Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Posts Tagged ‘M-16’

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

January 21, 2018

Fifty Years Ago Today–The Big Shebang

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Fifty Years Ago Today—January 21, 1968

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

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

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

Men sprinted hear and there.

Khe Sanh Combat Base

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I said, “Need some morphine?”

He shook his head, “I’ve had plenty.”

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

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

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

But they weren’t wiped out.

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

It was day one.

***

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Documentary Film,Marines,Other Musings,Vietnam War

July 2, 2014

On The Many Faces of Fear and the Quest for Closure

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I recently received a telephone call from a gentleman I met last year at the Khe Sanh Veterans reunion in Nashville, TN. He reminded me that he had come to the reunion back in September to see if he could find out information about his cousin, Glenn Sanders from Alpha Company, 1/26 who was KIA at Khe Sanh in late June, 1967.

When we met in Nashville, I couldn’t help him because Glenn Sanders was with a different outfit than mine, so I introduced him around to some of the men I knew who were in Alpha 1/26 and that’s the last I knew of him until he called me last week.

Khe Sanh Combat Base, Photo courtesy of www.authentichistory.com

Khe Sanh Combat Base, Photo courtesy of www.authentichistory.com

Here’s some background: In the early morning hours of June 27, 1967, the NVA rocketed and mortared the Khe Sanh Combat Base, killing and wounding a number of Marines from 1/26. Later that day, elements of CAC Oscar-3 and the Third Battalion, 26th Marines, first probed and then assaulted Hill 689 southwest of Khe Sanh where the incoming from that early morning was fired.

A number of men were killed and wounded before Hill 689 was secured by the Marines of 3/26. All tolled, the number of men KIA on those days, according to Reverend Ray Stubbe’s Battalion of Kings, was 28.

I was up on Hill 881 South with Bravo Company when all this action took place. We could hear the combat and were on 100% alert while the fighting occurred.

During the dark hours the fog was so dense you could carve it with a K-bar. Jim Richardson from Albany, Georgia, and I manned a bunker on the west side of the 881 South. We whispered back and forth to each other. Jim had been a mortician before enlisting in the Corps, so we probably whispered about death and dead bodies. We did that to keep our minds off what was out there crawling around, intent on killing us.

I recall one instance in particular when we heard something out to our front. The mist was so thick that water dripped off the top of the bunker and down onto the sandbagged parapet at the front of our position. Drip, drip, drip. But what we heard beyond that was more distinct. It was scraping, like maybe someone was crawling up to the concertina wire in front of our bunker. We snapped our M-16s off safe and leaned against the parapet.

Hill 881 South, photo courtesy of www.talkingproud.us

Hill 881 South, photo courtesy of www.talkingproud.us

It happened in less time that it took for one of those drips to leave the moldy green sandbags and fall the foot or so to the parapet below. An enormous rat—he must have been two-and-a-half feet from the end of his tail to the tip of his nose—leapt down on the parapet right in front of Jim and me.

At first I thought a grenade had hit the front of our position. Both Jim and I ducked as the rat slapped the sandbag and still not sure what had hit the parapet, we fell to the deck and covered our necks until we heard the critter scrabble off the sandbags and into the night.

How we had the discipline not to light up the night with our M-16s and send that rat to rodent hell, I do not know. Or maybe it wasn’t discipline at all; maybe we were too frightened to do anything more than react.

We both laughed. We laughed so loud that the platoon sergeant and the squad leader came down the line and hissed at us to shut up.

Ken Rodgers, © Betty Rodgers, 2012

Ken Rodgers, © Betty Rodgers, 2012

The dichotomies and ironies of combat were and are never ending. Down below us at the combat base and out on Hill 689, Marines and Corpsmen were dying. NVA soldiers were dying. And we were up on Hill 881 South giggling that we had been attacked by a rat. And we were so relieved that it was only a rat, all we could do was laugh.

One of those dying men was Glenn Sanders, the cousin of the man who I met in Nashville and who called me last week. He wanted to report that he had made contact with a number of the men in Alpha Company, 1/26, and even though none of them remembered Glenn, they did tell him the circumstances of the attack the early morning of June 27, 1967.

Consequently, this man who was searching for clues and information about his cousin’s death has been able to pass on to friends and relatives news about this Marine who didn’t make it out of Khe Sanh. And furthermore, on Memorial Day, 2014, this Marine who was killed at Khe Sanh was honored by the family’s local church. It may be 47 years late, but at least the honoring happened and hopefully those friends and family who remain alive, who knew this Marine, have some kind of closure.

If you would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town this summer or fall, 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 and what it is really like to fight in a war.

Khe Sanh

September 8, 2011

If Memory Fails Me

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One of the things that has been resolved in the course of creating the film, Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor, is the questioning of my memory. When it comes to the Siege of Khe Sanh, I have questioned if I really saw this or that over the years. Maybe what I thought I saw on a particular occasion was something that someone else told me about and over a period of decades became my memory, my experience.

But over the last eighteen months, a number of things I thought I saw, and then discounted as the memories began to fade, have been rekindled as my special truths.

For instance: February 13, 1968.

The NVA (North Vietnamese Army) had a 57 MM recoilless rifle emplacement out in front of the ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam—South Vietnamese Army) lines and harassed us (both the ARVNs and the Marines), sending their shells into our lines, scaring the hell out of us. Some men were hit, maybe some killed, and on February 13 the 37th ARVN Ranger Battalion sent out a six man patrol to silence that gun. Second Platoon—my platoon—of Bravo Company sent out a squad to back up that ARVN patrol.

By then I was a short-timer in Vietnam and the siege was really beginning to heat up. So as we wended our way outside the wire and down into the valley below the ARVN lines, I felt the cold fingers of fear squeezing my spine. I had a fire team to command and I had to keep my guard up so that I didn’t appear frightened. I tossed my usual bravado (which at that moment was pretty counterfeit) around like hand grenades.

We sat up in a bamboo thicket on a line perpendicular to a well used game trail that wore a lot of sign of human traffic too. The bamboo was so thick you couldn’t see two feet in any direction except back towards the trail. We all set in and began to look to our front, our sides, and our rear. I remember sweat on my upper lip as I licked my chapped lips.

The thicket was too quiet. Like nothing in the world was alive. Even though planes were taking off and landing not three hundred meters to our rear and artillery rounds and rockets were flying overhead into the NVA positions to our front and from the NVA into our trenches in the combat base. I remember my mouth was dry and I quickly drank a canteen of water. I wanted to smoke a Camel but feared the smell would draw someone to kill me. I looked for bamboo vipers and leeches. I looked for the enemy. I listened for him.

Suddenly gunfire erupted to my front. Men were yelling in Vietnamese and there was screaming like someone was in pain. At least one someone, maybe more. Unbeknownst to me, the ARVNs had ambushed the 57 MM recoilless rifle crew and killed most of the North Vietnamese, capturing the gun. In the course of the fight, the ARVN lieutenant in command of the patrol had been wounded and found himself isolated from his men. As they took casualties trying to rescue him, he killed himself so they wouldn’t have to endanger any more men. I didn’t know any of this then, I could only hear the racket and the gunfire and the screaming and soon I could hear someone coming back up the trail. With my M-16 ready, the safety clicked off, I watched as the ARVN patrol hurried by with the captured 57 MM weapon and some wounded men. They waved their arms as they moved by, jumping around and rapidly jabbering in Vietnamese.

Right after they passed through our position, we formed up and followed them into Khe Sanh Combat Base. I was the last man into the file, so I pulled tail-end Charlie all the way back waiting for the enemy to sneak up and shoot us.

Later that night, a runner came down from the platoon commander and ordered me to bring one of my fire team members with me up to the command bunker. The mist hung down like a mother’s breath on a child just found dead in the crib. Flares fired from 105 MM howitzers lit the night and clanked and squeaked on their parachutes as they floated towards the ground. You could hear them hiss as they burned, and their smoke trails snaked away in the nighttime breeze.

At the command bunker, two ARVN stood out in the trench with a shrouded body on a stretcher. The lieutenant told me to take them up to Graves Registration. At the time, I was under the impression that the corpse on that stretcher was an NVA officer, but now I believe it was that ARVN lieutenant who killed himself. Nevertheless, it was my duty, along with Furlong, or Foster, or O’Hara, or Horton (I do not remember who) to escort the Vietnamese soldiers and the corpse through our lines and into the middle of the base so that no one shot the ARVN troopers, thinking they were the enemy.

No lights. Thick fog. We stumbled around and responded to halts, who-goes-there from a number of positions—artillery units, cooks, motor pool outfits, and who knows who else—before we located Graves Registration. I walked in; the ARVNS close behind with their dead officer. As I talked to the NCO in charge, I heard the thump of feet running down a hall somewhere in the rear of the bunker. Suddenly a Marine burst out, looking back over his shoulder with his hands up like Green Bay Packer wide receiver, Boyd Dowler. A foot floated out from the corridor that the Marine had just vacated and dropped into his outstretched hands. As he caught the foot, he yelled, “Touchdown.”

It was ugly, macabre, sick, demented and pretty damned funny, or so I thought at the time, because I burst out laughing. Something we do to retain our humanity in moments of extreme horror, we laugh, joke, grin. Even to this day, I still smirk—I could say smile, but that is too beautiful a word for this occasion—when I think about that foot, which is quite often.
 
The ARVN Rangers we escorted to Graves Registration dropped the stretcher and vacated the premises. We laughed harder at that than at the foot flying into the hands of the pranking Marine mortician. Outside, I found them huddled in a niche of the trench, squatting like Vietnamese were prone to do. Like wild animals trapped in a cage, their eyes darted left and right as I approached. What little light could be captured from the night gleamed in the whites. We escorted the ARVNs back to Second Platoon’s command bunker, or we must have, because I retain absolutely no memory of what happened after seeing that night-gleam in their eyes.

On another note, we have been showing an almost finished version of the film to private invitation only screenings. The response has been…well…extremely gratifying.

You can see more about what is happening with Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor, at our Indiegogo cloudfunding site at www.indiegogo.com/Bravo-Common-Men-Uncommon-Valor. You can also find us on FaceBook at www.facebook.com/bravotheproject.

Vietnam War

August 18, 2011

August in Nam

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In August, 1967 the war in Vietnam raged. In I Corps, Marines died all along the DMZ. But in Bravo Company…..rain. Floods gushing down the trenches. Rebuilding the bunkers on Hill 861. Digging drains for the trenchlines and installing fifty-five gallon oil drums with their tops and bottoms cut out. Places for the floods to charge down the hill and gouge out blood red creases in the hillside. Trying to burn the trash dump….hazardous duty. Five gallons of gas, five gallons of diesel fuel. Damp matches from the inside of your damp jungle utilities. Damp skin. Fingers ridged with white wrinkles. One match out of ten ignites. When you manage to get the fire into the dump it erupts with a searing whoosh that knocks you off your feet. Sears your eyelashes, your eyebrows. An unforeseen consequence of war.

Patrols. No enemy. Boredom. Ambushes, listening posts. No enemy. Boredom. Dig dig dig, rain rain, mud, wet feet, wet skin. No enemy. Boredom. Fearless B. dancing on top of the machine gunner’s bunker as he yells expletives at the non-existent enemy. He flaps his arms like a goony bird. We stand wet watches in the knee-deep water…at night. Marines go to sleep on watch. A court martial offense. “In the old Corps,” the old salts say, “they’d have summarily shot you in the head. As you slept. You are putting everybody in danger.” We go to sleep on watch. A slap on the helmet instead of a court martial. The harsh tap of a .45 caliber pistol barrel on the top of your helmet instead of a .45 caliber slug in your temple. Bored.

Down off the north side and along the Song Rao Quan as it cuts a deeper valley. Hints of cigarette smoke that doesn’t smell like ours. Cold c-rats as we get excited and hunt something to shoot. Anyone not on our side. Who’s out there. Nothing. Stale scent of unfamiliar tobacco…that’s all.

At night, again, reports of probes and a Marine tosses a grenade that sounds like a dull whump as it explodes in the head-high jungle grass. We go on alert as the frogs click and the crickets click and we click the safeties of our M-16s. Nothing but the moon on the south horizon and the breezes whispering over the wet sandbags that build our bunkers. The one night all  month we are not choked by fog. We whisper to the man on the next post about all the girls we laid before becoming Jarheads. We lie. Nothing. We go back to sleep.

Someone rolls a smoke grenade down the steps into the Lieutenant’s hooch. He stomps sputtering and cussing up the stairwell and gets tripped as he lurches into the foggy black of night. Yellow smoke mixes with mist. He splays on his face and gets kicked in the ass. Jungle boots retreat in the mud amid laughter. The next morning he tries to track his attackers but the steady rain has jumbled the waffle prints of the boots. We all snigger as we hide our dirty faces in our dirty dungaree jackets.

One night a patrol out through the gate on the trail to 881 South. It is so dark you can barely see the man standing next to you. Mist drips off the end of your nose, your weapon, your trousers are damp. The jingle of dog tags and the creak of web gear. The crack and snap of rounds being chambered in M-16s. Somewhere a cigarette lighter clangs. The acrid scent of Marlboros assaults your nose. The nip of it feels right on your tongue. You tote a Browning 12-gauge. Out the gate and into a bamboo thicket so dense it chokes all the air out of your lungs. Vertigo, vertigo. You don’t know what’s out in front. Death breathes a deep sigh that tingles the bones in your spine. Cobras, out there, Charlie. Death. The dredge of boots through the sloppy red mud. Out the other side into a dark less dark. Grayer than the black that invaded your soul and left you lost for the twenty-five paces you had to act brave. Back in the bamboo thicket.

Out here, no sign of Charlie. Nothing.