Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Posts Tagged ‘Michael E. O’Hara’

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

August 5, 2015

On Drones, Ghosts, Facebook and the O-2 Skymaster

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I recently ran onto a spoof written last summer that satirized both Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg and Google. In the article, Zuckerberg threatened to have Facebook shoot down all of Google’s drones. The piece, written by NEW YORKER satirist Andy Borowitz (you can read the entire Borowitz piece here), makes fun of the two gigantic social media and Internet companies, but the mention of drones as weapons owned by companies here in the United States got me to thinking about the insertion of drones into our everyday lives, not only as weapons but as tools for more peaceful tasks.

Both governments and businesses are using drones for a number of things. Last fall, while Betty and I traveled in the central California oil patch around Taft, we ran upon a drone hovering about forty feet in the air above the highway. I suspect that drone’s job was (or is) to provide security for the oil fields lining the road that runs north to south.

I had never seen a drone before, that I know of, but I have been paying attention to them a lot more now. As a filmmaker, I could buy one that would allow us to shoot movie footage from an aerial point of view. A quick look at a website curated by someone with the handle, “Droneguy,” lists a whole array of drones available for filmmakers to use. I suppose folks with other goals besides filmmaking might be interested in drones and the ability they allow a user to watch, record, spy. You can get a look at some of these drones at Droneguy’s site here.

It’s kind of creepy thinking about how your neighbor could buy a drone, attach a camera to it and watch what you or anyone else is doing. And not just watching. A few weeks back, some kid apparently attached a gun to a drone, so the potential of attack and defense by individuals and organizations other than the military are very possible.

When I think of drones as weapons, I think about twenty-year-old kids sitting in a command center somewhere in Colorado directing drones to exterminate terrorists in Somalia and Pakistan and Yemen. I imagine those twenty-year-old kids are also directing their drones to act as reconnaissance assets that can help the troops in the field.

Air Force photo of a drone.

Air Force photo of a drone.

We’ve come a long way in the last forty-seven years with the airborne tools we use to help the ground-pounders locate the enemy.

Around Khe Sanh in 1967 and 1968, long before drones, it wasn’t that unusual to see small, manned, fixed wing, propeller driven aircraft fly over the bush looking for enemy movement. One type of plane that operated out of Khe Sanh was the United States Air Force’s O-2A. According to Wikipedia, (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cessna_O-2_Skymaster), this plane was made by Cessna and owned the moniker, “Skymaster.” The plane was also known as “Oscar Deuce” or “The Duck.”

On January 17, 1968, four days before the Siege of Khe Sanh officially began, the men of Bravo Company, 1/26, watched as one of these Skymasters roared down the runway of the airstrip in an easterly direction, lifted off, seemed to stall and then tumbled out of the sky.

At the time, I recall it reminding me of hunting trips back home in southern Arizona and the way a quail would tumble out of the sky and then crash after I shot it with my shotgun.

The Skymaster fell and slammed into the red mud and dirt right out in front of our position. When I say, “our,” I mean Second Platoon, Bravo Company’s position.

It’s been over forty-seven years since that event and my memory may have veered a bit or grown a tad rusty, but as I recall that day, right after the plane came down, some of us, including me, ran out through the gate in the concertina barriers and the wire traps we had stretched across the terrain. We wanted to see if we could help the pilot.

I remember seeing two men inside. They frantically screamed at us but what they yelled I don’t recall. Maybe we couldn’t hear the particulars although I guarantee you we understood the gist of the situation.

The plane was smoking and burning and it must have been less than a minute when ammunition inside began cooking off from the heat. I don’t know if they were pistol rounds or rifle rounds or something larger, but as the fire grew and the heat burned our faces, we could hear the report of those cook-offs.

There were four or five of us Marines out there trying to liberate those men from that burning death trap. In my recollection two men in our film, BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR, were part of the rescue party. Those two Marines were Michael E. O’Hara and the late Dan Horton.

But the burning Oscar Deuce was too hot, and we couldn’t get close enough to the doors to open them and then someone, maybe our platoon commander Lieutenant John Dillon, maybe the platoon sergeant Staff Sergeant Gus Alvarado, or maybe both came and yanked us away from the heat and the cooking off rounds and the imminent threat of that plane exploding.

For years, I’ve been haunted by the image of a man’s face staring at me from behind a veil of smoke, a window, the face screaming, but very little sound in my ears.

We didn’t get those men out and they burned to death. As to the cause, the verdict is mixed. One report indicated the downing of the Skymaster was due to enemy fire, while another said the debacle was not the result of enemy fire.

I don’t recall hearing any small arms fire as the plane lifted off, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t any. To me, what matters a whole lot more than what caused that plane to go down was the fact that two men died in there, two men whom we could see and hear and could not save. Two men with families and friends were not going home except in a black body bag. And we who witnessed the event are left with the detritus of the memories.

Air Force photo of a Cessna O-2A.

Air Force photo of a Cessna O-2A.

Those two men were the pilot, Air Force Captain Sam Beach, and an observer, Army Sergeant First Class Donald Chaney. You can read more about Sam Beach and Donald Chaney on the Virtual Wall at http://www.virtualwall.org/db/BeachSF01a.htm and http://www.virtualwall.org/dc/ChaneyDL02a.htm.

As I write this, I think that the use of drones as a way to spot the enemy might be an improvement over manned aircraft. If that vehicle had been a drone, then I wouldn’t have those memories haunting me, those voices yelling through the smoke, the ghost of that horrified face looking at me through the Skymaster’s windshield and there would be two less names on The Wall.

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

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. Please consider gifting copies to a veteran, a history buff, a library, a friend or family member. For more information, go to https://bravotheproject.com/buy-the-dvd/.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject?ref=hl.

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

November 5, 2012

Happy Birthday

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BRAVO! Marine Michael E. O’Hara muses on tradition, the Marine Corps Birthday and one of the men of Bravo Company with whom he served.

Soon it will be 10 November, the birthday of the United States Marine Corps. Marines take this event very seriously holding “Birthday Balls” all over the world at Naval Bases, MCB’s, on board ships and our foreign embassies (provided they are there in the first place). Retired Marines hold small ceremonies as well in their local VFW halls and Marine Corps League facilities. The oldest and youngest Marines are honored and a cake cutting ceremony is usually held. If feasible the cake is cut with the traditional Mameluke Sword, which was presented to Lt. Presley O’Bannon in 1805 by Hamet Bey the rightful ruler of Tripoli when we were trying to subdue the Barbary Pirates during Thomas Jefferson’s administration. (He eventually paid the pirates ransom and sent Hamet packing. Some things never change.) Even in the Mayor’s office in Indianapolis there will be a cake cutting ceremony. Mayor Ballard is himself a retired Marine Officer.

It is a very special day for me as well. Being so close to Veterans Day, it always invokes past memories of “My Marines.” Those brave and courageous young men who I was so privileged to have known. I want to tell you all about just one. He isn’t technically a Marine. He is a USN Hospitalman, what we call “Corpsmen.” Marines revere their Navy Corpsmen. They train with Marines, they go into battle with Marines, armed only with their medical gear to treat the wounded and the dying. Many times over the history of our Corps they performed valiantly, many times giving their own lives trying to save Marines. They are a rare breed in and of themselves. I want to tell you about just one, Richard Blanchfield, USN.

I never really knew Dick. He was a new replacement for our third platoon, I believe, which had been decimated in late February. It was now March 30, 1968. We were in a pitched battle with the NVA. Many folks were getting banged up pretty bad. We were still in the advance when I came upon Doc. I found him at the bottom of a 500-lb bomb crater. He had been tending to two other Marines who were, by this time, deceased. He had taken a near direct hit from an 82mm Chi-Com mortar. When I got down to him his arm was nearly torn from his torso. He had already stuck two morphine needles into his leg and didn’t know or care about much. All I could do was tie two battle dressings together and compress his arm against his torso and try desperately to stop his bleeding.

But we were still in the advance stages and it was time to move on. Others would have to tend to him later, although I thought sure he would not survive his wounds. But he did. We made contact via the telephone in 1993 and that has been the only contact I have had with him since. Except. Every year since 1993 I have received a birthday card from Dick celebrating the birth of the Corps. He is as proud of being called a Marine as I am of being called his friend. These are the bonds that tie men together on the fields of war. They can never be broken, not even by death itself.

Semper Fidelis, Dick Blanchfield, and a Happy Birthday to you as well.

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

June 28, 2012

On Memorial Day, Buena Vista, Iwo Jima, Remembrance and BRAVO!

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Guest blogger Michael E. O’Hara, who served with Bravo Company at the Siege of Khe Sanh, muses about remembrance.

I recently was involved with our local Memorial Day ceremonies in which I involved my babies (granddaughters) to a very large degree. About a week before, we were attending a piano recital my oldest was giving at a local church along with many other children.

Michael E. O'Hara at Khe Sanh, 1968. Photo courtesy of the Estate of Daniel Horton

I was sitting there contemplating what I was going to say at the upcoming memorial services as we listened to all the other kids playing before Emma had her turn. There was a huge cross of colored glass embedded in the high wall of the sanctuary and I was sort of mesmerized by its beauty. It came to me as I was sitting there: The truth about what all men come to realize who have experienced the same kind of combat Bravo Company had to endure.

I knew I was going to talk about a young man named Stephen Kennedy. It was 1847 and he was fighting at the battle of Buena Vista in the Mexican-American War. He and the rest of the men from my county were called “Brown County Blues” because they had purchased new denims before going off to war. The battle was nearly over when young Kennedy saw his captain fall from a musket ball to his chest. (Kennedy would eventually marry his captain’s daughter and fight in the Civil War.) Kennedy charged across the fireswept terrain dodging a hail of gunfire and dragged his young captain to a place of safety. Captain Taggart’s dying words were these, “Tell my folks I’ll see them in the good world. Now be a good soldier, Kennedy, and return to your company.”

They buried Captain Taggart there in Mexico in a few days and then they were all off for home. On his way home, young Kennedy came to know these three simple truths, truths that all young men who go off to war soon learn:

1. The Lord had come to claim Captain Taggart’s soul on 23 February 1847. (By the way, that is the same day in 1945 the Marines raised the flag on Iwo Jima. Captain Taggart commanded “E” company. The Marines on Iwo who raised the flag were also “E” company.)

2. Within days young Kennedy would help the earth reclaim his captain’s bones.

3. Most importantly, on the long trek home while traveling up the Mississippi on a steamboat, young Kennedy realized that the duty, the awesome responsibility of carrying home the precious memory of his beloved captain fell to him and him alone. He carried out his duty well for it is duly recorded in many places.

Sound familiar? Is that not what we have all carried with us for so long…those precious memories? Is that not what Betty and Ken have done with BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR? I say so, and I say they both have done it well. Our men will live forever.

You can find details about the raising of the American flag on Iwo Jima in an interview of flag-raising participant John Bradley here. For more infomation about the Brown County Blues, check out this link.