Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Posts Tagged ‘Mark Spear’

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,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,Listening Posts,Marines,Other Musings,Vietnam War

August 27, 2014

The Agony and Ecstasy of Listening Posts–Redux

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Four years ago, when we were on the road to shoot interviews in Michigan, Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska and to conduct research at the National Archives and the Marine History Division in the Washington DC area, I wrote only our fourth blog about the making of BRAVO!. That particular edition joined what has become a hefty variety of pieces about BRAVO!, the Siege of Khe Sanh, and the men and women both in the film and who helped make this project a reality. We think a visit back in time to that fourth blog is an appropriate subject for this week’s blog.

08/05/10

While the grackles, the kingbirds, the cuckoos and kites sung and hunted over San Antonio, Betty, Mark Spear and I interviewed and filmed eight retired or former Marines and a former Navy corpsman. As we sat rapt, listening to the emotion gushing like rain water running down a red Khe Sanh trench, one of the repetitive memories we heard centered on listening posts.

Listening posts—rather mundane words for a mundane (most of the time) night duty related to combat activities in a hostile environment. In the Marine Corps, a fire team usually mans (or in my tenure manned) a listening post (LP). Four men and a radio go outside the outfit’s night perimeter to listen for approaching enemy combatants. Mundane, unless the enemy shows up, and then the men in the listening post become pretty much incidental to the good of the bigger unit, the ones they are doing the listening for. And doing their duty as Marines, they may be trapped and killed, maimed, captured, never to get back to lovers and sons, and if they beat feet towards the security of the perimeter, in front of the enemy, they may get shot by their own men because the listening post personnel are often indistinguishable from the enemy. In Bravo! the documentary, the danger associated with LPs will squeeze your gut.

Mark Spear at the 2010 Khe Sanh Veterans Reunion © Betty Rodgers 2010

Mark Spear at the 2010 Khe Sanh Veterans Reunion
© Betty Rodgers 2010

I recall an LP when the siege was raging. We waited until darkness fell and then crept out the east end of the Khe Sanh air strip finally stopping short of our assigned position. I always felt that we should never go to the same spot time after time. We crawled into the jungle grass and covered up with ponchos so we could read a map with a flashlight if we needed to. Below us, the Song Rao Quan cut a deep ravine as it rushed towards its conflict with the saltwater South China Sea. American jets shrieked over. So rocket and artillery shy were we, we cringed at the sound of the jets as they streaked over us and dropped bombs somewhere to our front. We heard the thunk of mortar rounds leaving the tube. In the dark of the night we spotted aiming stakes—enemy aiming stakes illuminated by some type of red lights. We estimated the position and called in artillery, “Fire mission.” The barrage whistled over us like the jets, but with less basso, more tenor, some alto harmonied in. Below in the Rao Quan River valley, the rounds crashed like they were landing in the next century. The aiming stakes still remained. I essayed that they were far beyond where the rounds landed. I whispered into the radio handset—based on where I thought I’d heard the rounds land—“Up 100 left 100.” The voice of the lieutenant repeated my words. We heard the gun mouths bark the next barrage and again it sung over us and landed far below. The enemy mortars still thunk, thunk, thunked. Somewhere to our rear the crash of a rocket round inside our perimeter. The aiming stakes still glowed in the misty pitch black. I adjusted my estimate, again, missed, and we spent the long night with arty going in and out, like a badminton shuttle cock going back and forth over the net. I don’t think we ever hit the target, though we may have scared the hell out of them, because the aiming stakes’ red lights disappeared. The lieutenant barked at me over the radio about ”What kind of spotter was I?” I pouted most of the night about that and in the morning just before the first light we sneaked back in. Off to the west, between Khe Sanh base and Hill 861, I saw rockets spew off the ground. Seconds later I heard them crash into the far end of the air strip. I might have called in and told them where those rockets had come from, but I was still pouting.

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

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

An LP wasn’t something you wanted to get sent out on, with all that death waiting in the black of the misty nights. A couple of our platoon big shots, the lieutenant’s radioman and the platoon right guide, both went to sleep on radio watch in the command post. We all were deprived of sleep, our eyelids like trap doors on a sniper’s hole. We couldn’t sleep because of duty’s call or because the NVA hammered us day and night, so I wasn’t surprised that they nodded off. I had a way of going half to sleep when I ended up as the platoon sergeant’s radio operator. I could somehow doze and somehow stay alert enough to call in my sit-reps every fifteen minutes and call out to the listening post and get their sit-reps, too. Being a big shot and then getting sent out on an LP was like a kick in the cojones. Everyone sniggered at you behind your back. I’m glad I never got caught sleeping on radio watch.

The last LP I remember going on was later in the siege and I got a surprise from the lieutenant about how it was to be conducted. My team was going out with a fire team of South Vietnamese Rangers. I rolled my eyes at that one and complained, “They can’t even speak English. How the hell we going to communicate?” The lieutenant told me, “Just get your asses out there when it starts getting dark and go out to those slit trenches at the end of the runway and set in for the night. Like you’re supposed to do.” I whined, “But, the NVA know exactly where that. . .” “Shut up,” he barked, “we know exactly where it is, too, so if something happens we can come out and get your asses. “ I kicked at the red clods in the bottom of the trench and said, “Aye aye.” He said, “And if you have to come in early, make sure you come in first so those Marines down there in Alpha Company don’t blow our Ranger friends away.”

There were four of them. Four of us. We Marines were skinny, half starved, but compared to them we were giants. They were bowlegged and short, wiry, though, and they all had flinty looks in their eyes as we sat in a deep Alpha Company bunker lit up with ten or twelve candles. We were wary of them, the rumors we’d heard about them all being North Vietnamese sympathizers. The way they sneaked glances at us made me ponder why they were wary of us.

After the night went totally black, we sneaked out the gate in front of Alpha Company and bent over like bugs scuffling across the airstrip. We hustled out to the two slit trench fighting holes at the end of the strip. I pointed to the left and the four Rangers slipped in and sat down. I could see what light there was reflecting off their eyes which were as big around as the bottom of a forty-millimeter anti-aircraft round. They sat as still as stones.

We Marines plopped in the other trench and I started whispering the watch schedule, two of us awake, two asleep, two hours on, two hours off. I tried to whisper some orders to the Rangers, but either they didn’t hear me or ignored me. The breeze whispered through the tall elephant grass out to our fronts. All night I imagined, or dreamed, a platoon of NVA sneaking up on us. Their helmets festooned with pieces of grass to hide their passage. They didn’t, though, because the next morning in the false light I elbowed the sleeping Marines on each side of me to wake up. I looked up at the Ranger fire team leader who was glaring at me. He took his right index finger and drew it across his Adam’s apple and then nodded to our front. I made a sign with my thumb for him and his team to get up. We bug-scuffled back in the opposite direction of the enemy to the Alpha Company gate. Me in front so they didn’t shoot the Rangers.

As I said in the beginning of this post, what got me thinking about LPs were the men we interviewed for our documentary.

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

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

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

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

Eulogies

April 23, 2014

Requiem for Mark Spear

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Sometimes even the hardest, the meanest of us get shocks of sad news that force us to react in ways we don’t want to react.

Thirty-two days ago, Betty and I were having brunch with BRAVO! Skipper Ken Pipes and his wife, Sharon, in Fallbrook, California, after an exceedingly successful set of screenings the prior day in Fallbrook and Vista.

During our meal, I received a Facebook message from Dan Votroubek, the step-father of our principal videographer for BRAVO!, Mark Spear, that told me that Mark had suffered a massive heart attack and died the day before. Mark was only 45 years old and has a ten-year-old son. While we were in the California Southland whooping it up with our successful screenings, Mark was passing on.

BRAVO! Marine Mike McCauley, Mark Spear and BRAVO! Marine Ron Rees at the April 2013 screening of BRAVO! in Moscow, ID © Betty Rodgers 2013

BRAVO! Marine Mike McCauley, Mark Spear and BRAVO! Marine Ron Rees at the April 2013 screening of BRAVO! in Moscow, ID
Photo Courtesy of Melissa Hartley, University of Idaho 2013

I sat there for a long time, not saying anything, not wanting to tell Betty. Betty admired, revered and loved Mark. I knew how she would react and we were in public and…well…I have to tell you this. My father was a two-fisted knuckle-buster who would give you something to cry about if you shed tears, so I learned not to cry. You just don’t know how much it distresses me to cry…all that old-time thinking of tears as a sign of weakness. I’m a Marine, for Christ’s sake; I’ve seen men die in front of me and never shed a tear or even thought about how I might really feel about their demises.

Mark Spear, clowning around at the San Antonio shoot. © Betty Rodgers 2010

Mark Spear, clowning around at the San Antonio shoot.
© Betty Rodgers 2010

So I didn’t say anything for a while and we had our brunch and we chatted and reveled in success and then I just blurted it out. And then Betty began to shed tears and despite my reluctance to let this happen, a tear or two slipped out of the corners of my eyes and slipped down my cheeks before I could get them erased.

Mark Spear interviewed and/or videoed ten of the men in our film and he also interviewed and filmed Betty and me when we made our extras about the making of BRAVO!. He helped create some of our trailers and gave us advice and info on cameras, interviewing, lighting. He traveled with us to San Antonio, Texas, and met and bonded with the men of BRAVO!. After we were done with the film, he came to screenings of the film and we often met for bar-b-que where we laughed and visited.

Yes, we laughed a lot around Mark. He was a funny man. He was also sensitive and talented, he was an artist who understood film and photography and life. He was sensitive. I repeat that because for me, it is the salient characteristic I will recall about Mark. Sensitive people can feel the world on their skins. Everybody’s triumphs and disasters are understood on a visceral level by sensitive people. And like so many sensitive people, those triumphs and disasters, those victories and defeats, seeped through Mark’s skin and became, almost vicariously, his own.

Mark Spear at the San Antonio Shoot © Betty Rodgers 2010

Mark Spear at the San Antonio Shoot
© Betty Rodgers 2010

Mark had health problems that no doubt contributed to his passing, but I can’t help but think that his sensitivity contributed to his leaving us prematurely, too. He carried a lot of weight, and a bunch of it wasn’t his.

And now he is gone and I am kicking myself in the butt because I didn’t spend more time with him, taking in all he had to teach me about life. One of the other things about sensitive people is they learn a lot from all that weight they carry for other folks. The weight gets in the pores and sneaks into the blood stream and gathers around the mind and the heart and becomes knowledge of another kind. Not out of a book, or a seminar, but from the weight of life.

I know something about grief. I should have dealt with all that grief that I accumulated from my time at the Siege of Khe Sanh. I didn’t and I still may not; I’m a Marine and I’m two-fisted knuckle-busting Dale Rodgers’ son. But I swear I’m going to deal with the grief I feel from the loss of my friend, Mark Spear.

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

April 25, 2013

News From the Moscow Screening and What’s Up Next

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The screening of BRAVO! to nearly two hundred attendees last week in Moscow, Idaho, co-sponsored by the University of Idaho’s Operation Education and the Department of English, was an amazing experience for co-producers Betty and Ken Rodgers. We were enthusiastically received and got to taste the flavor of campus life at the University of Idaho.

BRAVO! on the marquee

We were received on Wednesday evening by our hostess, journalist and author Julie Titone. Julie, along with her former husband, the recently-deceased Grady Myers, co-authored a book about Vietnam titled Boo-Coo Dinky Dow, My Short Crazy Vietnam War. You can find out more about the book here.

Thursday morning, Betty and Ken met with Ed McBride of Operation Education and talked about the upcoming events in which they were to participate, followed by a stimulating session with Dr. Anna Banks’ documentary film class where we showed clips of BRAVO! and had a great discussion with the students.

For lunch, Betty and I enjoyed the succulent Sublamb gyros from Mikey’s Greek Gyros on Main Street in Moscow.

From there, we met with Laura Pizzo of the English Department for a Q & A session with students of the university. We talked about art, writing and how to simultaneously maintain both a non-writing career and a writing practice.

After that we met with Christine Cavanaugh at the beautifully restored Kenworthy Performing Arts Centre to make sure that BRAVO! would look and sound just right for the following evening’s audience.

We finished up the evening with elegant pizzas—yes, elegant—from Maialina Pizzeria Napoletana just down Main Street from the Kenworthy.

Those Pizzas

Friday, April 19, we enjoyed lunch with Ed McBride, Dan Button, and members of Operation Education’s advisory council. We also met five disabled veterans of this country’s current conflicts, and it was inspiring to hear these young people talk about how they are overcoming the difficulties they endure as a result of their service in combat zones. Among the tools they use to move forward in life are the educational opportunities afforded by Operation Education and the University of Idaho.

Betty and I then met with a small crowd of listeners at Moscow’s independent bookseller, BookPeople, where we had a discussion about turning the pain of war, the pain of life, into art. Ken read selected poems from his books of poetry.

Mark Spear, principle videographer for BRAVO! and BRAVO! Marines Ron Rees and Mike McCauley joined us for the screening that began at 6:30 PM with an introduction by Dr. Brett Morris, retired Colonel in the United States Air Force and current Director of Internal Strategic Communication at the university. First off was the presentation of the colors by the color guard from the Joint University of Idaho-Washington State University ROTC programs.

This was followed by an a capella singing of the National Anthem by University of Idaho MFA candidate in Creative Writing, Sarah B. Barrett, whose father served in Vietnam.

Moscow’s Mayor Nancy Chaney welcomed both the audience and the filmmakers to the community, and was followed by University Vice-President of Advancement, Chris Murray, who welcomed the attendees on behalf of the University and Operation Education.

Filmmakers Ken and Betty Rodgers then talked briefly about the film.

After the screening, members of the film’s audience and a panel moderated by Dr. Morris discussed war in its many aspects, past, present and future. The panel talked about war and film, war and memory, war and guilt, war and PTSD. Members of the panel (all Marines with combat experience) included Latah County Magistrate William Hamlett, Retired Marine Corps Colonel Bob Wakefield, Mr. Paul Warmbier who is a teacher in the Moscow school system and Marine veteran of the battle of Fallujah in Iraq, and BRAVO! Marines Mike McCauley and Ken Rodgers.

Many thanks to Kim Barnes, Professor of English at the University of Idaho, for her vision, drive and attention to detail that made this screening and its related activities possible and successful. Thanks, too, to others who helped make the BRAVO! screening a success, including UI’s Karen Hunt, Kate Cobb, Max Eberts, Kelly Roberts and Laura Zak, as well as Jennifer Bauer of the Lewiston Tribune/Moscow-Pullman Daily News.

The day after the events at Moscow, Ken and Betty took a needed day off and toured the country–the magnificent Palouse including views from Steptoe Butte, multiple teams of draft animals plowing and harrowing west of Colfax and a visit to thunderous Palouse Falls.

Draft horses on the Palouse

Next up for BRAVO! are two screenings in Sonora, California, at Columbia College on May 18 (Armed Forces Day), 2013. This screening is sponsored by Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 391, Columbia College, and Mike Preston who is a veteran of the Siege of Khe Sanh and a lifetime member of the Khe Sanh Veterans. More details on the Sonora screening at http://www.vietnamveterans391.org/.

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

April 9, 2013

News About Screenings in Moscow, Idaho and Sonora, California

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MOSCOW, Idaho

Here’s the info on the screening of BRAVO!, COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR in Moscow, Idaho, on April 19, 2013 at 6:30 PM. Screening is at The Kenworthy Performing Arts Centre at 508 South Main Street, in Moscow. Doors open at 6:00 PM. There will be a panel discussion on aspects of and the nature of war across generations and conflicts. At the screening you will be able to meet the filmmakers, Ken and Betty Rodgers, the film’s principal videographer, Mark Spear, as well as Mike McCauley and Ron Rees, Bravo Company Marines who are in the film.

This screening of BRAVO! is sponsored by the University of Idaho’s Operation Education and English Department, and is free of charge but donations to Operation Education are strongly encouraged. Operation Education assists disabled combat veterans in attaining a college degree. You can find out more about Operation Education at http://www.uidaho.edu/operationeducation.

Thank you to the Kenworthy Performing Arts Centre (http://www.kenworthy.org/index.html), Ed McBride and Dan Button of Operation Education, and Kim Barnes and Laura Pizzo from University of Idaho’s Department of English, and Julie Titone for making this screening possible.

SONORA, California

On May 18 (Armed Forces Day), 2013, BRAVO! will be screened in Sonora, California. Below is the notice about the screening and the film from Khe Sanh brother Mike Preston, who is mainly responsible for the screening:

Here is a 2 hour first run movie like you will never see anywhere else, not at any theater, it is shown only privately. This film was made by Ken Rodgers (and his wife Betty), who lived the whole experience with Bravo Co, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines. This is about the 77 day siege of Khe Sanh starting 21 January 1968; the Tet Offensive. It also covers the ill fated “Ghost Patrol” of 25 February and subsequent action in retaliation such as ”The Payback” battle on 30 March which was the only Marine Corps bayonet charge in Vietnam history and the only one since World War 2.

Less than 100 men participated and 19 were KIA . There were over 100 Purple Hearts earned that day, some men having multiple wounds . Other awards were 2 Navy Crosses, 8 Silver Stars , 9 Bronze Stars with “V”, 2 Navy Commendations w/V. One hell of a heroic day!

There are 15 Marines interviewed who are participants in the film itself. These guys are the “been there done that” gang, common men, uncommon valor. This film has a lot of historical significance, being about the longest and biggest battle of the 10 year conflict.

Seating is limited to 400 tickets max. Tickets are $10.00 and are available on line at Vietnam Veterans of America #391 for each of the two showings at 5:00 PM and 8:00 PM at Columbia College. There are also 3 trailers to see from the Bravo website. Just click below. If tickets are sold out and if you show up at the door at show time and there are any no-shows, you will be seated. All email tickets will be ”will-call” at the door. Tickets will also be available at Columbia College: Call Michelle Vidaurri at 588-1505. In Calaveras County, contact Bravo Project chairman Mike Preston @ 795-1864. Tuolumne County, contact Carol Southern at 938-3848.

Please send this to all who may be interested.

Thank you,
Mike Preston

Vietnam Veterans of America #391

Documentary Film,Khe Sanh,Marines,Vietnam War

July 5, 2012

Meet Mark Spear

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In April of 2010, Ken and Betty Rodgers first encountered Mark Spear when they went in search of someone to shoot video for the film, BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR. They met Mark at a local studio in Nampa, Idaho.

As Ken and Betty described their project, the luminous glow in Mark’s eyes, the detailed queries he made about history and geography and aspects of the narrative generated a lot of magnetism.

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

Ken and Betty went home and talked about that magnetism…the excitement in Mark’s words and his eyes.

In late April of 2010, Mark and Betty interviewed and filmed Ken talking about his memories of the Siege of Khe Sanh. Ken had created a script of questions and as the over two-hour interview went on, Mark picked up hints about important things, emotional things that Ken and Betty hadn’t anticipated being of interest to an audience viewing a film about war. Questions about personal matters, how something felt, how it was remembered after all the intervening years, was there any humor in the seventy-seven day hell of the Siege?

In July of that year Mark, Betty and Ken traveled to the Khe Sanh Veterans’ reunion in San Antonio, Texas. They found out that Mark likes BBQ…lots of BBQ…and that he had a lot of great tips and suggestions how to best interview the eight Marines and one Navy corpsman on tap for a two-day film schedule. How to light them and how to place them in the frame of the video, how to get them to talk about what made them laugh, to recall what levity there was extant in that deadly and frightening place.

Mark made close friends with several of the men in the film. Before the filming was finished, all the men interviewed trusted Mark to show their best side.

In August of 2010, the Rodgers went on the road and filmed five more men of Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment. Novices for sure, Betty and Ken ran into a number of technical problems while in the process of setting up lights or getting the sound gear right, shooting video of the men being interviewed.

Even though Mark was back in Nampa, Idaho, working on his computer editing movies with Final Cut Pro, or on locations shooting video, or acting as producer to get videos made, he always had time to stop whatever he was doing and talk to Betty and Ken about their problems, helping them come up with solutions.

Mark made a number of trailers for BRAVO! and remains a good friend to Betty and Ken as well as the Marines of BRAVO!

You can find out more about Mark Spear and his filmography here.

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

June 13, 2012

News update on BRAVO!

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Good things are happening with the film, so it is time to post an update on the status of BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR:

The Boise Veterans Affairs facility has invited us back again to screen BRAVO! for their employees on June 20, 2012. At the last screening, many attendees said the film should be required viewing for every VA employee because it helps them better understand Vietnam veterans. Special guest: BRAVO! cinematographer Mark Spear.

We have a tentative showing of BRAVO! scheduled for July 17 and 18, 2012, at the Veterans Affairs facility in Walla Walla, Washington. Special guest: BRAVO! interviewee Ron Rees.

Betty and Ken Rodgers will be motoring to Irving (in the Dallas metropolitan area), Texas, to screen BRAVO! at the Vietnam Veterans of America annual leadership conference on August 9, 2012. In conjunction with the showing, an article about BRAVO! is tentatively scheduled to appear in the VVA’s July-August edition of their national magazine, The VVA Veteran. After Dallas, we will trek to Brownwood, Texas, for a screening organized and hosted by our good friends and supporters, Roger and Mary Green Engle.

After the Brownwood visit, Betty and Ken will motor through the South, visiting Bentonville, Arkansas, to view the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, then on to Shiloh and Chickamauga, Tennessee, to tour the Civil War battlefields there.

After that, they will journey on to Washington, DC, for the annual get-together of Khe Sanh Veterans. The reunion begins during the last week of August.

If you live in the general areas we have mentioned and would like to host a screening of BRAVO!, please contact Ken at ken@kennethrodgers.com. At this point in time, the screenings are not open to the general public, but are private, by invitation only. If you have a favorite veteran’s charity, consider a screening of BRAVO! as a way to help raise some funds for that charity.

BRAVO! is currently entered into film festivals in New Orleans, Boston, Austin, Southern Utah, Hot Springs (in Arkansas), Port Townsend (on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State), Santa Fe, The Hamptons, Iowa City, Toronto and Chicago. If you have any connections or know something about any of these festivals and want to help give us a leg up, please give us a shout.

Last but not least, we ask for your help. We are still exploring the best way to get BRAVO! out to the widest audience. If you know of a major business that might consider sponsoring the film, or if you know a film distributor who would be interested in promoting this “astounding motion picture” (thank you, D. Schwartz) about the Vietnam War and what it means to us today, please contact us immediately.

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

June 7, 2012

Filmmaker Ben Shedd on BRAVO!

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Ken and Betty Rodgers’ feature length documentary BRAVO! is the riveting story of the 77 day siege at Khe Sanh in Vietnam, where Ken was one of the Marines in that battle. BRAVO! combines new interviews with many of Ken’s Marine Khe Sanh colleagues and Vietnam era war stock footage, telling an almost half century old story as if it happened last week.

I’ve watched BRAVO! four times now at different screenings, two of the first screenings for colleagues and people in the film, one at the Veterans Hospital, and one for a university film class. Each time, it’s as if I were joining those men on the battlefield.

This movie is as powerful as the recent Afghanistan on-the-ground war documentary RESTREPO – this one from another war, Vietnam – and I felt just as viscerally involved in the events from decades ago as from just a few years back. The exquisite production work by Cinematographer Mark Spear, BAFTA Award winning Editor/Sound Designer John Nutt and four time Academy Award winning Sound Mixer Mark Berger at Skywalker Ranch slowly sweep me into Khe Sanh and, much like the battles of that place, moving back and forth from quiet tension to startling explosions, into the midst of deathly conflict, into the middle of events we struggle to comprehend.

Ben Shedd (Photo Credit: Richard Harbaugh/©A.M.P.A.S.)

BRAVO! flips documentary expectations upside down. The interviews, which would usually accompany footage showing events in a documentary, become the central events of this film. Indeed there is news footage from that long-ago time, but the vivid recollections of these Veterans create a visual landscape so detailed that I find myself wrenched by the life and death of war. I become one of their colleagues in that time and place and come away knowing both the tragedy and day-to-dayness of battle like I have never before imagined.

We hear vividly how the men of Bravo Company live every day today with their ages-old war memories, some having never told their stories before. I’ve read about the effects of post-traumatic stress and in BRAVO! I see and hear it in real time. When 4 or 5 of these men describe in detail an event in their Khe Sanh battles, all from their own memories, as if they were living it right now – not reliving things from decades ago – and all filled with the same details shaped with small variations from their own personal recollections, I feel startled how we – every one of us – must deeply imbed dramatic/traumatic events in our lives and shape our futures from past events, and say little or nothing as we move along in our lives.

I went out the day after I first saw BRAVO! and found myself looking at every single person who crossed my path, wondering and thinking what, like those men of Bravo Company, were people’s life histories, what were their back stories, what have they experienced that make them who they’ve become, and wondering what I and each of us carries with us as we make our way through the world and through our lives.

I’m a professional filmmaker, not a psychiatrist or psychologist, and what I see documented, with everything else in BRAVO!, is post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD] in all its facets, in my face, a deep reality to understand and know and deal with.

Last week, I bumped into a VA doctor acquaintance of mine who was at the Veteran’s Hospital screening of BRAVO! and with my simple question asking him about the film, he responded with a shudder that now, two months later, he is still haunted by its visceral impact and clear-eyed view of the people in battle and the lifelong aftermath.

It’s taken me even longer to try to write some of what I felt and am still feeling from experiencing BRAVO! Thank you, men of Bravo Company, for telling us about yourselves. Thank you, my filmmaker friends Ken and Betty Rodgers.

The pacing of BRAVO! is superb, deliberate, delicate, harsh, real, raw, explosive sound vibrating to the core, the memories told like they happened just now, just last week, but in reality 45 years ago. Then is now…

I agree with D. Schwartz in his Cinesource Movie Review: “BRAVO! is an astounding motion picture, made more so by the fact that this is Ken and Betty Rodgers’ first film—one that looks, feels, and sounds as if it were produced by seasoned filmmakers. An instant classic, BRAVO! is a timeless portrayal of this ageless / undying / everlasting / perpetual human activity called war.”

I’ve made two dozen documentaries and screened hundreds of other excellent documentary films, and I put BRAVO! in the top 10 of all documentaries I’ve ever seen. Kudos to the whole production crew. Bravo BRAVO!

Ben Shedd, Academy Award and Peabody Award winning filmmaker and University adjunct faculty www.sheddproductions.com. “Mine is just one voice. I hope you will see BRAVO! and read many other voices telling about the breadth and depth of this movie on BRAVO!TheProject blog.”

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

February 14, 2012

On Shooting Interviews

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Mark Spear, film producer, photographer, director, film editor and principal videographer for Bravo!, muses on his experiences helping create the film.

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.

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.

Mark Spear Shooting Video in San Antonio, Texas

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 Cmpany, 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.

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.

Mark Spear in San Antonio, Texas, July, 2010

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.