Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Posts Tagged ‘Lang Vei’

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

February 9, 2018

9 February 1968—Fifty Years Ago Today

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Early in the sequence of events that make up this blog, I sat on top of a bunker with a Marine as he fired a fifty-caliber machine gun at anything that moved outside the concertina wire. F-4 Phantoms, F-8 Crusaders and A-4 Skyhawks swooped down and dropped bombs and napalm. Suddenly, in flames, enemy warriors erupted from a depression in the landscape. Like burning matchsticks with legs, they ran and we pomp-pomp-pomped at them with that fifty-caliber.

Almost immediately the whistle of rockets sent us diving for cover. In a memory that periodically crashes into my consciousness, I recall a Marine sprinting across a stretch of open ground just before I hit the deck.

When the shock of landing on my head retreated and the stench of explosives cleared my nasal passages, I heard screaming. The fifty-caliber machine gunner and I leapt out of the trench and scrabbled over to the Marine who’d been running. A chunk of shrapnel from one of those incoming rockets had severed his arm and blood shot out like a rampant river.

We tried a tourniquet as we hollered for a corpsman who, mercifully for both the wounded Marine and us, showed up.

That was just the beginning of a series of events that set me to gnawing fingernails.

In the early hours of 5 February, NVA troops attacked and breached the perimeter of Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 26th Marines’ perimeter on Hill 861-A. We hunkered down in our fighting holes on Red Alert and waited to be attacked.

PT-76 Tank

The following night, the NVA attacked the Special Forces installation at the ville of Lang Vei, a community a few miles southwest of the combat base. Again we were up all night on Red Alert.
Word slithered down the trench like a four-foot spitting cobra that the assault on Lang Vei included tanks.

TANKS!!!!

All night I heard the clank of metal, like the sounds tank tracks make as the vehicle turns. The NVA did employ PT-76 tanks that night. I often wonder if those sounds that shivered me with terror were real or if I just made them up, my imagination fueled by fear.

For me the ring of death began to choke our esprit de corps. Facial expressions seemed grimmer, teeth gritted tighter, eyes stared out of sockets like they watched the end of the world. The humor grew as dark as the nights into which we peered. And the incoming kept slamming into our bunkers and trenches, sending debris and red dust flying.

C-130 taking off at Khe Sanh.

On 8 February, Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, the celebrated “Walking Dead,” had a platoon overrun in one hell of a nasty firefight near the “rock quarry” west of the main combat base. Again, we stood prepared on Red Alert.

I wondered if I’d ever see my mother again, or my best friend, or my girlfriend—even though I really didn’t have a girlfriend. The pit in my stomach felt bigger than Arizona, where I’m from. I walked around in a perpetual state of dry mouth, trying to keep my hands from shaking, talking a tough, vulgar patois to the men with whom I served. For the most part, I reckon they were doing the same thing.

The next day, the 10th, a C-130 plane approached the combat base. This plane, call sign “Basketball 813,” flew south of the base and the men in my fire team and I watched it as we filled sandbags.

Antiaircraft fire struck “Basketball 813” which struggled around to the west end of the strip. Smoke and fire flared out of the fuselage as it landed. The plane roared down the runway until it careened off the south side of the tarmac and pitched into a ditch. It erupted in flames.

We all broke for the wreckage which wasn’t that far away. One of the most vivid memories I have of my time at Khe Sanh is watching men come out of the cockpit through those big windows at the front of the plane. They hung by their hands and dropped to the earth. It was a long drop.

Blogger Ken Rodgers prior to the beginning of the Siege. Photo courtesy of Michael E. O’Hara.

As I watched that conflagration, it seemed almost unreal. Revulsion, fear, despair did not rear up in me as I realized that whoever was in the back of the plane would burn to death. I was immune. Mayhem and catastrophe were an everyday occurrence. This realization haunts me.

****

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,Film Screenings,Khe Sanh,Marines,Vietnam War

January 28, 2015

On Memory, Leeches and Hill 471

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

January 28th at Khe Sanh seems to have no place in my memory. Several Marines were killed that day by incoming but I don’t remember anything about it. That’s one of the things that bugs me about enduring the siege. I have great gaps in what I remember.

The American educator and philosopher, John Dewey, said: “Time and memory are true artists; they remould reality nearer to the heart’s desire.”

If I think about that quote it leads me to conclude that today, based on my recollections as I write this, my heart’s desire must be that the bulk of my memories of living the Siege be hidden. Am I off base to make that claim? And yet so often I still find myself struggling with trying to remember what happened there.

Memory of the siege comes in spurts. Thinking of day one, I remember that horror. I also remember the listening posts, work parties, standing watch, eating chow, but not when they happened. I recall some conversations, some battles, and other isolated moments during my time there.

I remember watching the ARVN’s 37th Ranger Battalion move in front of us sometime around January 28. I remember how I felt having them out there. I remember thinking that if they got overrun and retreated to our lines, we would probably have shot them all. They were Vietnamese. Good guys or bad, we thought they all looked alike. I’m glad I don’t have to deal with those memories. Being overrun. Killing my allies because they looked like my enemy.

I remember the fall of Lang Vei, and the many days where we received in excess of a thousand rounds of incoming. I remember lying in the trench as the shells battered battered battered the red ground. The kaplunk they made when leaving their tubes. It was creepy suddenly realizing that the round was on its way by the time you heard that kaplunk. And there was the whistle or the scream or the roar they made coming at you. Messengers singing a deadly song aimed at me.

I remember feeling like I was in a little cocoon and all the world around was shaking and rattling and attacking that cocoon. The cocoon wasn’t safe, but it was all I had. What became critical was my ability to stay within my own mind—the last bastion of protection, the kernel, the essence of who I was. That cocoon.

One day, early on, I was lucky enough to survive a near hit. The thing that was branded into my memory right then was the sound I heard when that round left its tube, how it sounded on its way to greet me.

I learned to listen for the sounds of those rounds. 120 MM and 130 MM and 152 MM pieces banging away at me sent me not-so-subtle messages that they were on the way. Funny, thinking about that now: that as they intended to kill me, they also warned me. It was like a game, with weird rules. We’re going to kill you, but with that in mind we’re going to help you out. We’re going to send you a message.

I must have gotten pretty good at hearing those warnings because I’m still alive. That ability to sense where incoming rounds would hit and a healthy dose of luck saved me.

Ken Rodgers. co-producer of BRAVO! Photo courtesy of Kevin Martini-Fuller

Ken Rodgers. co-producer of BRAVO! Photo courtesy of Kevin Martini-Fuller

Right this moment I wish that something would have saved my memory. Was my experience there so fraught with fright, so laden with the horrors that man can deliver to man that I have to forget it?

It’s funny, yet much of what I do recall is some of the more mundane events at Khe Sanh, especially before the siege ever began, before it was even a possibility.

If I don’t recall anything about January 28 nor 29, 1968 when a team of Army personnel and some of their Bru cohorts (Bru were local montagnards who often fought with US forces) went out towards Hill 471 and got into a nasty dustup with the NVA, I do remember Hill 471 from an earlier encounter.

In late May of 1967 we went out on a company-sized operation towards the high ground around Hill 471 when the Khe Sanh TAOR still had vegetation that wasn’t blasted to smithereens. Hill 471 was covered with trees. We approached the summit and 3rd Platoon ran into some NVA and shot and killed one. Then we called in air strikes. I recall sitting on the edge of a bomb crater watching A-4 Skyhawks, F-4 Phantoms and F-8 Crusaders swoop down and drop bombs, strafe with cannons and machine guns, and shoot rockets. It was up close and made my heart hammer and the big basso whine of shrapnel winging through the sky sounded like the song of hell. Big chunks of bomb landed all around us and hissed when it hit in damp spots in the bottoms of craters.

That operation is where I met my first leech. Didn’t notice it until it was the size of my thumb. Maybe that’s because they were the size of pencil lead when they latched on and hard to see. I didn’t know what to think and all the old Vietnam salts laughed at me.

That’s where I saw my first bamboo viper, too. Corporal Fritsche and I chased it through—you guessed it—the bamboo, but it eased away like life leaving a wounded man. Besides Fritsche, I remember a lot more names from that time than during the siege: Ward, Blankenship, James, Poorman, Little John, Deedee, Pacheco, Carswell, Callahan, Fideli, Steinhardt, “Fearless” Bosowski, Enyart, Bowers and Lens.

We patrolled around Hill 471 and set up a perimeter for the evening. I recall sitting on top of a ridge most of the night on watch, unable to drift into sleep watching for the NVA to creep between the trunks of trees and slither out of the bamboo thickets to our front. But they didn’t come.

More than once I’ve wondered if I shouldn’t have a shrink hypnotize me and take me back to relive every second of my time at Khe Sanh. I wonder if the hypnotism shouldn’t be taped and transcribed. But as I think about it, I always decide not to do that. I think there may be a good reason why my memories of a lot of my time at Khe Sanh are subdued, hidden, masked.

The American writer John Irving said, “Your memory is a monster; you forget – it doesn’t. It simply files things away. It keeps things for you, or hides things from you – and summons them to your recall with a will of its own. You think you have a memory; but it has you!”

All my Vietnam events are filed away, I suppose, and available to show up if prodded by something…a dream, the way a tree looks in winter, its fallen leaves, the way its naked branches fling shadows on a bank of snow. Or the sound of a truck running down the highway, the rumble trapped against the sides of a retaining wall, the rap rap rap. Or a white bird soaring over a field of snowy corn stubble. The sound of a gun.

On the screening front, mark your calendars for a fundraising screening in Casa Grande, Arizona, on February 15, 2015, at the historic Paramount Theatre. Doors open at Noon, lunch served at 1:00 PM, screening of BRAVO! to follow at 2:00 PM. Ticket cost: $15.00 advance purchase or at the door. Proceeds will benefit the Mobile Veterans Center and Emergency Veterans Services in Pinal County.

On March 30, 2015, BRAVO! will be screened at the Egyptian Theater in Boise Idaho. Doors open at 6:00 PM. Program begins at 6:45 PM. Following the screening there will be a panel discussion moderated by Boise author extraordinaire, Alan Heathcock. The panel discussion will include veterans, some of whom are in the film. Proceeds will benefit the Idaho Veterans’ Network and Veterans’ Treatment Courts. Tickets are available online from the Egyptian Theater here.

Additional Idaho screenings to support the Veterans’ Courts and the Idaho Veterans’ Network will be held in Lewiston, Idaho, on March 18, 2015, time and location to be determined; Twin Falls, Idaho, on March 31, 2015, at the College of Southern Idaho’s Fine Arts Building, time yet to be determined; Caldwell, Idaho, on April 1, 2015, at College of Idaho’s Langroise Recital Hall, time to be determined; and in Pocatello, Idaho, at a time yet to be determined.

If you or your organization would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town next spring or summer, 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/. It’s another way to stay up on our news and help raise more public awareness of this film.

Book Reviews,Documentary Film,Film Screenings

February 14, 2014

On Casa Grande, Arizona and Barry Hart

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Last night in Casa Grande, Arizona, we screened BRAVO! at the old Paramount Theatre to an enthusiastic audience approaching one-hundred attendees. Casa Grande is my hometown. As always, the mix of folks at the screening proved unique. We screened BRAVO! as a benefit for the Pinal County Veterans Memorial. Thanks much to Debby Martin of the theater, Palmer Miller of the Memorial, and the Paramount Film Society for all their assistance in making the screening of BRAVO! possible.

One of the highlights of the evening was at the end of the film, after the film credits ceased rolling. Mr. Marty Haggard, the son of Mr. Merle Haggard, sang one of his father’s songs that was popular during the Vietnam War, “The Fightin’ Side of Me.” Other highlights were the presentation of the colors by the Casa Grande Union High School Marine Corps Junior ROTC and Palmer Miller’s art.

The youngest attendee was our granddaughter, Jayden Rodgers, who was there with her sister Justyce and dad, Jim. The oldest person was Sybil Wilson, ninety years young. Sybil grew up and attended school with my parents and lived behind us when I was a kid. Friends came from far away to see the film, including Sharon Haldane, in Arizona on a visit from Oklahoma.

I was standing outside the theater talking to long-time friends Anita and Al Chew when a man walked by me whom I recognized, but from a completely different context. I thought, that looks like Alex Dominguez from Norwalk, California. (Alex is a Khe Sanh Veteran brother.) And he stopped and we shook hands and it was Alex who told me later that he’d come over to support me because Casa Grande is my hometown. Now that’s what I call having your brother’s back. Thanks to all the folks who came to the screening and thanks for all the support.

Casa Grande Union High School Marine Corps Junior ROTC Color Guard © Betty Rodgers 2014

On another note, February in 1968 at Khe Sanh was a dire time for American forces trapped inside the enemy’s encirclement. There was the attack on Hill 861A and the fall of Lang Vei and the bitter struggle between the Marines of 1/9 and the NVA over Hill 64. Later came the Ghost Patrol and every day the incoming was fierce, driving us deeper into bunkers and trenches and deeper into ourselves. The events of February 1968, if we survived it, forced us to find out what kind of mettle we could muster. In the face of death, we were forced to perform, forced to go on. I suppose these vicissitudes of war and how we cope with them are part of the undefinables that embody the concept of courage.

Besides finding “courage,” being in Vietnam during 1968 forced us to discover many things about life and death. I recently got my hands on and read a book of poems by Marine and BRAVO! supporter Barry Hart titled, A PATH INTO THE WOODS. Barry’s son, Nathan, wrote a moving and perceptive forward for the book in which he talks about, among other things, how he saw his father’s attempts to cope with the experience of the war.

There is a lot of good poetry in this book, both about war, and not about war, poetry about family, loss, self-improvement. There are poems in free verse and there are more formal pieces with rhyme and meter. Barry Hart knows how to write poetry, has a sense of sound and imagery, understands the concepts of metaphor and other aspects of figurative writing.

In his poem, “The Killing Ground,” Barry writes: On the battlefield/dead men lie in the dirt,/made wet by their blood,/shaping the ground where they lie. Those images are almost matter-of-fact, the simplicity of the language stark and realistic. Later in the poem, he goes on: Their bodies/drawn from the pitch/leave the impression of death

“The impression of death,” a visual thing shaped by their dead bodies, but more than that, an impression that hits us hard as the words come back to us as we drive down the road or walk the dogs; later, after we have read this poem, that impression comes back.

For more information on Barry’s book, A PATH INTO THE WOODS (Periploi Press, Nashville, TN), go to http://www.hartbn.com.

Marty Haggard singing his father's song © Betty Rodgers 2014

On the screening front, BRAVO! will be shown at the Fallbrook, CA, VFW Post 1924 on March 22, 2014 at 2:00 PM in the afternoon. Tickets for the screening are $10.00 and can be purchased at the door, first come, first served. Proceeds from this screening will go to benefit American Combat Veterans of War, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that assists combat veterans with finding their way back into productive lives.

We will be screening the film to 300 veteran residents in a private affair at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation facility at San Quentin on March 29, 2014.

The following day at 6:00 PM we will screen BRAVO! aboard the SS Jeremiah O’Brien at Pier 45, Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco, CA. If you are in the area, please consider coming to see us and the film. Net proceeds from this screening will go to help fund the SS Jeremiah O’Brien Dry Dock Fund. The SS Jeremiah O’Brien, The National Liberty Ship Memorial, is a 501(c)(3) non-profit entity. For more information, go to http://www.ssjeremiahobrien.org/.

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. For more information about purchasing BRAVO! DVDs, go to http://bit.ly/18Pgxe5.

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

Khe Sanh,Marines,Vietnam War

February 9, 2011

The Fall of Lang Vei

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

43 years ago last Monday, the People’s Army of North Vietnam attacked and overran the US Army Special Forces camp at Lang Vei. Lang Vei was defended by 24 Americans, as well as detachments of South Vietnamese, Montagnard and Royal Laotian Army troops.

Lang Vei was located near the South Vietnamese-Laotian border about six miles west of where I, right then, stood watch along the Gray Sector perimeter at Khe Sanh. We had endured twelve days of rocket and mortar attacks since the siege of Khe Sanh began on the morning of 21 January 1968 and the attack on Lang Vei seemed, to me as I remember it now, a ramping up of action, a new punch in the nose from our enemy, the NVA (PAVN).

The night was foggy as I stood watch, and I don’t remember that specifically, that it was foggy, but I say that because it was always foggy at night. We got the word about the assault on Lang Vei through the whispered words of one man on watch to the next man. The word went around like a night creature in flight, changing form and function—messenger, harbinger, bringer of fright—as it flittered from bunker and fighting hole to bunker and fighting hole in and out of the thick mist. Growing larger, then smaller, depending on who was doing the whispering. Lang Vei is under attack. Lang Vei’s under attack.

During the night of 6 February and the dark morning hours of 7 February, the Khe Sanh combat base took a lot of incoming, often a round or two every few seconds, and the NVA, I suppose, intended to keep us in our bunkers and off Route 9 between our position and Lang Vei. We were on our faces in the trench when rounds came in, then on our feet, alertly watching into the mist because if the enemy was assaulting Lang Vei, they might assault us, too. Every Marine in our section of Gray Sector was on alert. The hidden red ends of burning Camels and Lucky Strikes, steaming cups of coffee and cocoa, our rifles locked and loaded, grenades lined up on the parapets to toss at Charlie when he rolled over the concertina and came at us with his screaming, fanatical attack, bayonets fixed on his AK-47s, ready for stabs and horizontal butt strokes to stomachs, chins and cheekbones.

Then the word “tank” flitted into the mix. “Tanks, they are hitting Lang Vei with tanks.”

All my memories of the Khe Sanh experience are tainted by time and by all that I’ve read and all that I have heard from other people who were and who were not at the siege. Yet, sieved out of those tainted memories, I see Lance Corporal “C” running from bunker to bunker, frantic whispers. “Tanks, the gooks have got tanks and they are overrunning Lang Vei right now. Hell, they might be done over there and on their way here.”

We had never faced the specter of hostile tanks and I remember in my mind the images of them rolling over the wire barriers to our front. I recollect the shock of it invaded the bottom of my spine, down at the pelvis, and snaked up my back. I shivered. I tried to hide it. I didn’t want anyone to know I shivered. Tanks.

Lance corporal “C” was a big man, bigger than most Marines who were small, tough kids tired of being pushed around a lot and joined the Corps to prove some things to themselves, and to others. “C” loved rumors, scuttlebutt. And he savored passing them on, one bunker to the next. He had begun his Nam stint with me in my squad back in March of ‘67 but somehow got himself moved up to Supply. Yet he never failed to show up and give us the word before the word was ever official. Whether the word had substance or not.

“C” must have had ears like fingers, good for plucking rumor out of the wind. And more than that, told it lasciviously. He’d hunch his large frame and get an impish look to his face, his big blue eyes darting left and right, left then right, then over his shoulder to see if Lieutenant “D” or Staff Sergeant “A” might come snooping down the trench line and catch him delivering forbidden goodies.
I remember my fright like the wings of miniature bats caught in my throat, their little claws scrabbling, intent on ripping through to the back of my neck. Tanks, and all that meant: crushed by steel tracks, blown apart by their cannons, the screams of elation of the NVA ground-pounders as they came in behind the tanks and caught us in crossfires as we tried to escape. Death…it was death, and it was coming at us on the rumbling engines of those tanks.

I remember, between dodging into the bunkers and hitting the muddy deck to avoid the whoosh, wham, zing of rockets, hearing the sound of those tank engines. Caught in the tiniest of breezes that moved the fog, the rumble and clank of those tanks….coming to get us.

And of course the sounds of those tanks I heard could have been nothing more than my imagination riled by the rumors that did, in fact, turn out to be true. Tanks did indeed overrun Lang Vei, although they did not show up to roll over the concertina wire around our position at the Khe Sanh combat base.

As the chaos of night battle amped up, we were ordered to saddle up and prepare to go save Lang Vei. But later, we stood down.

The next morning, the survivors of Lang Vei, showed up at the gates of Khe Sanh. The surviving Americans came in the gate and the indigenous people remained outside, confined in bomb craters and stripped of their weapons. I recall a lot of complaints back then—and probably there still are today—about how we, the Marines at Khe Sanh, didn’t go out and relieve those men at Lang Vei; and I have heard and read all the reasons why we didn’t. If they had ordered us to go save those men, we, the snuffies in the trench, would have dutifully gone to our probable demise. But we just sat and waited, all night, in the fog and mist as the rockets, mortars and artillery pounded us and we listened for the clank and rumble of those tanks.