Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Posts Tagged ‘Marines’

Guest Blogs,Khe Sanh,Marines,Other Musings,Veterans,Vietnam War

March 22, 2017

Ghosties–Redux

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Forty-nine years ago yesterday, Second Platoon, Bravo Company, First Battalion, Twenty-Sixth Marine Regiment went outside the wire at Khe Sanh. BRAVO! Marine Michael E. O’Hara muses on his memories of that day in this re-posting of a guest blog he wrote six years ago.

“Flanders”, a novel by Patricia Anthony, is set in France in WWI. It tells of a Texas farm boy, Travis Lee Stanhope, who joined the British Army and fought there Mar/Dec 1916. As time passes and casualties mount, Travis Lee begins to have dreams, dreams of a beautiful garden, the sweet smell of lavender, and a girl in a calico dress who assures him she will watch over his friends, his “GHOSTIES”, buried in the glass covered graves there.

It is 21 March 1968. It has been nearly a month since Bravo lost the third platoon and has been confined to the trenches. The mud, the rats, the constant incoming artillery, sixty days without respite. Bravo just lost another five Marines on the 6th of March as we watched a C-123 get shot down, which was also carrying fifty-two other personnel. We are becoming very anxious and are about to tangle with Charlie once again.

Left to right: Michael Carwile, Steve Foster, Michael O’Hara, Quiles Jacobs, Doug Furlong, Ken Rodgers. Photo courtesy of Michael O’Hara.

The second platoon, Bravo, leaves the wire pre-dawn. We position ourselves in front of FOB 3 where the Army controls the wire. We sit down in an “L” formation and wait for first light. We begin to rise at about 8 a.m. and it starts immediately. Red tracers from our rear (USA) and green to our right (NVA), then the mortars and RPG’s. My squad leader, Quiles Jacobs (Jake), is right in front of me and his flak jacket explodes in my face. It causes him to stagger a bit but he does not go down. He has been hit by a .50 cal bullet (USA). To my immediate rear are Doug Furlong and Dan Horton. They go down, hit by an 82mm mortar barrage, along with others. We are getting caught in a crossfire from the USA and the NVA. Someone failed to get the word we are in front of U S Army lines. Fortunately the friendly fire is soon checked and our heavy artillery quickly silences the mortars and small arms fire coming from the enemy tree line. I find myself, literally, holding both Horton and Furlong as we apply first aid and wait for the stretcher bearers. Many years will pass before I ever hear their voices again.

Amazingly, we are ordered to continue the patrol even though nearly twenty have been wounded and I think four have been evac’d. After a while I notice much blood running over Jake’s trousers from under his jacket. When I ask if he is alright, he just tells me to take over the point so we can finish our mission and get back. When we do, they put over 120 stitches in his back without any anesthesia and he still refuses to be med-evac’d.

We have gathered much on this patrol. We found siege work trenches, way too close to our lines, meant for a jumping-off point for a full frontal assault on our positions. We were able to locate many probable mortar and machine gun positions. The enemy trenches were scattered with dead NVA and beaucoup booby traps. Little do we know it will only be nine days until we all re-visit the ambush site for our final revenge. Jake, still wearing his bandages, will lead our squad headlong into hell once again. Flamethrowers, fixed bayonets, overhead heavy artillery, close air support (I do mean close) and napalm will rule that day.

Quiles Ray Jacobs and Dan Horton. Photo courtesy of Michael O’Hara

Tonight, all of Bravo will rest easy and dream of the beautiful garden, the sweet smell of lavender, and the girl in the calico dress who is watching over our “GHOSTIES” in their glass covered graves. Soon though, she will beckon thirteen more from Bravo to join her.

Present Day

Although Charlie did his best to lessen our numbers it would be a silent killer that would continue to cause casualties. Jake was the first on 19 April ’95 when the country’s eyes were on Oklahoma City. 1998, Bill Jayne and I would bury Don Quinn at Arlington. 2001 it was Doc Tom Hoody, then sometime along the way we lost Steve Foster. Many more would follow.

Dan Horton and I hooked up again in ’93 and had some really good times together. I was contacted around 2002 by Doug Furlong. He lived in Australia. I never saw him again but was able to enjoy our occasional conversation. Then in the fall of 2010 it was becoming obvious both these guys were in some serious danger. These were the two I held in my arms on 21 March 1968 and here they were both casualties again. Doug would leave for the garden on Halloween night and Danny, in all his glory, went there on 10 November, the Marine Corps birthday. I was absolutely STUNNED that it was these two who were wounded together, suffered together, and would die together some 42 years later. CANCER! All of them.

I attended Danny’s service in Detroit. He was laid out in his dress blues, rosary in his hand, and I found I just had no tears. I was so damn proud of him. He was Marine to the bone. Oorah!

God knows I miss them all so. I still set time aside each day just for “my” Marines.

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

As for me, I will continue to dream of the beautiful garden, and enjoy the sweet smell of lavender, as the girl in the calico dress watches over my “GHOSTIES” in their glass covered graves, until such time as she beckons me also.
Sweet dreams, Marines!

Michael E. O’Hara grew up and continues to live in Brown County in Southern Indiana.

Michael and his partner Maxine have been together 43 years.

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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,Khe Sanh,Marines,Other Musings,Veterans,Vietnam War

March 10, 2017

Bookie 762. . .Redux

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Betty and I and our guest writers have been maintaining this blog site for six and one-half years. From time to time we venture back and read what showed up on the site in the past. Here is a blog I wrote in March of 2011 as we were weorking on the intial edits for the film.

Photo of a Marine Corps C-123.

Photo of a Marine Corps C-123.

On March 6, 1968 a planeload of Marines on a C-123 with a call sign of “Bookie 762” flew in from the real world in Danang and upon arrival at Khe Sanh combat base was damaged by incoming North Vietnamese Army .50 caliber machine gun and 57 millimeter recoilless rifle fire. She lost three of her engines, and the pilot veered off to return to Danang. From our vantage point, she got lost in the fog. Later, we learned she crashed. No survivors. There were 5 Marines from Bravo Company on that plane:

Herbert Aldridge

Willis Beauford

Joseph Brignac

Winford McCosar

Ron Ryan

Ron Ryan shortly before the Siege of Khe Sanh began. Photo courtesy of Michael E. O'Hara.

Ron Ryan shortly before the Siege of Khe Sanh began. Photo courtesy of Michael E. O’Hara.

At the time, when the word came down the trench, the faces of the survivors in Second Platoon wore expressions of fear, shock and surprise.

I knew Corporal Ron Ryan fairly well, as well as that curious battlefield intimacy we enjoyed at Khe Sanh allowed. He was a machine gunner who’d been with Bravo Company, I think, since early October, 1967.

At the time, it all reeled by in my mind like movie cartoons. My breath shrunk in my chest, grew shallow. Red mustache, dirty dungarees, big smile, Ryan kicking asses when catching Marines asleep on watch. Our shared miseries like no water for showers, not enough chow, constantly cleaning rusty rifles, incoming attacks, more incoming attacks, how we surfaced after they let up and laughed and laughed and laughed. We would see him no more. My head spun.

Lance Corporal “J” looked at me with his huge .50 caliber eyes and shook his big, helmeted head. He glanced down at the red mud in the trench bottom and kicked at it with a scuffed jungle boot. He peered at me and said, “Lord, don’t you know it’s a terrible, terrible thing.”

Author Ken Rodgers at Khe Sanh. Photo courtesy of Michael O'Hara.

Author Ken Rodgers at Khe Sanh. Photo courtesy of Michael O’Hara.

He shook his head again, “Terrible…life is terrible.” Then he let the slightest grin come across one-half of his mouth as he whispered, “But better him than me.”

We both laughed, surreptitiously, of course. There was a lot of gloom from the other Marines standing there, pondering life and its aftermath.

He said it a little louder, “Better him than me.”

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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,Khe Sanh,Marines,Other Musings,Veterans,Vietnam War

February 23, 2017

Reclaiming the Story

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I recently received two articles from friend and BRAVO! supporter Norma Jaeger about the power of story to help heal mental health issues. As I read the articles I was particularly struck by two notions.

One: The notion that we need to reclaim our stories—and by that I mean that the memories we have, whether they are related to combat or not, are somewhere in our minds—and by reclaiming them, rethinking them, telling them for the first time or relating them again, we allow ourselves to investigate how those stories are relevant to who we have become.

Two: Mention the unmentionable; dig down and remember those instances that are so horrible and so frightening that we want to hide them from ourselves. Quite often our failure to think about, relive, and analyze the unmentionable moments of our lives can lead to mental and/or physical issues that may be harmful.

Cal Bright

Cal Bright

The interesting thing is that when we try to hide the unmentionables from ourselves, they really don’t hide down there, dormant, obedient, submissive. They try their damnedest to worm their way out of the vault in which we attempt to lock them. They want out, they need to get out. Out, so we can examine them and discover what they really mean vis à vis the person we are now as well as the person we wish to become.

For Khe Sanh veterans it is the season of remembering. The particular time of year rolls around every January and sticks in our minds through the end of spring. For the various men who served during the siege there are ample examples of unmentionables that for years have been crammed and stuffed into the dark and inaccessible places of our memories.

John "Doc" Cicala

John “Doc” Cicala

Three days from now, on February 25, most Khe Sanh vets will recall—and in some cases mentally relive—a platoon-sized patrol outside the east end of the combat base. That event has come to be called “The Ghost Patrol.” The Marines of 3rd Platoon, Bravo Company, 1/26 and later 1st Platoon of the same outfit ran into a slaughter house of an ambush sprung by the North Vietnamese. The battle decimated the Marines and left them mired in the chaos of combat. They received little help from the combat base. They saved each other the best they could. Some were forced to save themselves, and in a number of cases, could not comprehend how they even managed to survive.

Now, forty-nine years later, that patrol…that ambush…has gained a sort of fame, so to speak, where the lessons learned by the warriors on both sides are now being taught to the incoming generation of new combatants.

According to Reverend Ray Stubbe’s publication titled PEBBLES IN MY BOOTS, VOLUME 4, the North Vietnamese Army uses the events of February 25th in their training on how to set up ambushes. And as Betty and I found out last spring while at Quantico to receive an award for BRAVO! from the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation, The Ghost Patrol is also the subject of a field problem during a class on Scouting and Patrolling in The Basic School which all officers in the Marine Corps attend before they are assigned to their initial deployments.

Peter Weiss

Peter Weiss

For those of us who endured or witnessed that sorry, sorry event, the magnitude of what happened in The Ghost Patrol is imprinted on our souls. But other people not involved in the death and mayhem, most of them not even alive in 1968, also saw—or see—value in remembering, in a kind of way, the events of that day.

And aside from instructional purposes, is there any other value in recalling what happened on February 25, 1968?

In BRAVO! three Marines, Cal Bright, Steve Wiese and Peter Weiss and one Navy Corpsman, John Cicala, talk about the events of that day. The pain and horror, the knife-edged realization that the memories remain as virulent now as they ever were, are etched all over their remembrance of The Ghost Patrol. Maybe the recollections are a little softened by time, but they are still capable of delivering an overdose of pain.

Steve Wiese

Steve Wiese

They reclaimed their stories. In the moments when I interviewed them, they told—they witnessed again—the horrors of that day. I can only imagine the courage it took for them to discuss events that even though decades old, could disrupt the calm demeanor these men normally carry. The moments they described—mentioning the unmentionable, the painful unmentionable, to one degree or another—bore on their faces like a map of the blasted land around Khe Sanh in 1968.

I am not a psychologist and don’t pretend to know much about how moral injury, PTSD and TBI affect us, but I believe that those four men, by revealing to us their memories about The Ghost Patrol, found some relief from the nagging images and the unpleasant reactions they suffer as a result of that infamous battle.

Marines on The Ghost Patrol.  Cal Bright on the left. Photo courtesy of Robert Ellison/Blackstar

Marines on The Ghost Patrol. Cal Bright on the left. Photo courtesy of Robert Ellison/Blackstar

And I think there is something in their examples for each of us to think about. Most combat veterans have experiences like The Ghost Patrol in one form or another, and a lot of the memories of those moments stay chilled in the recesses of their minds. And not just combat vets, but every one of us has things dwelling in our memories that we would rather not think about; things that fester there like splinters jammed deep beneath the skin. Like all things that fester, they can become toxic and dangerous, and as such we need to acknowledge them through talking to a friend, a counselor, writing them down, painting or drawing them in a picture, or reliving them in a documentary film so we can begin to put them in their proper place inside the framework of our lives.

Again, we should reclaim those memories instead of letting them simmer in the back of the mind. Let them become a vital and much less toxic part of who we have become. Retelling our tales, whether to a friend, in a poem, or to a mental health professional, allows us the opportunity to change the foreign into the recognizable. It makes that which remains unspoken into the verbalized and may very well allow us access to a new sense of awareness about our story and its relationship to our wellbeing. And that can’t do anything but help.

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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,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,Khe Sanh,Marines,Other Musings,Veterans,Vietnam War

January 18, 2017

N-Day

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Winter has been ferocious in Idaho this year with lots of ice and snow, below-zero temperatures, then rain and flooding. One local weatherman predicted death and destruction, causing locals to clean out the shelves of grocery stores and hardware outlets in anticipation of days of dark and death and privation.

And even though the local weatherman’s predictions turned out to be overblown, the season’s hostile weather seems to act as a perfect metaphor for what did come to pass at Khe Sanh Combat Base on January 21, 1968.

During these cold days of winter in the 21st Century, the minds and memories of survivors of the early days of the Siege of Khe Sanh turn to the horrible events of the first day of the Siege.

It wasn’t cold and ice, but it was death and destruction, mist and fog, and the raining down of mortars, rockets and artillery from the North Vietnamese Army which had begun to surround us in the days leading up to 21Jan68. The NVA attack was then followed by our ammo dump erupting for hours.

Recently, I received a book in the mail from Reverend Ray Stubbe titled, PEBBLES IN MY BOOTS, VOLUME 4, which is a compilation of writings that Ray has written mostly concerning Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment (my old outfit and the subject of the film BRAVO!) at Khe Sanh.

Marines from Second Platoon, Bravo Company, Gray Sector, Khe Sanh Combat Base not long before the Siege. Photo courtesy of Michael E. O'Hara

Marines from Second Platoon, Bravo Company, Gray Sector, Khe Sanh Combat Base not long before the Siege. Photo courtesy of Michael E. O’Hara

Ray was the battalion chaplain before and during the Siege and is the foremost historian and memory keeper of all the men who served there. His informative books include VALLEY OF DECISION (with John Prados) and BATTALION OF KINGS.

One of the more interesting things about Ray’s most recent book is that he included information that has been translated from North Vietnamese records about the Siege. I learned some of the North Vietnamese combat lexicon referring to Khe Sanh including the term they used to denote 21Jan. They called it N-Day.

N-Day was one of those days when you woke up and found yourself trapped in a world that, even though you had pondered the possibilities,, was a thousand times worse than what you might have imagined.

What made the day even more chaotic for me was my earlier dogged refusal to believe it was approaching even though we were constantly warned about the impending arrival of an Armageddon of sorts.

As I look back on it now, I suspect my reluctance to believe in the oncoming holocaust was because I’d been hearing about imminent threats for months, none of which had come to pass, and I also suspect it was a naïve optimism that I would somehow waltz through a generally combat-free thirteen month tour and onto the flight that would haul me back across the pond to the good old USA.

Nevertheless, the manure hit the fan early the morning of 21Jan and it drove me out of my bunker and into the trench. It was like I would imagine the end of the world, the worst thing you could dream up. Loud, crashing, frightening, we were all facedown in the trench for a short while before our officers and NCOs kicked us in the butts and made us come to grips with the sorry stink and roar of battle.

I remember getting hit, believing I was paralyzed until one of my mates knocked red clay clods off of my back, laughing at me because I thought I’d never walk again.

And then the base ammo dump, not more than fifty meters away, went up in fireworks that added to the eerie reality of the Dante-esque morning. It was Hell in the real, not something from a movie or a poem, but the genuine Hades that all of us Marines had secretly hoped for when we sat in the classes at Boot Camp and heard the stirring stories of Marine heroes Presly O’Bannon during the First Barbary War, Smedley Butler during the Boxer Rebellion, Dan Daly at Belleau Wood in 1918 and John Basilone on Guadalcanal.

But be careful what you wish for because stories of heroism and grit in the face of death are a bit different than being gripped in the maw of chaos.

When the ammo dump went up, it was electric, voluminous, colorful, and loud, like the Devil’s own fireworks. Old Nick’s claws gnashed the sky and his big-gun drums thundered so that the hard red ground thrummed like a bevy of kettle drums. The CS gas grenades and ammunition stored in the dump also caught fire and spread across the trenches before settling in. We had to put on gas masks and looked like bugs, and when people spoke, it sounded like one was listening to those people talking from the insides of #10 fruit cans.

We watched the wire perimeter with the sure knowledge that Charley would be coming through the barrier any minute, sappers first, then a banzai assault of men intent on impaling us on the shafts of their bayonets.

A close up look at Khe Sanh after the Siege began. Photo Courtesy of David Douglas Duncan and Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas Austin

A close up look at Khe Sanh after the Siege began. Photo Courtesy of David Douglas Duncan and Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas Austin

My memories of it fit and start, and I suspect they reflect what it was like to me—alive in a world impossible to imagine and almost impossible to accept, except men were dying from the NVA incoming and men were lying in the trench with shattered bones where our own rounds that had cooked off in the ammo dump had rocketed straight up and then plummeted on top of them.

And it was N-Day and it was pure hell and after it calmed down later in the day, I remember thinking, “Okay, now I’ve experienced that, I suspect (or maybe I should say hope) that we won’t have any more of it.”

But once again, my naiveté was proven to be a shoddy and dangerous outlook, because what began on N-Day went on for another seventy-six days.

The anniversary of N-Day (and my wife and co-producer/director, Betty wonders if N-Day might refer to naiveté, too), which approaches, looms huge in the minds of those who survived it.

And thanks to Ray Stubbe, I can read extensively about what happened to Bravo Company from the perspectives of us and the NVA.

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.

Other Musings,Veterans,Vietnam War

December 29, 2016

ALL MARINE RADIO

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Last summer I was made aware of a talk radio show called ALL MARINE RADIO which is ramrodded by retired Marine Mike “Mac” McNamara.

Mike started ALL MARINE RADIO to highlight combat veterans’ mental health needs with a major focus on suicide prevention. He also envisioned the station as a place where current and former Marines could stay connected or re-connect with their military culture. The mission of ALL MARINE RADIO also includes presentation of current affairs and issues that affect the everyday lives of current and former military personnel.

The list of guests includes current and former Marines, Army personnel, female Marines, historians, business coaches, authors, chefs, Marine wives, police officers, to name just a few categories.

Mike McNamara in the studio at ALL MARINE RADIO. Photo courtesy of Mike McNamara.

Mike McNamara in the studio at ALL MARINE RADIO. Photo courtesy of Mike McNamara.

To be more specific, some of the guests have been Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Robert Neller, author Sebastian Junger, author and Marine Karl Marlantes, Retired Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni, Retired Marine Corps General John Kelly (currently slated to become the next Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security), author Eric Hammel who has written extensively about Marines, Carrie Reilly who is a US Army widow who talks about dealing with suicide, and historian Albert Berger who most recently discussed Fidel Castro’s legacy.

And three times….me.

The first time I was on we talked about BRAVO! and Khe Sanh and Vietnam and post-deployment issues experienced and still being experienced by Vietnam veterans.

In my second appearance we talked about post-deployment and mental health issues of combat veterans in general and I think Mike was interested in seeing if I had anything to say that might help veterans of war, most specifically veterans of the Middle East conflicts.

The third time we talked about transitioning from being a Marine to becoming a filmmaker and we also touched on the notion of how it really helps to have something to involve yourself that is bigger than you–a cause, a purpose, a goal–when transitioning from service to civilian life or from work to retirement, or, I suppose, during any major life change.

Michael McNamara was born in California and his father was a major league baseball manager. He has extensive experience with radio media as a talk show host and as a station executive. The National Association of Broadcasters named Mike the “Small Market Personality of the Year” in 2007.

Mike McNamara in Afghanistan. Photo courtesy of Mike McNamara.

Mike McNamara in Afghanistan. Photo courtesy of Mike McNamara.

Mike was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Marine Corps in 1983 and he left active duty as a Captain in 1994. He returned to active duty with the USMC and deployed to Ramadi, Iraq in 2004, to Fallujah, Iraq in 2006 and to Helmand Province, Afghanistan in 2010. After that, Mike remained on active duty until he retired in 2015.

He has four children, including two sons who are now officers in the United States Marine Corps.

Mike does most of the interviewing on the program and his interests cast a wide net. In a recent interview with Albert Berger, PhD, Professor of History at the University of North Dakota, Mac asked Dr. Berger about his thoughts on the legacy of Fidel Castro, who, for much of the last 60 years, has been a thorn in the side of many politicians, military officials and citizens of the United States.
Dr. Berger and Mike’s in-depth look at Castro, the history of Cuban-American relations in the last half century and some thoughts on the future of Cuban-US relations were informative and fascinating.

One of the things I like about Mike’s interviews is how the discussion invariably leads me into thoughts and memories of my own. I was a sophomore in high school when the Cuban Missile Crisis came about. At the time I lived in southern Arizona and we’d had a lot of rain on that normally dried-out Sonoran Desert, and the country was in flood. Every arroyo, wash and low spot was flowing with water.

Mike McNamara, center, with his two sons, John, left, & Patrick, right, at Patrick's Commissioning in 2015 at the National Museum of the Marine Corps. Photo courtesy of Mike McNamara.

Mike McNamara with his two sons, John & Patrick at Patrick’s Commissioning in 2015 at the National Museum of the Marine Corps. Photo courtesy of Mike McNamara.

I remember riding on the back of one of my friend’s Harley out to the Santa Rosa, a sometimes river, a sometimes wash and most times a dry sandy arroyo. But on this day, it was at least a mile wide and water ripped through what had been cotton fields fecund with cotton stalks ready to be picked. I remember the ominous feeling at the time that filled my body with strange electricity that I was to later experience in combat.

Electricity spurred by fear. Back then, it was the dual threat of death by flood and death by nuclear attack because the Russians were placing nuclear missiles in Cuba.

In another recent interview, Mike interviewed US Marine Karl Marlantes, author of MATTERHORN and WHAT IT IS LIKE TO GO TO WAR, and one of the more striking moments in the interview was Karl Marlantes talking about the first time he visited The Wall (Vietnam Veterans Memorial) in Washington, DC, and how it affected him and that led my mind back to my visits to The Wall.

I first visited The Wall in 1993 with a large group of folks associated with the Khe Sanh Veterans. We went at night and the heat pressed down on us like the threat of attack and I recall being amazed at how so many of the tough men I knew broke down as they read and felt the names etched in that artful memorial. It didn’t affect me that way. What that experience did for me was to allow my mind to begin the long process of discovering and dealing with my feelings about the war and what role combat played in the man I had become.

Mike McNamara's children from left to right: Katherine, John, Colleen, Patrick. Photo courtesy of Mike McNamara.

Mike McNamara’s children: Katherine, John, Colleen, Patrick. Photo courtesy of Mike McNamara.

Some years later, I went back to the memorial and while searching the directory for the names of some of my school mates who are remembered on the memorial, I couldn’t keep tears from sneaking down my cheeks. It was all I could do to keep from busting wide open with an emotion that felt like that flood I witnessed back on the Santa Rosa.

So, thanks to Mike McNamara for hosting these interviews that allow me to retrieve my memories and thoughts.

If you are interested in all things Marine, or in what the current political and cultural pulse of America’s veterans are, or you are interested in history, cooking, mental health, post-combat issues, politics, the military in general, check out Mike’s programs.

You can access ALL MARINE RADIO here: http://www.allmarineradio.com/.

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,Khe Sanh,Marines,Other Musings,Veterans,Vietnam War

September 22, 2016

On Memories of 9/11

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Sunday before last, 9/11/2016, Betty and I attended a 9/11 ceremony at the Idaho Veterans Garden in Caldwell, Idaho.

The Garden is a space carved out for veterans to go and find some solace, an opportunity for introspection, the possibility of meeting other veterans and the chance to talk about shared kinds of experience. The Garden is seen, by its creators, as a place where a veteran can possibly get some non-clinical assistance while dealing with mental health issues related to PTSD, TBI, and other combat related symptoms.

Last week I wrote a piece about the 22 pushups for 22 days challenge to highlight veterans’ suicide and mental health concerns, and while at the Garden I asked for and received permission to create a video of me, Ken Rodgers, dropping to the deck and hitting 22 for the cause.

The entrance to the Idaho Veterans Garden in Caldwell, Idaho. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

The entrance to the Idaho Veterans Garden in Caldwell, Idaho. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

Events often seem to mesh in serendipitous ways and suddenly the memories of 9/11 and that date’s effects on me, my pushup experience, and some of the Garden’s aims all fit together.

I pondered that meshing as a woman wearing the black and white colors of a motorcycle group dedicated to honoring POW-MIAs gave me an encouraging shout. Then Betty and I wandered past late summer red and orange and yellow flowers and fecund tomato vines drooping with ripe fruit and found a seat beneath the awning were I began to ponder my memories of 9/11.

The devastation of 9/11 was a jolt to my person and roiled up a host of emotions: rage, paranoia, isolation, grief and a six-month onset of mild depression.

This garden moment was not the first time I’d pondered my reactions to the attacks of 9/11, but I recognized a connection between mental health issues created, and if not created, at least heightened by the combination of my service with the USMC during the Siege of Khe Sanh and the events of 9/11.

During the 1990s I pretty much got a handle on my war-related mental health issues listed above, but the sight of those big planes plowing into those buildings brought it all flooding back.

One of the attendees at the 9/11 ceremony at the Idaho Veterans Garden. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

One of the attendees at the 9/11 ceremony at the Idaho Veterans Garden. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

I know the intimate reactions one gets when attacked. And I can look at them in an intellectual way, like a scientist might, but I also understand them on a visceral level, where the basic instincts that govern our reactions to stimuli tell us we might die.

Following 9/11, fear (Of what? Death, dismemberment, incineration?) turned on the switch of my sensual response system and what followed was a spate of rage, a sense that around every corner someone waited to blow me up. I thought about buying some weapons and I wanted to move out to the sticks and get away from everybody I didn’t know. I’d find myself tearing up at the oddest moments, and for six months I steeped myself in a tea of depression that made the world look as if I was viewing it as a smoky, war-torn terrain through a set of cracked lenses.

And what took me thirty years to get under control was returned, riding my back like some sharp-toothed demon intent on sucking the life out of me. And the problem is, in some ways, those reactions to being attacked–the rage and the paranoia and the sense of isolation—have stayed strong. I wonder if that’s because since 9/11 we seem to be in a state of perpetual war and my amygdala senses that, and tells me I need to be on guard.

When I arrive at a waiting area before a plane flight, I assess the passengers reading computer screens or talking on their smart phones, and for each one of them I think about how I might take them out should the need arise if they have mal intent. I often do the same in restaurants and stores and while walking down a crowded street. This is known as hyper-vigilance.

And often the smallest events set me off. In 2004, I threatened to choke one of my employers. I clutched his Adam’s apple in my right hand. Lucky for me I didn’t follow through and he didn’t call the police. Fortunately, to this day, we are good friends.

In 2008, I verbally and almost physically attacked an acquaintance of mine in a restaurant after he said something innocuous, but which sprung such a surprise on me that I went on the attack with no forethought. This was forty years after the siege.

That’s when I decided I needed to find out what I could do to avoid these outbursts of rage. I went to the VA and spent time with a psychologist and though I still have strong eruptions of my symptoms, I haven’t attacked anyone since.

I say all this about my own experiences because this is what it is like for a lot of veterans when they come back from combat. The baboon is on their back and even though they throw it off, it tends to come back and haunt them at the most unexpected moments. It’s long-term.

Some people say, “Well, you just need to get over it.”

But it’s not that easy. It’s not something about which our rational conscious has a whole lot to say. It happens down in the animal part where survival instincts rule.

And the thing is, these symptoms of veterans’ mental health needs cost all of us…combatants and non-combatants alike. All kinds of relationships—work, family and otherwise—are affected and the cost is dear in economic and social terms. It’s pervasive and it eats at the foundations of our culture.

Beneath the awing before the start of the 9/11 ceremony at the Idaho Veterans Garden. Photo courtesy of Ken Rodgers.

Beneath the awing before the start of the 9/11 ceremony at the Idaho Veterans Garden. Photo courtesy of Ken Rodgers.

As these grim thoughts wormed around inside my head, a semi truck with a trailer full of grain sped by on the roadbed that watches over the Garden. The driver gave us two toots of his air horn and it brought me back to the moment. I was thankful for that as I stood among the folks around me and gazed at the flags flapping in the breeze.

There are a lot of resources available at the VA, and many communities also offer other sources that can help a veteran in crisis because of mental health needs. It’s worth checking out.

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.