Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Posts Tagged ‘Korean War’

Documentary Film,Film Screenings,Khe Sanh,Marines,Other Musings,Veterans,Veterans Courts

November 10, 2017

A PARADE!!!

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Thirty or so years ago I used to sit around with a buddy of mine and talk about Vietnam. We didn’t serve together overseas but did pull duty together at the Marine Barracks at 32nd Street Naval Station in San Diego. His combat experience was quite different than mine, but he’d seen enough that it left its imprint on him.

We used to guffaw at some of the early Vietnam veterans groups and talk about how what they were angry about was that they didn’t get their parade. He and I didn’t need veterans’ groups or parades, either, or so we thought.

Being a Marine was good for making me a stoic. Being in combat, in my mind, made me strong, too strong to show any kind of weakness associated with my war and that included veterans’ organizations and associated activities.

But times change and things change and even an old trench rat can learn how to negotiate the mazes of life in different ways. And that includes even being in a parade. And so, on November 4, 2017, I was allowed the distinct honor of being one of four parade grand marshals at the Boise Veterans Day Parade.

Right to left: Ileen Bunce and Ken Rodgers wth Ileen’s Corvette. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers

The other grand marshals were Mr. Clair Kilton, a World War II Army veteran who fought and was wounded in the European Theater; Mr. Harold Kwan, a Korean War Marine Corps veteran who fought in Korea, including the Inchon landing and the brutal battle at Chosin Reservoir; Colonel Tom Mahoney, a veteran of the United States Air Force, who flew in the opening mission of Operation Desert Storm in the Middle East.

Unfortunately, Mr. Kilton passed away a few days before the parade, so his three daughters, Penny, Peg and Lisa, took his place, and I imagine how heart wrenching and at the same time uplifting that had to be for them.

On the day of the big hullabaloo, Betty and I arrived earlier than necessary which is something we do often. The threat of continued rain from the night before had abated, leaving only scattered black clouds that umbrellaed over the parade route which ran east down State Street in front of the Idaho State Capitol building, then on around to head west down Jefferson Street.

The crowd of parade officials, news folk, volunteers, politicians, generals and colonels, active duty military personnel and grand marshals gathered before the parade began for donuts, bagels, coffee and juice, and to become acquainted, and to get last minute direction.

One local Treasure Valley politico, State Senator Marv Hagedorn, with whom I am acquainted came up and told me that I was a good choice for the Vietnam veteran grand marshal.

Ken Rodgers, Khe Sanh Veteran and Grand Marshall. Photo courtesy of Katherine Jones, Idaho Statesman

I was most humbled by, as I have been throughout the entire experience of finding out about—and then living out—my choice as grand marshal for this particular parade. But it also bothers me and leaves me with a sense of guilt. I told Senator Hagedorn that it bothered me in some respects to be grand marshal because it might give people the impression that I was some kind of hero. I said, “I’m no hero. The heroes didn’t get to come home from Khe Sanh.”

He smiled and said, “But as grand marshal, you are representing those men since they can’t represent themselves.”

His words worked, at least for the moment, the day, the experience of riding down the street with the sun out and people waving and shouting good things at me.

Betty and I ended up in a snazzy Corvette owned and driven by Ileen Bunce, president of Valley Corvettes. There was only room for one passenger in the seats, so I sat up top. I had to remove my boots so that Ileen’s Corvette didn’t get trashed.

Before the parade moved out, we pulled into line and were placed behind a large mechanized weapon, a tank or a self-propelled piece of artillery from the 116th Cavalry Brigade Combat Team of the Idaho Army National Guard.

As we waited, our breaths visible in the chill, the parade folks honored the late Marine, Art Jackson, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions on the island of Peleliu in 1944.

A flight of A-10 Warthogs flew over the parade route as did, later, a flight of choppers. Even I found that a bit stirring.

There were all kinds of folks in the parade: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, National Guard, first responders, boy scouts, girl scouts, school bands, floats from organizations and businesses, mayors and other politicos. The local media, including a live broadcast by KTVB Channel 7, were out in force giving detailed coverage of the parade for those who couldn’t make it.

When we finally took off, the tank in front of us roared to life and left the smell of burning fuel hanging in the air.

Right off the bat, we spotted our friends, Leland and Trisha Nelson, standing on a corner. The Nelsons have been great friends of BRAVO! over the years. We waved at each other. It felt good to me.

As we approached the state capitol, a huge American flag hung off of fire truck extension ladders. The autumn winds that are common this time of year in Boise lifted the flag and reminded me of surges on the ocean.

All the way down State Street, people greeted us. I waved back at moms and dads, children, elderly veterans, grandpas and grandmas. More than once, somebody yelled, “Semper Fi.”

A mechanized weapon in the Boise Veterans Parade. Photo courtesy of Ken Rodgers

One of the more interesting experiences I had, early on, was that of a Korean War veteran (that’s what his ball cap announced) sitting in a folding chair on the south side of the street. As we approached, he rose and saluted. I looked into his eyes and it was like he was saying something to me, something I should be proud to hear. I saluted back. As a matter of fact, I saluted a lot of people—veterans all, I suspect—as we wound around the route of the parade.

As we turned off of State Street, the parade passed below some trees, maples of some sort, whose leaves were still clinging to the branches. They were tinted between rust and gold and when the tank in front of our Corvette roared beneath, the exhaust blew the leaves off of a lot of the limbs. As the leaves fell, they were momentarily captured by a gentle breeze and sailed one way, and then another.

As we went on, I thought about me, sitting up there, being honored for something I am not sure I have earned or ever will. But those leaves gently falling to the street made me think of the men I served with who didn’t make it home: Furlong and Kent, Aldrich and Rash, McRae and a lot of others whose names I don’t remember or didn’t know.

And I decided that those leaves were the souls of those men falling down around me, saying that it was okay for me to be up there on the back of that Corvette, representing them.

Thanks to General Walt Smith, Vicki Lindgren and all the other folks who made the 2017 parade a big success.

***

In other news about BRAVO!, Betty and I attended a screening of BRAVO! at Idaho’s Nampa Public Library on November 1, 2017, hosted by librarian David Johnson. A great group of folks came to see the film. Often, as the intensity of the narrative thickens the air with a palpable tension, a few folks will get up and go out of the theater for a respite, but not that night. The audience was engaged. Glad to see young veterans and older ones, too, among the group. Thanks to David Johnson and the Nampa Public Library for all their efforts to make this event happen.

***

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,Warhawk Air Museum

June 14, 2017

On the Warhawk Air Museum and Journeys Through the Trenches of My Memory

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Last week I had the privilege of speaking before 150 folks at Nampa, Idaho’s Warhawk Air Museum. I talked about the making of BRAVO! and my experience at the Siege of Khe Sanh.

Most of the attendees were veterans, many of them men who fought in World War II and Korea. There were also a good number of Vietnam War veterans as well as men and women who fought in the wars of the Middle East. We even had active duty United States Air Force officers, a front seater (pilot) and a back seater (weapons officer), who fly F-15E Strike Eagles out of Mountain Home Air Force Base in Mountain Home, Idaho.

Guest speaker Ken Rodgers and Barry Hill of the Warhawk Air Museum discussing the display screen prior to the event. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

The Warhawk Air Museum is a local marvel as far as military museums go. Lots of old planes and choppers, but the most amazing thing to me is the personal testimonials and memorabilia available to view. As one of the men who attended the screening said, “It’s a very personal museum.”

The Warhawk also records video interviews of veterans talking about their combat experiences, sponsors field trips for school children and has educational classes so students in the area’s schools can learn about the military and wars directly from veterans, the folks who know the emotional aspects of combat.

Visitors who travel through Idaho go to see the museum as they pass through, and for some, a trip to the Warhawk is a destination in itself.

Thanks to Sue Paul and Barry Hill and the staff and volunteers at the museum for their support on my presentation as well as all they do for veterans and the memory of those who have served our country. If you are interested in finding out more about the Warhawk you can find their webpage at http://warhawkairmuseum.org/.

Some of the folks who attended the event at the Warhawk Air Museum. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers

Several weeks back I blogged about June 1, 1967. Today I want to write about June 14, 1967 at Khe Sanh. On today’s date in 1967 Bravo Company was dug in on Hill 881 South and still staggering from the events of June 7 when a patrol ran into an NVA ambush and we lost 19 good men.

Besides living with our collective grief and agony, at 16:15 on June 14, 3rd Platoon Bravo received an incoming sniper round and responded by calling in an 81 MM mortar mission that evidently silenced the sniper. Whether the sniper was actually nullified or if he moved to another location was not known.

Elsewhere in 1/26’s area of responsibility in the Khe Sanh region, Charlie Company discovered an enemy bunker and destroyed it with five pounds of C-4.

A look at Route 9 outside Khe Sanh. Notice the rough terrain.

The battalion’s command chronologies for 6/14 made the area sound relatively quiet for a war zone.

It was about this time that Bravo went out on patrol to Hill 881 North and beyond, and in the process of digging around in the old battle sites of the Hill Fights which happened in March and April of 1967, found the scattered remains of human bodies partially sticking out of the mud where a fresh torrent of rainwater had eroded what looked like a burial site.

Someone spotted a ragged uniform remnant and that led to someone else digging around in the red-mud mess and then a femur appeared out of the muck with swatches of what we assumed was an NVA uniform still attached. The bone was yanked out of the ground and the femur soon hung off the jungle dungaree trousers of some Marine whose name I cannot recall.

In my memory, I cannot see the Marine’s face but I can see that leg bone dangling off the left side of his dirty dungarees. I don’t think that lasted long. I suspect the platoon sergeant or some officer spotted the bone on the belt and delivered an order that the bone was to be disposed of. You hear stories over the course of your life about a Marine who cut off and collected the ears of his enemy or Marines who pulled the gold teeth out of the mouths of enemy corpses. I never saw any of that, but I did see the bone dangling off the leg.

I usually have a good memory for names and faces of the men I served with in Vietnam, but during this time frame, subsequent to the ambush of 6/7, the faces that haunt my memory are like a maze of eyes and mouths and skin colors. We were an ethnically diverse group, I believe, because that’s how it was back in the 60s before the draft was killed.

What became 2nd Platoon of Bravo 1/26 was a mix of men from both 2nd and 1st Platoons, which had taken the bulk of casualties from the event of 6/7/67. We had, for a short time, a new platoon commander, Ben Long, who went on to command 1st Platoon and then became Bravo Company’s XO during the Siege in early 1968.

A look at the mountains around Khe Sanh.

I often think how difficult it must have been to run an efficient platoon filled with a number of men who had no familiarity with each other. I know the Marine Corps prides itself on the ability of the NCOs to run the ship, but when you don’t know the man who’s got your back, it’s hard to trust him and if you don’t trust him, he knows it and if he knows it, he won’t trust you as much as he might need.

Fortunately we had a strong set of NCOs: Staff Sergeant Ward and Sergeant Blankenship and Sergeant Martinez, Corporal Dede, Corporal Poorman, Corporal Fideli and others whose names I can’t remember.

The Marines of 2nd Platoon were a dirty, ragged bunch, but Lieutenant Long and the NCOs held us together. We became a unit of Marines. We learned to trust each other and to work with each other despite a number of obstacles in leadership that kept coming to the fore after Lieutenant Long went to on to command the newly reconstituted 1st Platoon.

As the summer wore on, we moved from Hill 881 South to the combat base and then some of us went out on Route 9 for over a week after 1st Platoon busted up an NVA ambush intended to fry bigger fish, traffic of heavy guns going up to Khe Sanh. Then we moved on to Hill 861 and then back to the combat base and rivers of rain.

It was a summer of long patrols and nights spent out in the mist and rain waiting for an enemy that would not show up. Occasionally we took sniper rounds or someone got a glimpse of the enemy, but there was little action and when there is not action, Marines turn to work to keep themselves out of trouble.

So we dug and dug and filled sandbags and installed culverts made from 55 gallon drums with both ends cut out so the trenches would drain and we wouldn’t have to stand knee deep in the water that accumulated from the incessant precipitation.

We were damp and dirty and often soaked. But we persevered.

____________________________

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,Other Musings,Vietnam War,War Poetry

January 27, 2016

On War Poetry

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In 1968, on today’s date, January 27, the Marines in the trenches at Khe Sanh were beginning to realize that what began on January 20-21, 1968, would turn into a period of horror and death and destruction which would become seared into the memories and psyches of all those who survived.

The 19th Century German philosopher and poet, Friedrich Nietzsche said: We have art in order not to die of the truth.

The truth of what happened at Khe Sanh often seems like a dose of reality so heinous that it is hard to swallow. We want to reject it as fantasy, as false memory, as fiction. But what happened there is truth with a bitter bouquet.

Down inside our minds, we try to figure a way to deal with that nasty truth and so, as Nietzsche probably would suggest, we often turn the truth into art. Over the last 2700 years and more, warriors have been memorializing their war experiences with poetry, which is certainly art.

Somewhere around the Eighth Century, BC, the Greek warrior poet, Archilochus wrote: “I long for a fight with you, just as a thirsty man longs for drink.”*

And in the intervening centuries, warriors have tried to reduce to poetry the profound impacts of combat through imagery be it sight, sound, smell, or the way the mist of a morning before battle gathers on the skin.

In the last one hundred years or so, war poets have been strong voices in articulating what they have witnessed as man has attacked and massacred his fellow man. A list of 20th and 21st Century war poets might include Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen from World War I, János Pilinszky and Randall Jarrell from World War II, Rolando Hinojosa and William Childress from the Korean War, Yusef Komunyakaa and Bruce Weigl from Vietnam, and Brian Turner and Jason Shelton from the wars in the middle east.

Although these poets have gained some fame, the efforts of trying to convert our wartime experiences into something we can look at on a page is a pretty common phenomena.

Skipper and poet, Ken Pipes, at Khe Sanh

Skipper and poet, Ken Pipes, at Khe Sanh

Fear, horror and pain; what we’ve witnessed and endured in war sometimes acts as a muse and invites us, the warriors, to create, even those of us who aren’t professional poets.

In today’s rendition of the blog, we turn to one of our own, Lieutenant Colonel Ken Pipes, USMC Retired, who served as the company commander of Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines during the siege. Skipper Pipes is also featured in the documentary, BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR.

Skipper Pipes’ poem is written in classic form, rhyme and meter, and is published here with his permission. Please respect his copyright.

Tribute and Tribulation
Khe Sanh Remembered

To the men who scaled their mountains
and Seized that far flung plateau,
To the men who held the arena
Against the best the enemy could throw.

Who walked the jungle covered valleys
And waded the leach laden streams;
Who moved through the green shrouded alleys,
Till their muscles cramped and screamed.

To those who fell wounded and bleeding,
Yet arose to fight on ’til the end.
To those who fell wounded and bleeding,
Never to rise up again.

To our comrades who carried the rifle;
Who fired both cannon and gun.
To those who supplied and fought with us
We knew that they’d never run.

To the pilots who flew the fast movers,
And herded choppers all over the sky.
Who calmly watched the green tracers
As they went arching and howling by.

To Gentleman Jim, our commander,
And Jaques, Claire, Morris and Chief.
To Snake, Mike, Korkow and Rash,
And other heroes we respect and keep.

To Stubbe, our brave navy chaplain,
Who interceded for us as our link.
And to DeMaggd, our battalion surgeon,
Whose skilled hand drew us back from the brink.

To Blanchfield, and our navy corpsmen,
The finest and most courageous of all;
Who daily and nightly fought to reach us,
Refusing to succumb to the law.

So now as we move far from the valley,
And the years march away to the fore,
We and our families remember,
All those who made it happen; and more.

© Ken Pipes

Oorah for the Skipper! Ooorah! for poetry. Ooorah! for art.

If you have further interest in war poetry, you can find examples here from those mentioned earlier: Siegfried Sassoon contemplates a letter home to a mother here: Wilfred Owen muses on a gas attack here: ; János Pilinszky ponders prisoners of war here:
Randall Jarrell writes about the men who crew bombers here: Rolando Hinojosa contemplates friendly fire here: William Childress remembers the Korean War here: Yusef Komunyakaa at The Wall here: Bruce Weigl muses about the world between war and home here: Brian Turner on the bullet here: and Jason Shelton on Iraq here.

*From William Harris, Prof. Emeritus Classics, Middlebury College. (http://community.middlebury.edu/~harris/Archilochus.pdf).

Ken Pipes, The Skipper and poet

Ken Pipes, The Skipper and poet

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,Other Musings,Vietnam War

August 6, 2014

The War Was In My Throat

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The war was in my throat; the need to shout it out. I thought I’d bust wide open. (1)

In the late 1960s I was asked not to talk about it. It bummed people out. People couldn’t look me in the eye when I tried to explain what happened to me at Khe Sanh.

In the 1970s I got told by veterans of previous wars that we (the men and women who served and fought in Vietnam) were the worst Americans who ever went to combat. My first wife informed me that I hadn’t undergone anything worse than anyone else had. I shut my mouth.

In the 1980s I worked with people who had no inkling that I had been a Marine, that I had survived the Siege of Khe Sanh. I didn’t talk about it, and neither did a lot of my fellow Vietnam vets.

Not that keeping your trap shut is just a phenomenon exclusive to Vietnam Veterans. I think silence about battle is common with all combat vets, no matter what the war.

Regardless, in the 1990s we started to talk about it: our war, our horrors. For me it came out through art. I wrote poems and stories, some fiction, some not; mostly autobiographical at the roots.

I was a witness to what happened at Khe Sanh. Not everything, of course. That would be impossible. Nevertheless, I was a witness and so I have been telling the story of my experience. Story is how humans pass on what we learn about life from one generation to the next. Does that mean that anybody learns from our story? Probably not. If they did, we wouldn’t be fighting war after war after war.

Notwithstanding the fact that we don’t seem to learn any of the human stuff passed from one generation to the next, it is still incumbent on us to tell the story.

Some of the incredible architectural detail inside the Pritzker. © Betty Rodgers 2014

Some of the incredible architectural detail inside the Pritzker. © Betty Rodgers 2014

While Betty and I were in Chicago screening BRAVO!, we went to visit the Pritzker Military Museum and Library. Several people familiar with the city had told us it would be worth our time to go there, and since the Pritzker co-sponsored our screening there, we were eager to show up and view the photography, the art, the architecture, the library.

The Pritzker has a steady stream of visitors arriving at their doors all through the day and researchers are in the library researching on the computer terminals, watching DVDs, sorting through stacks of books on library tables.

While at the museum, we met the coordinator of the veteran’s oral history project, Mr. Thomas Webb, who convinced me to give an interview, and we scheduled it for the following day. I asked how long it would take, and he said they liked to get a couple of hour’s worth of material.

Preparing for an oral interview at the Pritzker. © Betty Rodgers 2014

Preparing for an oral interview at the Pritzker.
© Betty Rodgers 2014

Since I was busy with Chicago, I said I’d give them an hour. I gave them three and one-half hours of war and horror and Marines and life. I could have gone on talking to my interviewer, Mr. Jerrod Howe, but I had things to do. My interview will show up as a podcast on their website later this year.

Mine was interview ninety-six. The previous ninety-five have been veterans of World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the First Gulf War, and the Middle East Wars of this century as well Bosnia, Somalia, and other foreign conflicts.

I am particularly thoughtful about those World War II vets. When I was a young veteran, I got told that all the men who fought in that war, that worst of all wars, didn’t need to talk about their war. And of course that was humbug. Guadalcanal Diary, From Here to Eternity, The Bridge on the River Kwai, The Thin Red Line, Randall Jarrell’s poems about the Eighth Air Force, the photography that was available to all of us, and Ernie Pyle’s wonderful books about the troops are just a few of the stories that were told about this war. Those examples were mostly veterans telling their stories. And the ones who didn’t talk in 1946 or 1956 and who are still living are giving their histories to the Pritzker’s Holt Oral History Program and hundreds of other regional organizations intent on preserving memories of war.

Let’s face it, war is horrible and in the long run seems pretty senseless, but it’s one of the things that we humans do best, so it is incumbent on us as a species to understand this effort—this social effort—we get involved in quite regularly.

Here in Boise, Idaho, we have several organizations recording oral histories. I’ll bet, if you are a veteran, you can contact such an organization either in your area or elsewhere, and tell your story.

As a matter of fact, Thomas Webb at the Pritzker would like to hear from you because they want you to tell them your story. You don’t have to be in Chicago to get that done. They have multiple ways of chronicling oral history.

The interview. Left to Right, Jerrod Howe, Thomas Webb and Ken Rodgers, seated. © Betty Rodgers 2014

The interview. Left to Right, Jerrod Howe, Thomas Webb and Ken Rodgers, seated. © Betty Rodgers 2014

The Pritzker Military Museum and Library’s website is at http://www.pritzkermilitary.org/. You can find out more about the Pritzker’s Holt Oral History Program at http://www.pritzkermilitary.org/whats_on/holt-oral-history-program/stories-service/.

The mission statement for the Holt Oral History Program states:

“… the Holt Oral History Program is dedicated to conserving the unique Stories of Service of the Citizen Soldier—not just high ranking officers, recognizable faces from history, or soldiers who have had their stories told already—but every man and woman, from all walks of life, who has served and sacrificed for our country.”

We are all witnesses to our time. Share what you have seen and learned.

The war was in my mouth, right behind my teeth. It wanted out. (2)

(1) From the short story, “Party,” from the collection of short stories, The Gods of Angkor Wat, Ken Rodgers, BK Publications, 2014, p 137

(2) From the short story, “Party,” from the collection of short stories, The Gods of Angkor Wat, Ken Rodgers, BK Publications, 2014, p 138

On the screening front, BRAVO! will be screened in Nampa, Idaho on September 25, 2014 at the Elks Club. Doors will open at 6:00 PM with the screening of the film at 6:30. Screening will be followed by a Q & A session. Suggested donation, $10.00 to benefit Wyakin Warrior Foundation.

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,Guest Blogs,Khe Sanh,Marines,Vietnam War

July 26, 2013

Guest Blogger Ruth Salter On the Power of Story and Memory

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I recently received my copy of Bravo! in the mail and sat down to watch it again. The first time I experienced it at a screening at Boise State University, I was nearly overwhelmed by the stark power of the storytelling. There was too much to absorb in one sitting: too many deep wounds revealed, too much delayed closure. This is a film jammed with stories that demand re-visitation and reflection.

Something that struck me during my second viewing was the repeated use of “the world” to refer to life outside of Vietnam, life before war and the imagined life after it. Marines promised each other, “I’ll see you back in the world,” which underscored for me how extremely unreal life in the battle zone must have felt. Life in besieged Khe Sanh was so impossible to adapt to and to comprehend that it wasn’t even considered an earthly experience. Recently I heard a Korean War vet relate a similar kind of story: one night while on sentry duty, he watched a beautiful full moon slowly rise above a hill and illuminate the battlefield below. His first thought was that this can’t be the same moon that rises back home. Dislocation and surrealism…hallmarks of many combat veterans’ stories.

Decades later, many Vietnam vets have only made it halfway home, living with one foot in “the world” and one back in the battle zone. Some even have two feet planted in the past, at least for part of each day. I was struck by Michael O’Hara’s revelation in Bravo! that every morning before he is fully awake and has his first cup of coffee, he’s back in a trench at Khe Sanh. Every single morning he feels “bodies up to my kneecaps.” Returning daily to the horrors of combat, straddling two extremely different existences sounds horrific to me—I struggle to understand how someone could ever find peace while seesawing between the past and the present, the trenches and “the world.” But Michael didn’t look horrified. Instead, he states, “That’s OK; I’ve come to accept that. I’m not supposed to forget all that stuff.”

But not all combat vets have come to terms with their wartime experiences. Memory is a double-edged sword, capturing our finest as well as our worst moments. Memories of combat can teach non-participants about the realities of war. And the dead walk again in memory. However, when memories painfully invade and occupy the present, derailing daily routines and relationships, action needs to be taken.

Sharing these memories is powerful medicine. Stories externalized are easier to manage. Somewhere I read the injunction “either own your story or it owns you.” When stories find the light of day after being buried for years, deep healing can occur. In the veterans’ writing group I facilitate, memories are shared aloud in conversation and written down to preserve them. Whether captured on paper or on film, the healing power of storytelling is something that can help unstick boots from battlefield mud and plant them more firmly in the present day.

Sharing stories can help both the teller and the listener find the path to insight and healing. Author and psychologist Edward Tick in War and the Soul explains: “Telling our story is a way of preserving our individual history and at the same time defining our place in the larger flow of events. It reveals patterns and meaning that we might otherwise miss as we go about the mundane activities of living; it invites us to see the universe working through us.” Stories also unite tellers and listeners, forming a community of shared witness. War stories, like those so artfully portrayed in Bravo!, can therefore become tools of reconciliation and restoration.

For information about the Boise Area Veterans’ Writing Group, please visit http://boisevetswriting.wordpress.com/ or contact Ruth at ruthsalter@boisestate.edu.

Ruth Salter has a Master of Fine Arts degree and is a lecturer in the Department of English at Boise State University.

DVDs of BRAVO! are now for sale at https://bravotheproject.com/buy-the-dvd/.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please like us at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject/.

Guest Blogs,Marines

May 26, 2013

Cobb Hammond on the Second Battle of Fallujah

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On this Memorial Day, millions of Americans will honor the American service members who gave the final sacrifice in battle. Historically, we have remembered those who died in the great wars of the last century — World War I and World War II — or in the Korean and Vietnam conflicts. But we should also recognize that the others who died in our more recent wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan, perished in no less suffering and gave no less a sacrifice.

One of the pivotal, and arguably most bloody episodes of the Iraq War was the second battle for Fallujah in November 2004. Early that month U.S. Marines commenced Operation Phantom Fury, an effort to clear the city of insurgents who had taken strategic control of the city the previous February. Fallujah’s 300,000 inhabitants had mostly vacated the city, leaving as occupiers 3,000-plus well-prepared insurgents, identified primarily as Iraqi Shiites, Syrian and Libyan rebels and mujahedeen-jihadists.

Cobb Hammond

Most of the residential structures in Fallujah had enclosed courtyards in the back, with double-thick walls and rooftop balconies, making the task of clearing and control difficult and extremely hazardous for U.S. riflemen. In addition, many of the alleyways, side streets and boulevards were planted with mines, booby traps and other improvised explosive devices, and the insurgents had constructed a labyrinth of defensive tunnels that extended for blocks and gave them a tactical advantage.

Not of help to the U.S. forces was the willingness of many of the enemy to fight to the death.

The assault commenced officially on Nov. 7, 2004, as Marines attacked across the entire northern axis, working south by southeast.

The operation was led by Regimental Combat Team “1,” which consisted of two Marine infantry battalions, supported by a mechanized Army battalion. They were designated to assault the western half of Fallujah. The other forces were designated Regimental Combat Team “7,” made up of two Marine battalions and an Army infantry battalion, along with other army and even Iraqi Army units. These forces would attack due south, and then southeast. British units also were active outside the city, keeping infiltration into the city to a minimum.

Many of the tactics employed came by way of difficult experience 36 years earlier during another Marine-led assault at Hue City in Vietnam.

As coalition forces advanced, building by building, enemy forces would allow entry into many houses, only to detonate explosives as gunfire rained down from stairwells and up from “spider traps” cut into floorboards. In other cases, front and back doorways would be barricaded with first a steel, then a wooden door (heavily booby trapped); the forces who penetrated the building would be welcomed by a fusillade of fire.

One of the most intense fights during the 10-day battle occurred at the Muhammadi Mosque in central Fallujah, where Marines found an almost impregnable fortress manned by approximately 200 insurgents. Company B, 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, fighting house to house, battled for 16 hours to capture the mosque, during which time they were attacked by every conceivable weapon, including suicide bombers. After much grit and spilled blood they gained control of the mosque, where they found tons of stored weaponry and munitions, and stores of narcotics for use by the insurgents.

The farther south coalition forces went, the more resistance stiffened. Many of the enemy they encountered wore the uniform of the mercenary jihadists who had infiltrated Fallujah the prior year — after the formal war against the Iraqi government was declared over.

For several more days the U.S. coalition rooted out the insurgents, ending on Nov. 18, except for the minor mop-up operations that continued well into December.

The final tally on coalition force casualties was 95 killed and 600-plus wounded; 51 of the dead and more than 450 of the wounded were U.S. Marines. Many Marines were wounded more than once, returning to duty with their secondary wounds not counted in the official tally. The number of dead among the enemy was placed at 1,200 with an equal number captured, most of whom were wounded. Hundreds of others undoubtedly escaped and avoided capture.

The bravery of the U.S. forces cannot be questioned, as two of the Marines were awarded Navy Crosses for valor and many others received Silver or Bronze stars for heroism in action. One of the U.S. Army battalions was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation, for professionalism and performance in continuous combat — an honor, it should be noted, that is not given out easily.

On this weekend of solemn remembrance, let us take note of these men who gave their all, and sacrificed much.

Cobb H. Hammond writes on military history and is an investment broker with Carty & Company Investments. A different version of this blog post appeared in The Commercial Appeal newspaper in Memphis, TN on May 26, 2013.

Guest Blogs

May 30, 2011

Part 1

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Today, Betty Rodgers, one of the producers for Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor, muses on veterans and Memorial Day.

I was conceived not long after WWII ended. During that conflict, my maternal grandmother was a Gray Lady in the Red Cross, my mother was a Red Cross employee and USO volunteer, my biological father was a stretcher bearer in the European Arena, and my Aunty Kay was a WAC officer in New Guinea where she met her future husband, Harry Dennis, an officer who was serving there as well. Needless to say, I grew up in a family that honored and respected veterans for their service to our country and the preservation of freedom. Aunty Kay and Uncle Harry went on to become leaders in the American Legion and my aunt fought long and hard for women’s veteran’s rights and the betterment of medical care and conditions in veteran’s hospitals nationwide. Some of the most treasured books on Mother’s shelves are about WWII.

They had all believed that WWII would be the war to end all wars so their children and grandchildren would never have to experience battle.

Then came the Korean War, and after that, the war of my generation, the Vietnam War. That’s when Aunty Kay and Uncle Harry’s sons (my cousins) all enlisted in the military, along with many of my childhood friends. My first serious boyfriend was killed in Vietnam when he stepped on a landmine.

Fast forward to 1985 when I married Ken Rodgers, a Vietnam veteran. One of his best friends told me that Ken was a true war hero, having served at Khe Sanh. I gradually learned more and more about his experience and how it impacted his life, but never more than when I met the men he served with in Bravo Company and heard their shared stories in Washington, DC, in 1993. These were Marines with the same heart and beliefs as our WWII veterans, but the way it all played out in their lives was completely different. They were not respected and considered heroes by the general American public.

In July 2008, Ken and I once again attended the annual reunion of Khe Sanh veterans. Again, I listened and observed the bond that existed from the common experience of Bravo Company. I saw men from every walk of life, with every color of skin, with every possible philosophical bent, who would have never known each other except for the Vietnam War. I saw how their Company Commander, Ken Pipes, was still leading his men, and the mutual love and respect that comes only from knowing each other’s heart under the pressure of terrifying adversity.

At the next reunion in 2009, it became clear that the story of Bravo Company was slowly evaporating with each telling, and was just as relevant as the wars of previous generations. We also realized we were losing the men one by one, and with them, their stories. Ken and I agreed the history needed to be preserved in some way as soon as possible, and we sought and received the thumbs up from Ken Pipes.

The question became how to go about it. Write a book? No. Oral histories? Not enough. Documentary film? Perfect. Could we do it? Let’s give it our all. And so far the journey has been humbling, enlightening, encouraging and inspiring. I’ll talk more about it in Part II. In the meantime, we’re coming in the home stretch on creating the film.

And so today, Memorial Day 2011, I remember and thank all the people in my life, and Ken’s life, and yours, who have served our country and its fundamental purpose as stated in the Preamble to the Constitution, to “…establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity…”

Betty and Ken Rodgers have been hitched together for over twenty-six years. Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor is just the latest of a string of successful collaborations.