: Back (L to R): Jim Beall, Charles McIntire, Tom Quigley, John Cicala, Tom Kupcho, Ken Pipes, Front (L to R): Ken Korkow, Ken Rodgers, Mike McCauley, Ben Long
© Betty Rodgers 2014

Thanks to Tom Eichler, John Pessoni and the rest of the leaders of the Khe Sanh Veterans for all their hard work in putting the event together. Now, next year, on to Savannah, Georgia.

While we were at the reunion, we slipped away to screen BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR at American Legion Post 291, Newport Beach, California. While the calming Pacific breezes wafted over the sailboats berthed at the pier outside the post, an earnest audience of seventy-plus people saw the film. Among the attendees were BRAVO! Marines Skipper Ken Pipes, Ben Long, Ken Korkow, Mike McCauley, John Cicala and Tom Quigley. Also there were other men who served with Bravo Company, Jim Beall and Charles McIntire. Area residents Ray and Barbara Doyle and Robin Zimmermann who contributed both music and expertise to the film came and visited with us and watched BRAVO!

A big shout-out to Tony Arrigo, Jim Kaylor and Roger Henry who worked hard to make sure the event came off without a hitch.

Something about the contrast between balmy southern California weather outside and the intense representation of the violence, agony and redemption depicted inside during the screening of the film seemed to make the day more poignant.

At the Newport Beach Screening, left to right: Barbara Doyle, Ray Doyle and Robin Zimmermann. © Betty Rodgers 2014

At the Newport Beach Screening, left to right: Barbara Doyle, Ray Doyle and Robin Zimmermann.
© Betty Rodgers 2014

Aside from the Khe Sanh Veterans reunion and the Newport Beach screening, BRAVO! was featured in an outstanding news feature by reporter Matt Burke in The Stars and Stripes which serves the United States’ military community worldwide. You can read the article here.
http://www.stripes.com/news/special-reports/vietnam-at-50/the-bloody-battle-of-khe-sanh-77-days-under-siege-1.314627

Up next for the BRAVO! team, back to Idaho for a battery recharge and plans for screenings in March 2015 to coincide with the first year of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War and for Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day.

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

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. For more information, go to https://bravotheproject.com/buy-the-dvd/.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject/. It’s another way to stay up on our news and help raise more public awareness of this film.

Documentary Film,Film Screenings,Vietnam War

July 30, 2014

CHICAGO!!!

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We needed help finding the train, what is officially termed the CTA, the Chicago Transit Authority, from Midway Airport into downtown Chicago. We had notions about traveling on the system but really had no idea how you actually got it done. Was it like New York’s subway? Were we going to get held up or witness a shooting and what about the weather? Hot and humid? Tornadoes? Our concerns were initiated by what we see on the national news.

At the airport we found the information desk and the man behind it wore a Khe Sanh Veterans ball cap. He was lean and fit and confident. Betty started our conversation with him by saying I had been at Khe Sanh. We shook hands. What a strong grip he owned and I asked him his unit. His name was Rich, and he served with the Third Battalion, Third Marines. I said, “1/26.” He nodded and then proceeded to explain how one gets from Midway to the Orange Line and from there to the Brown Line. He told us we were going to love Chicago.

Downtown Chicago. © Ken Rodgers 2014

Downtown Chicago.
© Ken Rodgers 2014

And we did love Chicago. The big-muscled hubbub, the Midwest practicality, the friendliness, the food.

We met up with our Internet friends who are now our real friends, the writer and teacher Patricia Ann McNair and her husband, the visual artist and writer Philip Hartigan, and they showed us some of Chicago’s famous neighborhoods and points of interest and we had Vietnamese, German and Italian food. We attended literary events. I even read from my book of short stories at one of the readings and we got to hear Chicago author and professor Eric May read from his new book.

Both Eric May and Patricia Ann McNair are professors at Chicago’s Columbia College. Betty and I visited their writing program offices and were impressed with the faculty and staff we met there.

The buffet at the ULCC screening. © Betty Rodgers 2014

The buffet at the ULCC screening.
© Betty Rodgers 2014

We were graciously put up in a grand room at the Union League Club of Chicago (ULCC), where we met former Navy pilot Jan Donatelli, the major force behind the screening event, and the ULCC’s Kathy Hurley whose herculean efforts made our stay and our screening there a tremendous success. We offer our thanks to the ULCC’s executive director of Public Affairs, Mr. David Kohn, who made sure we received a warm welcome when we checked into the hotel.

We were invited to the regular luncheon of Union League’s American Legion Post 758. A big thank you to Post Commander Matt Iverson for making sure we had an excellent meal and reception, and to boot, the post underwrote a significant portion of our travel expenses. They hosted our screening, as well, which included a sumptuous buffet for those who attended.

One of the other major sponsors of our trip was the Pritzker Military Museum and Library. The Museum, housed in a beautifully restored building in the heart of downtown, is a cache of American veteran memorabilia, research material, books, movies, photography, and more. At the time of our visit, they sported an impressive exhibit on United States Navy SEALs.

The hall at the Prizker Military Museum and Library © Betty Rodgers 2014

The hall at the Prizker Military Museum and Library
© Betty Rodgers 2014

Mr. Kenneth Clarke, the CEO of the Pritzker, personally greeted Betty and me. While there, we found the copy of BRAVO! which had been donated by the Paddock family, and I gave them an interview for their oral history project. I originally said I was interested in talking for an hour or so about my experiences at Khe Sanh, but ended up reminiscing for three and one-half hours.

A big thanks to Mr. Thomas Webb and Mr. Jerrod Howe of the Pritzker, both for scheduling the time to interview, and for conducting the interview. Jerrod Howe is in the Cinema Arts and Sciences MFA program at Columbia College.

The screening was well attended by old friends and new friends. BRAVO! Marine Michael E. O’Hara came all the way from Indiana to share some time with us and participate in the Q & A following the screening.

Another distinguished guest was Tom Eichler, who served during the Siege of Khe Sanh with Echo Company, 2/26. Tom was awarded the Silver Star for some of his actions during the Siege. He is also the president and treasurer of the Khe Sanh Veterans Association. Both Tom and the association have been strong supporters of our efforts to make and screen BRAVO!.

Left to right: Tom Eichler, Michael O'Hara, Ken Rodgers and Matt Iverson © Betty Rodgers 2014

Left to right:
Tom Eichler, Michael O’Hara, Ken Rodgers and Matt Iverson
© Betty Rodgers 2014

One of the great things about traveling around the country, screening the film, is how old friends show up in new contexts. Betty has known Mr. Donald Hovey for four decades. They met in New England and have remained friends all the intervening years. Donald is a tenor and agreed to sing the national anthem at our ceremony and he did a fantastic job to much applause.

Finally, we wish to thank our Cowboy Poetry friends, John and Judy George, members of the Union League Club and the folks who initiated this BRAVO! debut in Chicago. Also, kudos to Colonel Jennifer Pritzker who helped sponsor our trip to Chicago, and to esteemed Medal of Honor recipient Mr. Allen Lynch for attending the screening. We also wish to express our gratitude to the evening’s emcee, Mr. Bill Wigoda, and to Vietnam War author Julie Titone who helped pave the way for this memorable experience on our BRAVO! journey.

We began our trip to Chicago not knowing what to expect, but we can say without hesitation that we loved the city and the residents there. We hope to return.

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

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. For more information go to https://bravotheproject.com/buy-the-dvd/.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject/. It’s another way you can help spread the word about the film.

Film Screenings

July 23, 2014

BRAVO! in CHICAGO!

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Tomorrow night, BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR will be screened in the Crystal Room at the Union League Club of Chicago, 65 W Jackson Blvd, Chicago, Illinois. Registration will begin at 5:00 PM, with opening remarks at 5:15. The screening will begin promptly at 5:30. A question and answer period will follow the screening from 7:30 to 8:00. On hand for the Q & A will be BRAVO! Marine Michael E. O’Hara, Khe Sanh Veteran and retired Chicago police officer Tom Eichler, and Co-producers of the film, Ken and Betty Rodgers.

Union League Club of Chicago

Union League Club of Chicago

The event is free but you must reserve a seat by going to: https://bravofilm.eventbrite.com. There will be snacks available and a signature/cash bar with beverages of your choice. Please note, the attire is business casual: no jeans, no denim, no shorts; shirts must have collars.

The screening is sponsored in part by American Legion Post 758, the Union League Club of Chicago, and the Pritzker Military Museum and Library.

Here are the bios for the folks on the Q & A panel:

Michael E. O'Hara during his interview for Bravo! Photo by Betty Rodgers

Michael E. O’Hara during his interview for Bravo!
Photo by Betty Rodgers

Michael O’Hara was wounded three times at Khe Sanh before he returned to the US to finish his enlistment as a Primary Weapons Instructor. After his release from active duty on the early release program, Michael went back to Indiana to become a homebuilder. For more than 20 years, he has been a major force in Brown County, Indiana veterans affairs, owning a big heart for all combat veterans past and present.

Tom Eichler, a Chicago native son, was with Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 26th Marines at Khe Sanh where he was wounded and awarded the Silver Star for his actions. Discharged in 1968, he joined the Chicago Police Department where he served until his retirement, and remains one of their most decorated officers. He currently serves as President and Treasurer of the Khe Sanh Veterans Association.

Tom Eichler

Tom Eichler

Ken Rodgers is the man who wrote, co-produced and co-directed Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor. He recalls standing on the heliport at Dong Ha after leaving Khe Sanh, looking back at the Annamite Mountains where the battle occurred, and thinking, That’s one hell of a story. It took Ken a lifetime as a controller and business manager to find his true calling as a filmmaker and finally tell this story of the siege, the story of his Bravo Company brothers, his Khe Sanh brothers…the story of all Vietnam veterans.

Ken Rodgers, © Betty Rodgers, 2012

Ken Rodgers, © Betty Rodgers, 2012

Ken’s wife Betty Rodgers grew up in a family of veterans with a WWII-era mother who believed in recording veterans’ stories so their sacrifices would be remembered by future generations. After attending Khe Sanh Veteran reunions with her husband, she realized his story and the story of these men would eventually be lost, so she proposed this film…this collaboration with Ken…as a way to preserve Bravo Company’s unique moment in history.

Betty Rodgers

Betty Rodgers

Please join us for this memorable event.

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

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. For more information go to https://bravotheproject.com/buy-the-dvd/.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject/. It’s another way you can help spread the word about the film.

Documentary Film,Film Screenings,Khe Sanh,Marines,Meet the Men,Vietnam War

July 16, 2014

Something of Value

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Bravo Company 1/26 came off of Hill 881 South on July 10, 1967, and went into battalion reserve at the combat base, first at the west end and then into the trenches on the north side of the perimeter. Bravo stood line watch, ran patrols, listening posts and ambushes for the next ten days.

On July 21, Mike Company, 3/26, engaged elements of the North Vietnamese Army northeast of the base and suffered five KIA.
If I was aware of Mike Company, 3/26’s casualties, I don’t recall. When units got hit around Khe Sanh I usually went into a funk; scattered, not focused on cleaning my rifle or gathering the rest of my gear in case we charged into the maw of battle. I would flit from task to task, smoke a Camel, clean part of my weapon, grab some grenades, smoke a Camel…I don’t recall doing any of these tasks.

View  looking down on the Quang Tri River Valley where Route 9 ran. Photo by John Corvus

View looking down on the Quang Tri River Valley where Route 9 ran. Photo by John Corvus

On the same date, another Mike Company—Mike 3/3—was also out in the vicinity of Mike 3/26 and they, too, took casualties; 11 KIA. Again, I have no memory of that event or the edgy fear that probably gnawed at the back of my brain as I tried to stay focused and not look like I was afraid.

Also on that same day, Bravo 1/26’s First Platoon was out east of the combat base patrolling down Route 9 when they got ambushed. Three men were killed on that patrol: one 81 MM forward observer with H & S Company, 1/26, and two men from Bravo’s First Platoon. Some of the men in our film BRAVO! were on that patrol.

As soon as Second Platoon, my outfit, got the word about First Platoon being ambushed, Sergeant Michael Dede came down the line and told us to gather our gear.

I shared a bunker with a salty Marine who had come over to Bravo earlier in the year from 3/26. He was a short-timer. I do not recall his name. At that moment, he was teaching me how to play Back Alley Bridge and as we played our cards, he was cleaning out my pockets. We were playing for money—Military Payment Certificates—because, as he told me in his clipped Boston accent, if you weren’t committing something of value, then you wouldn’t be at your best.

Dede told us to get ammo, grenades, poncho liner, and other gear we’d need for a helicopter insertion in support of First Platoon. My bunker mate sat back and grinned, and as I tried to gather my gear, flitting like a mosquito from one item to the next, he cajoled me to keep playing the game since there was no guarantee we’d be going anywhere.

I recall him saying, “You know how it is. Hurry up and wait.”

So as I got my gear together and rumors of death and combat circulated like demons among the men of Second Platoon, he collected more and more of my MPC.

Finally, Sergeant Dede came down the line and told us to assemble on the air strip and await choppers to transport us out to assist First Platoon. My bunker mate was so short he didn’t have to go. I can see him, right now in my mind’s view, leaning back on his rack, smiling, his big red mustache and his disheveled shock of red hair implanted in my memory. He was counting my MPC.

We sat on the air strip in the sun. It was hot and we were nervous. Some of us talked incessantly. Some of us didn’t say anything.

I don’t know that I thought about it then, but I think about it now. Something of value. Some MPC in a game of Back Alley Bridge. Some casualties out on Route 9. My young life available to what…be wounded, killed, captured, honored? Something of value, like the lives of those 19 Marines who died in our TAOR that day, and the wounded men, too, whose names we don’t put up on monuments.

Finally, the helicopters arrived and we loaded up and away we went.

Michael E. O'Hara during his interview for Bravo! Photo by Betty Rodgers

Michael E. O’Hara during his interview for Bravo!
Photo by Betty Rodgers

***

On the screening front, BRAVO! will be screened at the Union League Club of Chicago, 65 West Jackson Blvd, Chicago, Illinois on July 24, 2014. Sponsored by American Legion Post 758, this event begins with registration at 5:00 PM. The film will be screened at 5:30 followed by a Q & A session with Co-producers Betty and Ken Rodgers, BRAVO! Marine Michael E. O’Hara, and Echo Company, 2/26’s Tom Eichler, the president of the Khe Sanh Veterans Association. Complimentary snacks will be provided and there will be a cash bar with beverages of your choice.

The program will end at 8:00 PM. Reservations are required. To reserve your seats please go to the Eventbrite registration page @ https://bravofilm.eventbrite.com/.

Please note, this event is business casual: no jeans, no denim, no shorts; shirts must have collars.

If you would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town this fall or winter, please contact us immediately.
DVDs of BRAVO! are available. For more information go to https://bravotheproject.com/buy-the-dvd/.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject/. It’s another way you can help spread the word about the film.