Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

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

November 12, 2018

Read This Book

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Bill Jones is a wry and intelligent man who knows how to spin a tale of war. I recently finished reading a third and final iteration of Bill’s book titled THE BODY BURNING DETAIL and I highly recommend it for anyone wanting to get a fresh look at the world of a Marine combat vet in Vietnam.

Bill served as a communicator with the 12th Marines and spent the bulk of his tour of duty out on remote hills and outposts not far below the DMZ.

One of the things about this book is Bill’s use of irony to make the point of how absurd combat is when stacked against the world we live in here in the US. The prose is tight, irreverent, funny, and at times breathtakingly intense. And it moved me to moments of reflection on war, my war, his war, how they were so similar and then again, different.

As readers, we are down in the red mud with Bill as it rains both literally and figuratively, monsoon moisture and mortars. It’s hot. He’s scared. He is dirty. He’s pissed off and he wants to go home. But he also loves his comrades, will fight beside them and for them in the face of nasty odds.

Some of Bill’s mates are funny, some not so funny, not ready for the war. We meet rear echelon personnel on hand to make his life miserable. We are introduced to Marines who thrive in the realm of killing, maybe too well.

Incisive and illuminative writing, Bill’s prose doesn’t lag and it doesn’t veer off into areas that have nothing to do with the narrative flow of a Marine in a combat zone. In some ways, Bill’s story isn’t unlike a lot of other coming-of-age, quest to find out who you are, Vietnam War memoirs: Young man enlists, goes through boot camp, goes to war, survives and goes home to an unappreciative and even hostile environment. But what makes this book different, what makes it work, is the narrator’s self-effacing voice that admits he doesn’t like war or the Marine Corps, for that matter. Like I said, it’s loaded with irony and understatement. You laugh a lot, or at least smile, while you read it.

Bill received his draft notice and on being inducted was confronted, along with a number of other draftees, by a Marine sergeant looking for recruits. As Bill describes it in the book:

“I need two more,” the sergeant announces. “Any volunteers?”

Two hands are timidly raised. One of them, for reasons I still don’t fully understand, is mine.

And yet, there is still the business of the war, and what young warriors do in war, and what is done to them. In a poignant scene from way out in the bush, some dead NVA are burned for sanitation reasons and for quite some time after, the stench of burning flesh infects the noses and minds of the Marines trapped inside the wire on an isolated hill under constant mortar attack and threat of a ground assault.

That scene works like a metaphor. It’s graphic and nasty to think about, and some of the distaste you feel arises from the notion that the stench of those bodies still lingers in Bill’s memory and thoughts. In some ways it remains in ours too, as we think about the figurative odor that still hangs around fifty years after the war, said stench being a lot of things: Anti-war protest, the nature of our leaving the South Vietnamese to their bitter fate, and what all veterans of combat face, the loss of the persons we were before we
marched off to combat.

The book cover for THE BODY BURNING DETAIL by Bill Jones.

This book does not pull punches.

In another striking scene, Bill describes being in his hole at night on what he calls, “LZ Sitting Duck.”

There is a dead, putrid smell in my hole. Lighting a match, I find a piece of scalp, still with a shock of black hair, embedded in the wall.

It is from one of the NVA soldiers we set on fire.

Bill is a poet—and there are poignant poems embedded in the prose of his memoir—who has written some fine war poems as well as cowboy poetry. His story will not be unusual to those of us who have faced the world he describes in THE BODY BURNING DETAIL, but the way he tells his tale is compellingly different.

If you want to know more about the Vietnam War and/or add to your store of narratives that might help you better understand what the hell happened over there, READ THIS BOOK.

You can find Bill Jones’ book here. And some of his poetry here.

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BRAVO! is now available in digital form on Amazon Prime.

This link will take you directly to BRAVO!’s Amazon Prime site where you can take a look at the options for streaming: In the US you can stream at https://amzn.to/2Hzf6In.

In the United Kingdom, you can stream at https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07BZKJXBM.

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Book Reviews,Marines,Vietnam War

August 23, 2013

On Nicholas Warr, Phase Line Green and Hue City

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Phase Line Green The Battle for Hue, 1968 by Nicholas Warr

A Review by Ken Rodgers

The Siege of Khe Sanh had already been going on for over a week by the time the Tet Offensive began. Some historians believe that the North Vietnamese commander-in-chief, General Vo Nguyen Giap, planned the Siege of Khe Sanh as a ploy to draw off firepower so that when Tet arrived on January 30, 1968, the NVA and Viet Cong onslaught on South Vietnam would swamp the American and South Vietnamese militaries.

I recall sitting in my fighting hole, shivering in the trench, hiding in my bunker as news flashed out of my old transistor radio about the all-out assault on South Vietnamese and American forces during the annual Vietnamese New Year which almost all Vietnam vets just call “Tet.” All around South Vietnam, North Vietnamese troops were attacking cities, towns, villes and outposts, some of them falling as we sat inside the Khe Sanh fire base and listened to the battles…our battle, as well as the ones described over Armed Forces Radio. The assault on Khe Sanh was frightening, and the news reports from AFR piled on the panic. Saigon, Danang, Kon Tum, Dong Ha, were just a few of the names that blared out from the speakers of our transistor radios.

Most frightening of all to me was the fall of Hue City, the old Imperial Capital and the symbol of Vietnam’s regal past and a symbol, too, of what we were fighting to preserve. A way of life based on a blending of east and west, or so we thought. So when Hue fell it seemed like a portent of what eventually came to us in Vietnam, defeat. But at the time that portent wasn’t nearly as potent as the thought of a general butt-whipping to all of the American forces in Vietnam in early 1968, and something deeper, the fear of my own death. Yes, my death was paramount, or to put it another way, my life. Nevertheless, the thought of defeat, that the awesome and unbeatable American juggernaut might be defeated bothered me a lot. It still does…this notion of defeat.

I digress. Day and night, when we weren’t dodging incoming or sneaking outside the wire to set up ambushes and listening posts, to charge out on perilous patrols, we listened to the radio accounts of the battle to take back Hue.

I had very little training in house-to-house combat. What I had experienced at Camp Pendleton prior to my trip across the pond to the Republic of South Vietnam made me think at the time: I hope I never have to do that. Going in on the bottom floor, up stairs, in closets, down halls, with the enemy hiding in there, well ensconced, well armed, dropping grenades on our heads, spraying us with AK-47s.

At Khe Sanh we took tremendous amounts of incoming and when we went outside the wire, the ensuing fights were brutal, savage, with bayonet charges and hand-to-hand combat. Hue was a different type of battle. Not in terms of courage and fear, cowardice and death, but in how it was fought.

In Nicholas Warr’s memoir Phase Line Green, The Battle for Hue, 1968, the events surrounding the fall of Hue and its eventual recapture are played out in intensely personal, vivid images. The war is intimate, not something alluded to in wall charts and maps by intellectuals and staff command officers. This is war shouted from the throat of the fighting man.

Nicholas Warr was a second lieutenant and platoon commander with Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines. His story begins when Tet begins, and Charlie Company is out in the bush between Hue and Danang. As the initial fighting begins, Charlie Company sits in eerie quiet as they listen to the war going on around them. This quiet allows us to meet Lieutenant Warr and the men in his command, men who will not survive much longer.

The 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment was ordered to proceed to Hue and retake the citadel, the old imperial headquarters surrounded by thick walls; a city of tree-lined streets with substantial houses, all held by crack troops of the North Vietnamese army. This war would be house-to-house. The men of Charlie Company had never fought house-to-house.

They entered the old citadel and assembled on one side of a residential street, a place named by the Americans, “Phase Line Green.”

I will not let slip the details of what happens to Warr and the men of Charlie Company, 1/5, but I will tell you that this story rages, begs, pleads, screams, cries, hates, commands and exults on a visceral, intimately personal level. As a young enlisted man, I never imagined that officers thought and feared and hated like us, the snuffies who fought the war, but Warr shows us that officers and gentlemen react and act just the same as enlisted men.

This is war through the eyes of the grunt, on the ground, in the spine-rattling chaos that is combat:

“Doc looked over at me with despair in his eyes and said, ‘We gotta do an emergency tracheotomy; his windpipe’s crushed. I need a tube, something to stick into the opening when I cut into his windpipe.

“I was stunned, stupid, unable to think or move. None of the Marines was any more help. Estes was dying on my lap, making feeble convulsive motions, and I couldn’t move.

“’Break down your .45, Lieutenant, goddammit. I can use the barrel as a temporary airway.'”

This story is fast-paced and compelling. You fall and stumble, hide and crawl with the men of Charlie Company, 1/5. Once I started this book, I couldn’t put it down. In some ways the combat was the same…the fear, the need to overcome fear, the need to not be a coward, the shaking and the tears…as what I had seen at Khe Sanh. Yet in other ways the combat at the battle of Hue City was foreign to me, like Fallujah in Iraq or cobblestoned European streets in WWII.

This story is about how it feels to see your comrades dead in the street thirty or forty feet away, and the inability to help them, retrieve them, grieve in the old honored ceremonial ways that allow us to put death in its proper slot. This story is about how it feels to assault across a frontier out of relative safety into the unknown region of death and mayhem.

Nicholas Warr tells us about rage, and not just about rage at the enemy, but the political machines that manage battle, and not to the benefit of the snuffies slugging it out. And of course, the rage against generals and presidents and senators is a focused rage, it seems to me, but also aimed at us, the American public, for our lack of commitment and patience, as we sat (and sit now in the current conflicts) in our houses while the few died and the rest enjoyed largesse at the warriors’ expense.

And related to this lurks the memory of the thirty year period after Vietnam when the warriors who carried the battle to the enemy were shunned. I was once told, “You guys couldn’t whip anybody.” This in reference to the men who fought in Vietnam, to me and my Marine brothers, both at Khe Sanh and Hue City. What made, and still makes, that phrase like a bitter lump of burning shrapnel trapped in my gullet is the fact that in a huge majority of the battles fought in Vietnam, American forces came out the victors. Yet our country lost the war. And it lost other things, too, like innocence and optimism. And we are only now beginning to hear the multitude of stories out of the Vietnam experience; decades later, when the Vietnam vet is suddenly popular, when he is thanked belatedly for his service to his country. Fifty years on.

You can find out more about Nicholas Warr, Phase Line Green and Warr’s other books here.

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