Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Posts Tagged ‘Michael O’Hara’

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

August 16, 2017

Perfect Pitch

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I recently heard someone on the radio talking about an Austrian composer and violinist named Friedrich “Fritz” Kreisler who fought with the Austrian army during the early days of World War I.

Here is a short biography from Wikipedia about Fritz Kreisler:

Friedrich “Fritz” Kreisler (February 2, 1875 – January 29, 1962) was an Austrian-born violinist and composer. One of the most noted violin masters of his day, and regarded as one of the greatest violin masters of all time, he was known for his sweet tone and expressive phrasing.

Photo of Fritz Kreisler.

He served briefly in the Austrian Army in World War I before being honourably discharged after he was wounded.

On the radio show, the announcer talked about Fritz’s perfect pitch, or absolute pitch. According to Wikipedia:

Perfect pitch is a rare auditory phenomenon characterized by the ability of a person to identify or re-create a given musical note without the benefit of a reference tone.

Besides its value in the realm of music, Fritz’ perfect pitch endeared him to the men who served with him in the trenches during World War I. Perfect pitch enabled Fritz to distinguish the sounds of incoming and to tell his comrades where incoming artillery rounds were going to hit.

In his memoir, Fritz said this about the sound of incoming:

I, too, soon got accustomed to the deadly missiles, in fact. I had already started to make observations of their peculiarities. My ear, accustomed to differentiate sounds of all kinds, had some time ago, while we still advanced, noticed a remarkable discrepancy in the peculiar whine produced by the different shells in their rapid flight through the air as they passed over our heads, some sounding shrill, with a rising tendency, and the others dull, with a falling cadence.

Hearing about Fritz’ abilities to pinpoint artillery round sounds and the location they would strike led me to think about the trenches of Khe Sanh and how, if one survived long enough and had scrambled away from close encounters with 152 millimeter shells lobbed at us from Laos, then he may be gifted with the ability to tell where a round was going to hit.

I remember yelling at new arrivals during the months of February and March that it was time to move when I heard the report of certain 152s leaving the mouths of caves across the Laotian border on their way to wipe us out. There was a particular “thump” sound—more hollow than the sound of the rounds that fell farther away—that told me it was time to di-di mau for a safer place. Usually, the new guys would look at me like I was stupid or crazy, but if they survived that round, they paid attention to me the next time I announced it was time to move.

Michael O’Hara at Khe Sanh. Photo courtesy of Michael E. O’Hara.

Unlike Fritz, I couldn’t accurately predict the impact area for all the incoming: the 130 MM, the 122 MM, the various mortar and rocket rounds, the sniper rounds, all of which we received plenty.
And every one of them made a different sound.

I remember those big rounds, those 152s sounding like a train.

In our film, BRAVO!, Michael O’Hara made this comment on 152s:

“But it’s like a freight train coming through the bathroom when you’re taking a shower. And you know it’s coming and you can’t get out of the bathroom.”

Michael also said this about the big guns firing into Khe Sanh Combat Base:

“I thought to myself, this is crazy. People don’t understand what it’s like for all that artillery to come in like that. It’s just terrifying. It’s meant to do more than just tear up your body. It’s meant to tear up your mind. It will scare you to death.”

But it wasn’t just the 152s that could kill you. It was all of the various types of hardware the NVA threw at us.

The late BRAVO! Marine Lloyd Scudder said this about incoming:

“Every time there was incoming or the ammo dumps, you know, were blowing up, I was scared to death. That shhhheeeww and the whistling of the rockets and the poof of the mortars and the kapoof sheeeewhirwhirwhir. That right there scared the hell out of me.”

Yes, the big stuff could kill and maim, but the silent slap of a sniper round could get you, too. And the worst part about it, as anyone who has been sniped at knows, is you don’t hear the round coming because that sleek and stealthy killer travels faster than the speed of sound. I suspect that muzzle velocity is responsible for the old saying, “You don’t hear the one that kills you.”

BRAVO! Marine Ron Rees had this to say about snipers:

“ . . . rounds from a sniper. It was like a mosquito. They were buzzing your head constantly . . . you just realized that was a bullet.”

Lloyd Scudder. Photo courtesy of the late Lloyd Scudder

Besides being killed or maimed, there was the psychological assault–as alluded to earlier by Michael O’Hara–that all of that incoming delivered to each one of us in the Khe Sanh area; not just the Combat Base, but Hills 861, 861A, 558, 950, 881 South, Lang Vei, and Khe Sanh Ville.

Again, Ron Rees:

“You hear it leave the tube and then just the seconds that it takes . . . and you know how long it is . . . when you heard it leave the tube, you knew how long you had, and from the time you heard that round leave the tube until it hit, you imagined death; you’re thinking all along, Is it you?”

And as this happened, sometimes over a thousand times a day, day after day, it had an effect, a life-long effect.

When people plan for the future, near-term or farther out, and I’m involved in their plans, I often times find myself thinking, “Why are we spending all this time working on plans? We don’t know what the future will bring. This is all a waste of time. A minute from now we might all be dead.”

Ron Rees. Photo Courtesy of Ron Rees.

Ron Rees had something to say about that, too:

“I really learned to live—because of the incoming and counting and everything else—to live by the second. You hear people say they live like that, I mean they literally live like that. My whole life I’ve never stopped living like that.”

As I thought about Fritz Kreisler in World War I and the men at Khe Sanh during the Siege, I felt a strange sensation, a linkage, related, I suppose, to the notion that even though there was a span of more than fifty years between Fritz’ experiences with the horrors of war and mine, we both learned to survive, and in some instances that survival was related to our ability to employ perfect pitch or some facsimile thereof.

***

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.

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

March 22, 2017

Ghosties–Redux

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

____________________________

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,Veterans Courts,Vietnam War

June 15, 2016

On Veterans Courts

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Several weeks back we wrote a blog entry about how BRAVO! has become a part of the training regimen for new Marine officers at The Basic School at Quantico and we were amazed, as filmmakers, how the movie had grown into something we could not have imagined. What began as an attempt to tell a story about a small group of Marines at the Siege of Khe Sanh has since been used, for example, in college film classes, and high school history classes, and several California prisons, and creative writing classes and as part of a symposium on the humanities and the Vietnam War.

To the list of uses, add BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR as a tool to help veteran court personnel understand the ravages of war and why some veterans might go off the rails, so to speak, and run afoul of the law.

On June 1, 2016, BRAVO! was screened at the 2016 Justice For Vets Convention in Anaheim, California and an interested group of attendees watched the film and then participated in Q & A with the filmmakers. The questions asked were incisive and spoke to the attendees’ interests in veterans, TBI, PTSD, crime and justice.

The folks who came to see the film were judges, attorneys—both prosecuting and defense—court clerks, mentors, psychologists, police personnel, parole and probation officers, court coordinators, and more.

As I attended the conference, the thought came to me: Why do veterans deserve a different court system than everybody else and over the course of a couple of days, I got some answers.

Veterans courts aren’t the only courts that treat offenders differently. There are drug courts, and mental health courts and tribal courts, to name a few. So veterans aren’t the only folks getting special treatment in the justice system.

I heard more than one presenter at the conference explain it this way: Veterans went to serve the country and it is understood that the service was often hazardous. Now they have returned and have had some troubles transitioning into civilian life. Many of them have physical injuries and injuries to the soul and now it is time for us, American society, to serve them in their time of need. Like they did for us. And one of the ways we can serve them is to allow them to go through the veterans’ court program.

Left to right: Michael Jackson, Anne Jackson, Betty Rodgers, Ken Rodgers. Michael is a retired Air Force Colonel and Anne is a prosecutor. The Jacksons share their expertise on veterans, combat and family issues all around the nation. Photo courtesy of Brian L. Meyer.

Left to right: Michael Jackson, Anne Jackson, Betty Rodgers, Ken Rodgers. Michael is a retired Air Force Colonel and Anne is a prosecutor. The Jacksons share their expertise on veterans, combat and family issues all around the nation. Photo courtesy of Brian L. Meyer.

Apparently, the first veteran’s court was established in Buffalo, NY. There are over two hundred veteran court systems in the country now and the trend is growing in local jurisdictions nationwide.

And why? They seem to work. One of the founders of the Buffalo veterans court is Patrick Welch, PhD, a Marine who served as an enlisted man in Vietnam and was awarded a Purple Heart for the wounds he received there. Dr. Welch told a group of us why veterans courts are important, “Because incarceration doesn’t work.”

So, to avoid institutionalizing veterans in the prison system, it is thought to be cheaper and more effective to run offenders through a special court system.

These courts are fairly new and the experience society has had with them has yet to stand the test of passing years, but time after time Betty and I heard that the recidivism—the rate of veterans coming back into the court system after having successfully completed veterans courts—is significantly lower than the old established court system. This is a major win.

We initially became interested in veterans courts here in Idaho where we have six veteran court systems and it appears they are doing a good job of helping veterans who run afoul of the legal system for one reason or another.

Left to right: Dr. Brian L. Meyer, Interim Associate Chief of Mental Health Clinical Services, Supervisory Psychologist, and Substance Abuse/Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Specialist at the H.H. McGuire Veterans Administration Medical Center and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Virginia Commonwealth University, Ken Rodgers and Betty Rodgers. Photo courtesy of Anne Jackson.

Left to right: Dr. Brian L. Meyer, Interim Associate Chief of Mental Health Clinical Services, Supervisory Psychologist, and Substance Abuse/Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Specialist at the H.H. McGuire Veterans Administration Medical Center and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Virginia Commonwealth University, Ken Rodgers and Betty Rodgers. Photo courtesy of Anne Jackson.

We couldn’t be more pleased to know that BRAVO! has now become a tool to help veterans court professionals and volunteers understand the underlying trauma generated by combat.

And thanks you very much to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, Justice for Vets, Terrence Walton and his entire staff at the NADCP for inviting us to screen BRAVO!

So, to the men of BRAVO!: Cal Bright, John Cicala, the late Dan Horton, Ken Korkow, Ben Long, Frank McCauley, Mike McCauley, Michael O’Hara, Ken Pipes, Tom Quigley, Ron Rees, the late Lloyd Scudder, Peter Weiss and Steve Wiese, a big oorah! Because in overcoming your reluctance (and fears) that created a barrier to you telling your stories about the Siege of Khe Sanh and all its horrors, you have, besides recording an important piece of history, become educators to the folks who administer our veterans courts.

If you or your organization would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town this coming summer, fall, winter or next spring 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.

Documentary Film,Khe Sanh,Marines,Other Musings,The Basic School at Quantico,Vietnam War

May 18, 2016

The Basic School at Quantico

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

In the last BRAVO! blog we wrote briefly about a visit we made to The Basic School (TBS) at Camp Barrett on Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia.

While at the National Museum of the Marine Corps, BRAVO! Marine Michael O’Hara, his son-in-law Daniel Folz, Betty and I received an invitation from Marine Captain Joe Albano to come over to TBS and observe how Bravo Company’s ill-fated patrol of February 25, 1968 is currently being used to train Marine officers in the Scouting and Patrolling class. We were pretty excited about that, and surprised that they wanted to talk to us.

Aft the sand table at The Basic School. Left to right: Daniel Folz, Captain Josh White, Captain Jason Duehring, Ken Rodgers, Michael O'Hara,  Captain Joe Albano. Photo by Betty Rodgers

Aft the sand table at The Basic School. Left to right: Daniel Folz, Captain Josh White, Captain Jason Duehring, Ken Rodgers, Michael O’Hara, Captain Joe Albano. Photo by Betty Rodgers

Upon our arrival we were greeted by Captain Albano, TBS Commanding Officer Colonel Christian Wortman, and Captains Josh White and Jason Duehring, an impressive group of Marine Corps officers. Captains Albano, White and Duehring are instructors at TBS training the future leaders of the Marine Corps.

And we were not the only ones excited about the meeting, so were these young officers. They were excited to meet two Marines who had survived the Siege of Khe Sanh as well as some of the folks involved with the production of BRAVO!.

After our welcome, the captains took us to various classrooms where the Scouting and Patrolling Operations class is taught, including a visit to the sand tables where the new officers work out scouting and patrolling scenarios.

In the classroom. Left to Right: Captain Jason Duehring, Michael O'Hara, Ken Rodgers, Captain Joe Albano, Captain Josh White and Daniel Folz. Photo by Betty Rodges

In the classroom. Left to Right: Captain Jason Duehring, Michael O’Hara, Ken Rodgers, Captain Joe Albano, Captain Josh White and Daniel Folz. Photo by Betty Rodgers

From there, we went to a lecture hall where Captains Albano, White and Duehring talked about how they teach the class and how they researched and worked on the Case Study related to the events of February 25, 1968.

When we first walked into the room, we noticed the BRAVO! DVD was sitting on the table with the instructors’ materials, which was a nice surprise. Then Captain Albano gave us an abbreviated version of the class. What surprised and humbled us even more was learning that the captains included clips from our film as part of the lecture. And a lot of the clips aren’t specifically about February 25th, but more about introducing the new lieutenants to the humanity of the Marines and Navy Corpsman they will command in the future. The presentation included Bravo Company men talking about, among other things, combat and brotherhood and fear.

During Captain Albano’s lecture, the students are advised of the events surrounding the Ghost Patrol—as the events of February 25 are commonly referred to—and to the disposition of troops on the ground on the morning of that fateful day. Then, amid the Marines of BRAVO! talking to them with the sounds of war in the background, the instructors, in a suddenly chaotic classroom simulation, fire questions at the students asking how they are going to deal with threats that are killing their Marines.

On the way to The Hawk. Left to Right: Captain Joe Albano, Michael O'Hara, Daniel Folz, Ken Rodgers, Captain Josh White

On the way to The Hawk. Left to Right: Captain Joe Albano, Michael O’Hara, Daniel Folz, Ken Rodgers, Captain Josh White. Photo by Betty Rodgers

The class is taught, among other things, in a way that emulates the bedlam of combat, and if a student can’t come up with a solution to a question asked by the instructor within a matter of seconds, he/she gets told, “You just lost another Marine,” and the instructor turns to another student and fires questions at him/her. These simulated combat moments are intended to train the new lieutenants to think quickly and respond appropriately. The questioning is rife with tension and with an aura of the uncertainties encountered when opposing groups of warriors go to killing each other. Fear, confusion and pressure are recognized as elements one encounters in combat and which cannot be understood by a leader until they are experienced.

After Captain Albano finished up, we repaired to The Hawk—the club at TBS—for some refreshments and some time to talk about the film, war, Vietnam and the more current wars that the captains fought in.

At The Hawk. Captain Joe Albano, left, and Captain Josh White, right, discuss the Marine Corps. Photo courtesy of Daniel Folz.

At The Hawk. Captain Joe Albano, left, and Captain Josh White, right, discuss the Marine Corps. Photo courtesy of Daniel Folz.

For years we have thought of BRAVO! as a way to preserve history and to educate the public about the Siege of Khe Sanh and the horror of combat, about brotherhood and death and fear. What an overwhelming thought it is to realize the men of BRAVO! are also helping to train today’s Marines.

Thanks to Captain Albano and the instructors at The Basic School for sharing their efforts with us old-time Marines and our guests.

Semper Fi!

If you or your organization would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town this coming summer, fall, winter or next spring 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.

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

May 4, 2016

They Put Their Trousers On Just Like You Do

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

It was a heady experience being at the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation’s 2016 Awards Ceremony at the National Museum of the Marine Corps outside the gates of Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia.

BRAVO! was recognized and honored with the Major Norman Hatch Award for best feature length documentary film.

Betty and I arrived a few days before the big event and journeyed to Lexington, Virginia, to visit good friends. While there we checked out Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s home. Stonewall was an instructor at Virginia Military Institute (located in Lexington) before the Civil War.

Stonewall Jackson's home in Lexington, VA. Photo courtesy of Ken Rodgers.

Stonewall Jackson’s home in Lexington, VA.
Photo courtesy of Ken Rodgers.

The following day, BRAVO! Marine Michael E. O’Hara and his son-in-law Daniel Folz went with us to tour the National Museum of the Marine Corps. Betty and I have visited the museum three times before this journey and we are always amazed at the constant change in the individual exhibits as well as the continued expansion of the museum, which speaks to the level of commitment and passion by all the donors and personnel involved.

Michael O'Hara at the  South exhibit at the Museum of the Marine Corps. Photo courtesy of Daniel Folz

Michael O’Hara at the South exhibit at the Museum of the Marine Corps. Photo courtesy of Daniel Folz

Later that afternoon, we were invited to The Basic School for new Marine Corps officers to talk about the history of Bravo Company, 1/26, at the Siege of Khe Sanh, and observe how The Basic School is using Bravo Company’s patrol outside the wire on February 25, 1968, as a case study in their Patrolling and Scouting class.

Upon arrival we were greeted by the commanding officer of The Basic School, Colonel Christian Wortman, and three instructors: Captain Joe Albano, Captain Josh White and Captain Jason Duehring.

We will post a blog later about the specifics of our visit to The Basic School but I must say that we are gratified that the experiences of the Marines at Khe Sanh are being used to prepare the Marine officers of the future for combat.

Later that evening we dined at The Globe and Laurel restaurant owned by Retired Major Rick Spooner who also received an award from the Foundation for one of his works of fiction, THE DRAGON OF DESTINY AND THE SAGA OF SHANGHAI POOLEY. The Globe and Laurel is a museum of Marine Corps history in its own right, and we enjoyed looking around at the posters, photos and other memorabilia of days gone by in the lives of Marines. If you are ever in the area and want to see a fabulous array of Marine Corps history, consider dining there.

On Saturday, friend and supporter of BRAVO!, Betty Plevney came up from Richmond, Virginia, to join us for the Awards Ceremony. Betty has been a great resource for the producers of the film. Her expertise and opinions have helped guide us along the path to where we are now.

Before the main event, we were joined in the museum’s Scuttlebutt Theater by many of the other honorees and their friends and families. The medals were presented by the Heritage Foundation’s Vice-President for Administration, Mrs. Susan Hodges, Retired Lieutenant General Robert Blackman (President and Chief Executive Office of the Foundation), Commandant of the Marine Corps General Robert Neller, Retired General John Kelly (the Foundation’s Chairman of the Board), Retired General Walter Boomer (past Chairman of the Board), and Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Ronald Green.

Betty and I were very proud to have General Neller shake our hands and in my case get my medal ribbon untangled from my red bowtie.

At the Foundation Award Ceremony. Left to Right: Betty Plevney, Ken Rodgers, Betty Rodgers, Michael O'Hara. Photo Courtesy of Daniel Folz.

At the Foundation Award Ceremony. Left to Right: Betty Plevney, Ken Rodgers, Betty Rodgers, Michael O’Hara. Photo Courtesy of Daniel Folz.

After the awards ceremony we went into the main atrium of the museum to join over four-hundred-forty guests for a great meal and an informative—and at times inspiring—program that included the Commandant, General Kelley, General Boomer, Lt. General Blackman, noted actor and Marine Wilfred Brimley, and former Virginia Senator and Secretary of the Navy John Warner.

Left to right: Commandant General Robert Neller, Retired Lt. General Robert Blackman, Ken Rodgers, Betty Rodgers. Photo Courtesy of Daniel Folz.

Left to right: Commandant General Robert Neller, Retired Lt. General Robert Blackman, Ken Rodgers, Betty Rodgers. Photo Courtesy of Daniel Folz.

One of the most satisfying moments for Betty and me happened immediately after they screened the official trailer for BRAVO! on large screens strategically positioned around the atrium so that all the guests could watch. Earlier in the trip, we had asked if Michael O’Hara could join us on stage when the Commandant presented us with our medals. We were informed that the space was too small—and it was—but they would recognize him after they played the trailer.

When the that moment came, Lt. General Blackman announced that Michael was my guest and that he had served with B/1/26 at the Siege and had received three purple hearts during that seventy-seven day battle. One of the cameras that was filming and projecting the night’s events focused in on Michael and he appeared on all the big screens in the building. He stood to a great chorus of ooorahs, cheers and much applause.

All through our time with Michael and Daniel, Daniel photographed the events so we could enjoy them later. Thank you, Daniel. The two men departed early the next morning, and Betty Plevney joined us for a leisurely breakfast before she headed back home. Betty Rodgers and I returned to the Museum of the Marine Corps and spent quite a bit of time wandering through the extensive outdoor gardens and memorials adjacent to the museum.

Michael O'Hara's recognition by the Foundation. Photo courtesy of Daniel Folz.

Michael O’Hara’s recognition by the Foundation. Photo courtesy of Daniel Folz.

The weather was sublime and the dogwoods were blooming in all their spring glory. As we strolled past memorials to a whole host of different Marine Corps organizations and events, I pondered what had occurred for us during our time in Quantico.

When I was in the Corps, I made it a matter of personal policy to hightail it as far as possible any time a general, a colonel, a sergeant major came around. I was an enlisted man and I didn’t want any encounters with officers above the rank of captain or any non-commissioned officers above the rank of gunnery sergeant. For me, those people almost came from another species, so on this visit, when I got to talk to the commandant, as well as a number of other generals, colonels and lieutenant-colonels, I came to the conclusion that they are folks just like me. Much more committed to the Marine Corps than I ever was, but folks none the less.

Dogwoods in bloom at the National Museum of the Marine Corps. Photo courtesy of Ken Rodgers.

Dogwoods in bloom at the National Museum of the Marine Corps. Photo courtesy of Ken Rodgers.

Thinking that made me remember what my drill instructors in boot camp used to say when we were about to be inspected by officers: “Just remember, they put their trousers on just like you do, one leg at a time.”

Betty and I send along a hearty thanks to the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation—which, by the way, gave us some seed money to begin the process of making BRAVO!—and all the folks who honored BRAVO! and made our stay in Virginia a great success.

If you or your organization would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town this coming summer, fall, winter or next spring 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.

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

April 6, 2016

BRAVO! To Receive 2016 Major Norman Hatch Award

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

After we put our first cut of BRAVO! in the can, I remember talking to one of the filmmakers we met during the editing process. An award winner himself, he talked about BRAVO! being a film that ought to be in the running for an Oscar.

At the time, with my lack of knowledge about the process of making films, I remember sitting out on the patio dreaming about Betty and me bouncing up the stairs to the stage to accept our Oscar our hearts thumping like .50 caliber machine guns. But then reality hit and we discovered how the Academy Awards really work.

First, you have to screen your film in both Los Angeles and New York and the funding requirements are overwhelming for an operation like ours. One hopes for a distribution agreement that would make it possible to have your film screened in LA and New York without you, the filmmakers, having to pay the tab for theater rental in those two cities. And though we tried to find a distributor, alas, it has yet to happen.

We’ve been on this filmmaking journey for six years now, and it’s been fun and rewarding and depressing and elating, a roller coaster ride for sure, and as we have gone along, we would have liked to see BRAVO! recognized by our peers, the filmmakers, and not having that happen was disappointing.

Warrant Officer Norman T. Hatch, officer-in-charge of the photographic section for the 5th Marine Division in Hawaii is shown here in photo taken in January 1945. One month later Hatch landed on Iwo Jima. Photo courtesy of Norman T. Hatch

Warrant Officer Norman T. Hatch, officer-in-charge of the photographic section for the 5th Marine Division in Hawaii is shown here in photo taken in January 1945. One month later Hatch landed on Iwo Jima. Photo courtesy of Norman T. Hatch

Until last year when BRAVO! was recognized as Best Documentary Feature in the 2015 GI Film Festival San Diego and that took a huge bite out of the disappointment.

And this year, 2016, brings even more good news for the film. The Marine Corps Heritage Foundation will be awarding BRAVO! the 2016 Major Norman Hatch Award for Documentary Feature on April 23 at the National Museum of the Marine Corps.

Major Norman Hatch was a photographer and filmmaker who landed with the Second Marine Division at Tarawa where he shot footage for an award winning documentary film about that battle. He also documented the Marines’ combat on Iwo Jima and went on to spend forty-one years working with military films and photography.

This award is like getting a double shot of praise because the judges who chose BRAVO! are film industry professionals, so we are getting some more kudos from our filmmaking peers. And there is another angle to look at, too. To be chosen for this extraordinary award by this organization of warriors is for us every bit as important, if not more so, as being recognized by moviemakers.

To be told by your fellow warriors, so to speak, that yes, here’s to a job well done and yes, BRAVO! speaks to the agony and ecstasy of war, is an honor that makes us feel like we will pop all the buttons off the front of our shirts and blouses.

BRAVO! filmmakers Ken and Betty Rodgers. Photo courtesy of Kevin Martini-Fuller

BRAVO! filmmakers Ken and Betty Rodgers. Photo courtesy of Kevin Martini-Fuller

The Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Robert Neller, will be presenting Betty and me with this award. BRAVO! brother Michael E. O’Hara, who is in the film, plans on joining us (along with his son-in-law, Daniel Folz) for the event as does one of our biggest supporters, our friend Betty Plevney. It should be a great evening, beginning with the awards ceremony followed by a dinner at the Museum.

In some ways receiving the Major Norman Hatch Award feels like we’ve come full circle since it was a grant from the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation back in 2010 that jumpstarted BRAVO!

We are humbled and happy and raring to go east to Quantico.

If you or your organization would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town this coming summer, fall, winter or next spring 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.

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

January 16, 2016

On Navy Corpsmen

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

FLEET MARINE FORCE

(FMF)

Navy Corpsman

In today’s guest blog, BRAVO! Marine Michael E. O’Hara muses on Navy Corpsmen and Marines

The latter part of 2015 was not especially kind to me. I had a serious surgery in September and in November I suddenly fell ill once again and suffered a somewhat sustained period of time in the VA hospital, about 45 days all told. I am now home and greatly improved, Thank You very much. I mention that only because it reminded me of a time long ago and the special folks who endeared themselves to me.

Never, in our glorious past has any one group of individuals EVER earned the respect and the admiration of Marines across the globe than our FMF Navy Corpsmen, more commonly referred to as “Doc.” Most folks have no idea what these brave men have endured just to be called Doc. They train with the Marines, they deploy with the Marines, and they patrol with the Marines. They are as much a Marine as anyone can be without actually enlisting. Not a patrol goes through the wire without Doc.

Doc is everywhere. He was on the beach at Tarawa and on every island campaign in the Pacific. There was even a Doc who helped raise the flag on Iwo Jima. Doc was at the “Frozen Chosin” Reservoir when Chesty Puller’s men were withdrawing through that awful frozen (-30) tundra of North Korea. Doc not only tended to the wounded but was required to deal with many horrific amputations due to frostbite. Sometimes they had a real M.D. to help, but not very often.

Doc was in Lebanon in 1958 and again in 1983 when the Marine Barracks was attacked and over 200 Marines were lost. Doc is everywhere. Doc has been to all the little unknown conflicts most people have long since forgotten. Doc also went to a place that became known as “The Nam.”

2 January 1968. Bravo Company, 1/26 had been deployed Oct-Dec to 881 South. When we left the hill the day after Christmas, 1967, we ran a long operation up the Rao Quan River to the north. It was January when we got back and were assigned to the combat base. The NVA had broken a truce (SOOPRISE) and we were called back to the base. We sacked in with Alpha Company on the north side of the runway. By midnight, Danny Horton and I were delirious. We had not used our purification tablets which made our water non-potable, and as a result were really sick.

Michael E. O'Hara at Khe Sanh.

Michael E. O’Hara at Khe Sanh.

Our platoon sergeant, Staff Sergeant Gus Alvarado, was dispatched to tend to us and we were taken straight away to a tent. A firefight had just erupted with members of Lima Company close to the tent we were in. I was so sick I never moved from the table. Everyone else was on the ground. This was the beginning of my very first hospital stay, if that is what you would call it.

I think I was there 16 days, maybe. They finally said we had amoebic dysentery. It can kill you if not properly treated. But Doc was there. This tent was known as the BAS, Battalion Aid Station. It was a dark, sandbagged hole in the ground. I don’t remember much of the first ten days but I know Doc took wonderful care of me. Soon I was discharged from BAS and sent back to Bravo. I was very weak.

I would see or hear about Doc’s brave actions many more times during the Siege. You see, the reason Marines love Doc is because they know that if they take a bullet, if they lose a limb to a mortar round and call for Doc, he will come, just like he has always done. It makes no matter how heavy the volley, Doc will charge into the guns to tend to his wounded Marines. He has always done so and he continues to do so to this day. Make no mistake, Doc for sure is one of our most unsung Heroes.

Doc Cicala from our 3rd Platoon, Bravo Company, is a fine example. Shot through one of his lungs and with grenade fragments to his groin, he still continued on the day of the 25 February ambush doing what he could to help guide others who were literally crawling back to the perimeter on their stomachs.

Second Platoon’s Doc Thomas Hoody, who spent many nights braving the incoming artillery patching up Marines, would visit me in the night twice during the month of March to check on my wounds.

I am sure the Docs in first platoon showed every bit as much raw courage and bravery as well. But one of the most searing moments of my tour came on 30 March when Doc and I met up close and very personal when our roles were reversed in the middle of one of the bloodiest damn firefights of the entire war.

Richard Blanchfield had served better than 6 years as a United States Marine. He got out, enlisted in the United States Navy and became a Doc. He was a replacement for the Third Platoon on 30 March. He had only been there a few days at the most. I didn’t even know him.

By the time I met him, the entire company was at “Fix Bayonets” and we were definitely engaging Charley. In fact, we were all in a virtual dead run to get these guys who had killed so many of our fellow Marines. Doc Blanchfield was well ahead of me. He had already tended to a wounded Marine and had just got up on the edge of a bomb crater when mortars simply rained down on him and the whole command group as well.

When I reached the edge of the crater, he was about halfway down and sliding in the loose dirt. There were two dead Marines and numerous dead NVA in the crater. Those two Marines certainly earned their pay that day. Doc had, by this time, stuck 2 morphine needles in his own leg. His arm was nearly blown off at the shoulder. At first I was in as much shock as he was, but I regained my composure and began to tie him off. After slowing down the bleeding, I tied two battle dressings together and wrapped him all around so he at least wouldn’t do any more damage to what was left of his arm. I thought he would die.

The battle was still in full assault so I laid him back and comforted him as well as I could and left him. I have not seen him since but he did survive and miraculously his arm was saved.

Michael E. O'Hara

Michael E. O’Hara

After getting involved with the Khe Sanh Veterans in 1992 I found out Doc Blanchfield was living in Oceanside, California. We talk once a year on the phone. He has never failed to send me a card for each and every holiday since that first call. I still have not seen him. He was very pained by what happened to him and I understand. He did say Thank You that first call.

Like I said earlier, I was in the hospital over this past Veterans Day holiday. Most folks understand that 10 November is the Marine Corps Birthday, so we were also celebrating 240 years of glorious history. That is a very long time for sure, a time in which we have come to celebrate the lives and courageous acts of many from our ranks. I could write pages, even a book or two recounting all of our Heroes for sure.

A wheelchair-bound Marine (a volunteer) was my only visitor on this Marine Corps Birthday. He had lost both legs in Vietnam. We had a grand conversation. He brought me candy, S/F.

I have read a great deal about the wars of the last ten years and the men who have gone in my stead now that I am old and grey. Don’t ever let anyone tell you this generation is lost. I am just as proud of our young Marines today as I ever have been.

And never forget this: Wherever you find these Marines, you will find Doc, ready, willing and able to charge into the guns if necessary. He will, as he has always done, come when he hears the word Doc.

Semper Fidelis to our Navy Corpsmen everywhere you serve.

Michael E. O’Hara served with 2nd Platoon, Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines at Khe Sanh during 1967 and 1968. He earned three Purple Hearts.

If you or your organization would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town this winter, spring or summer, 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.

Documentary Film,Khe Sanh,Marines,Other Musings,Vietnam War

December 30, 2015

After 48 Years, Pondering the Siege and the Men Who Fought There

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

This time of year with all the celebratory hoorah around the holidays, I tend to let the Siege and its ramifications lie fallow while I have a good time with family and friends.

But after January 1, I know I grow reflective, and a little sullen, I suspect, as I begin to remember that event and not just the death and fear and mayhem of the battle itself, but the people who served there with me—the ones I can remember, anyway.

In this Christmas season, though, I have been thinking about the Marines and Corpsmen with whom I humped the hills, stood watch and ultimately was caught up with in the 77-day Siege.

I arrived at Bravo Company in late March 1967 so I had served in Nam ten months before the Siege began, and during that time I got to know a lot of Marines who had arrived before me and who rotated out before the Siege began. The names of some of those men escape me now, as do their faces, although occasionally I can see a face but the name won’t come to mind.

Marines of Bravo! Quiles Ray Jacobs and Dan Horton © Michael E. O'Hara

Marines of Bravo! Quiles Ray Jacobs and Dan Horton © Michael E. O’Hara

In Second Platoon I was pretty tight with Deedee and Belfontaine and Mitchell and Fritschie and Roman-Colsada and John T. Poorman and a lot of other Marines whom I had known fairly well in that special intimacy that only warriors know. But by January 21, 1968, those Marines had gone home, or in the case of Belfontaine, somewhere else in the Republic of Vietnam.

In my recollection, Bravo Company had a lot of men rotate back home in the fall and early winter of 1967-68 and a bevy of new guys arrive so that when the manure hit the big blower, a lot of our Marines and Corpsmen were pretty boot. I may have been one of only seven or eight men who had been in 2nd Platoon before we arrived at Khe Sanh in May of ’67.

Some of the guys who came in the fall became pretty good buddies of mine, but I don’t even recall well more than three of the men who arrived after the Siege began in January.

Combat veterans say that you don’t want to know the names of the new guys because if you get to know their names, then they become something more than a helmet and rifle and flak jacket; they become your mates and in a way more special than just acquaintances who walk the flanks or stand watch with you. And when they die, some part of you dies with them.

The names of almost all those new guys escape me now and I may have never known them back then. The three I clearly remember all died, one at Khe Sanh and two later when Bravo Company went south.

Marines of Bravo. Steve Foster and Doug Furlong Photo courtesy of Robert Ellison/Blackstar

Marines of Bravo. Steve Foster and Doug Furlong
Photo courtesy of Robert Ellison/Blackstar

By the time I left the company, there were few old salts, just mostly young guys, some of them still wet behind the ears and just out of training. But man, what Marines they were. Proud of their heritage and their training. As were almost all our warriors in the Vietnam War, these were men from a wide range of ethnic roots and regional locations. Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans and whites. It was a mixed bag of backgrounds yet they hung together because hanging apart would have probably meant the complete destruction of the Khe Sanh Combat Base and the surrounding hilltop fortifications.

But I don’t think fear was the only motivation to fight side by side with people who were different from you. There was something more going on. Some of it was pride in the Corps and pride in the unit, but deeper than that was a realization that no matter how different the backgrounds, the dialect, the skin color, the religion, most of us recognized that these men, these fellow warriors, were decent human beings just trying to survive.

Some will point out that the enemy was probably a collection of similar kinds of folks and I won’t deny that. But when in war, the enemy is the enemy and not your friend, and those folks over there fighting for the other side had no difficulty killing us any way they could.

Though as former enemies, we could all meet in Khe Sanh today and shake hands and reminisce and admire each side’s fighting prowess and perhaps even become friends, but back in 1968 we were enemies bent on killing each other.

And that’s the way it was and that’s the way it is and I’m afraid that’s the way it will always be.

A lot of my friends who don’t like war—and who likes war?…certainly not me—may not care for the notion that we were enemies then but could be friends now. So why not be friends all the time?

Good question yet a moot point, I suspect.

Yet combat is in a most ways about killing and combat is a thing that has its own characteristics, its own thingness, so to speak, and inside that thingness is a metaphorical universe with attributes about how combat is and is not done. And in many instances, executing those attributes well is an admirable thing outside and beyond the moral aspects of war and killing.

And what I am trying to get at here is that these boot Marines, these new kids, operated inside, for the most part, the attributes of that thing—that combat, and in my mind are to be admired for their courage, dogged loyalty to the Corps and their fellow Marines. Yes, they are to be admired and revered and remembered.

So for those new Marines who came to Khe Sanh after January 21, 1968…wow. Here’s a holiday tip of my hat to every one of them who were dumped into the midst of bedlam. Semper Fidelis.

If you or your organization would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town this winter, spring or summer, 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. They make great gifts. 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.

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

March 30, 2015

Skipper Ken Pipes Writes About March 30, 1968

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

BRAVO! Skipper Ken Pipes remembers the actions of 30 March 1968 in the following piece that was published, among other places, in October 2014 for the Military Order of the World Wars.

One of the most sobering experiences in life is the responsibility of leading young Marines into the teeth of the enemy knowing that some of them will not come out of it alive. It takes courage, faith, an indomitable spirit, and an unfailing trust in the capabilities of the men entrusted to your care.

Fighting at Khe Sanh, Republic of Vietnam in 1967–1968, was an ongoing, brutal fight to the death between Marines and soldiers of the North Vietnamese Army. Subsequently, this battle has become the title of a two-hour documentary film, “Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor,” produced and directed by Ken and Betty Rodgers. Ken was a member of Bravo Company, First Battalion, 26th Marines, before and during the Siege of Khe Sanh.

The Skipper at Khe Sanh

The Skipper at Khe Sanh

On 30 March 1968, Company B, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines (B/1/26) proceeded from the perimeter of the Khe Sanh Combat Base to their pre-designated line of departure located near forward units of the North Vietnamese Army’s (NVA’s) 8th Battalion, 66th Regiment, 304th (Hanoi) Iron Division. Poised against each other in the coming attack were lineal descendants of one of the most famous divisions involved in the siege against the French at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 and elements of the 26th Marines—one of three Marine regiments of the 5th Marine Division that led the assault against Japan’s island fortress of Iwo Jima in February/March 1945.

The attack was scheduled for first light, but it was delayed by heavy ground fog that obscured the entire objective area. As the blinding fog began to lift, our Marines, with bayonets fixed, crossed the line of departure outside the wire of the Khe Sanh Combat Base.

Immediately upon commencing the assault, the two lead platoons came under extremely heavy mortar, rocket-propelled grenade, automatic weapons, and small arms fire from the 8th NVA Battalion who occupied extensive, well-constructed, mutually supporting bunkers and trench systems.

Under the umbrella of withering fire from nine batteries of Marine and Army artillery that pummeled the flanks of the objective area and created a rolling barrage 50 to 70 meters in front of the two attack platoons, the Marines began breaching the NVA positions. The fight for fire superiority hung in the balance until the attached flame section and combat engineer detachment entered the fray. As their predecessors did on Iwo Jima, these units, covered and assisted by Marine riflemen, began to blind, blast, and burn their way into the NVA fortifications.

For the next four hours, the Marines of Company B, some of whom had undergone 70-plus days and nights of continuing, killing bombardment by NVA heavy artillery, rocket, mortar, and concentrated sniper fire, gained some measure of retribution as they routed the NVA soldiers from their fiercely defended positions. Within the breached positions, our Marine riflemen were literally walking over the dead and dying NVA defenders.

From the moment of close contact until some four hours later when we received the order to withdraw back into the combat base, the fight was hand to hand, bayonet to bayonet, knife to knife, grenade against grenade, and rifleman against rifleman, with the trump card being, as always, Marines using flamethrowers and combat engineers employing demolitions!

It may seem to some readers that this was just another example of a typical seasoned Marine combat unit doing its job. It was not. The Marine rifle company that attacked the NVA that Saturday morning was not the same company that had moved from Hill 881 South three months earlier to participate in a battalion sweep toward the Laotian border, and then moved into the perimeter of the Khe Sanh Combat Base. The continuous enemy bombardment while we were in the combat base had hurt B/1/26 more than any other similarly-sized defending unit, exacerbated by the tragic loss of most of an entire platoon on 25 February resulting from an ambush by a reinforced company from the 8th NVA Battalion.

Most of the Marines in Company B on 30 March had joined during the siege as replacements after the siege had begun. These young men had traveled a hard road including boot camp, skills training at the Infantry Training Regiment, Staging Battalion at Camp Pendleton, a flight to Vietnam, reporting in to the 26th Marines, exiting the aircraft at the Khe Sanh Combat Base under fire, reporting for assignment to 1st Battalion, and finally, still under fire, joining Company B. To a rifleman, they had no combat experience at the fire team, squad, platoon, or company level.

As it has always been in combat, if it had not been for the leveling skills of a handful of short-timer leaders, privates first class and corporals, led by an experienced company executive officer, company gunnery sergeant, and outstanding platoon commanders, the execution of this company-sized raid on 30 March 1968 would never have moved beyond our frontline trenches.

As noted by the commanding officer of 1/26 and the S–3 (operations officer) who planned the company raid, “The members of Company B performed individually and collectively in a manner normally expected only of seasoned and combat-experienced Marines.”

I believe that their brilliant feat can only be attributed to their deep and overriding desire to avenge the prior loss of Marines of their company, most of whom they never knew or met! To them and them alone goes the credit for executing, arguably, the first successful company-sized offensive assault outside the wire since the ambush of their mates on 25 February, and for making it such a success!

These Marines totally decimated the 8th NVA Battalion, including the enemy battalion commander and his staff. In so doing, intercepted enemy radio traffic revealed the Marines of Company B killed at least 115 NVA officers and soldiers and wounded an untold number of their survivors.

Skipper Ken Pipes © Betty Rodgers 2014

Skipper Ken Pipes
© Betty Rodgers 2014

Still later, Marines from B/1/26 (none above the rank of corporal) who had participated in the raid, were awarded two Navy Crosses, nine Silver Stars, eight Bronze Stars, and two Navy Commendation Medals with Combat “V” for valor for individual acts of courage, gallantry, and heroism! Additionally, Marines received over 100 Purple Hearts, with several of these Marines earning their awards for receiving a second and third wound.

Subsequent to the fighting on 30 March 1968, the company was the recipient of the following from the commanding general of the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam:

Officers and men of B/1/26 USMC deserve highest praise for aggressive patrol action north of Khe Sanh on 30 March. Heavy casualties inflicted on bunkers and entrenched enemy forces indicate typical Marine esprit de corps and professionalism. Well done!

Gen William Westmoreland

Just as is the case with their predecessors from Iwo Jima, to a man, the Khe Sanh Marines of Company B remain intensely proud of their 26th Marines heritage! We will always feel we were privileged to serve with Bravo’s young, inexperienced, Marine infantrymen that fateful Saturday morning. We were truly in the company of men who were, are, and will always be, “The Immortals!”

Lieutenant Colonel Pipes was the Officer Commanding Bravo Company, First Battalion, 26th Marines, during the Siege of the Khe Sanh Combat Base, TET, 1968, RVN. Ken and his wife, Sharon, have lived in Fallbrook, California since their retirement from the Marine Corps in 1982. They have been married for 52 years. Ken, Sharon and their sons, Dan and Tim, are all members of MOWW’s MajGen Pendleton Chapter, CA.

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

March 25, 2015

March 30, 1968

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Khe Sanh, Vietnam

30 March 1968. The most vicious battle of the Vietnam War is coming to a close. My Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment will depart the Khe Sanh Combat Base pre-dawn this day. A large percentage of our 120-man company are new replacements as we had been mauled badly on 25 February by the Communist North Vietnamese Army. Nearly thirty Marines had been killed during an unescapable ambush and we were ordered to leave them lie some 800 meters to our front.

It would be five long years before we were told that one of our fellow Bravo Company Marines, Sgt Ronald Ridgeway, whom we thought had been killed that day, was actually captured, and held prisoner, and survived the war.

Today, 30 March 1968, the score will be settled tenfold on what will later be known as the “Payback Patrol,” but at the cost of over a dozen more brave young Marine Warriors.

Michael E. O'Hara at Khe Sanh, 1968.

Michael E. O’Hara at Khe Sanh, 1968.

It begins with overhead artillery and what is known as a “Rolling Box Barrage” with the use of multiple batteries of heavy artillery. After the initial prep fires, the end of the box opens up as Bravo moves in to engage what turns out to be a battalion of Communist troops. Once in, the box closes behind us, trapping Marines and NVA alike inside. It becomes a fight of virulent fury.

To see those young Marines—some of whom only six weeks before had been home with their families—charging machine gun bunkers with their flamethrowers, satchel charges and fixed bayonets is a sight to behold. The Communist troops quickly learn what the Germans had learned at Belleau Wood some 50 years before when the German High Command asked: “Wer sind diese Teufelshunde? (Who are these Devil Dogs?)”

When it seems to be coming to a close, hours later, we begin to pull back, collecting our dead and wounded. We realize what a price we just paid. We have fought a very determined, well-disciplined enemy who will always command our respect as fellow warriors.

When our enemies try to reinforce, it is at that point, as they are bearing down on us, that we come to appreciate those Marines who are part of our “Air Wing,” as the F4 Phantoms scream in at treetop level with their napalm bombs, dropping so close we feel the heat of the inferno adjacent to our positions. As one of the pilots rolls his jet around to the left, we see him give us all a “Thumbs Up.”

Our company commander, Captain Ken Pipes, who is seriously wounded and loses most of his command group, maintains contact with the air and artillery and masterfully coordinates their firepower to our benefit.

After attacking numerous bunkers within the enemy complex, Donald Rash, one of our newest members, lays down on the edge of a bomb crater to cover our withdrawal, knowing full well he will never get up again. That kind of heroism and dedication to one’s fellow Marines brings a whole new meaning to the verse in John 15:13, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

In the end, Bravo would suffer more casualties (56 KIA’s) at Khe Sanh than any other company of the 26th Marine Regiment (REIN). For their valor, they would earn three Navy Crosses, our nation’s second highest award. Only one Marine would live to collect his medal. Don Rash’s mother would be handed a folded American flag along with his Navy Cross.

Michael E. O'Hara.

Michael E. O’Hara.

Ten Silver Star medals and fourteen Bronze Star medals with V for valor were awarded as well. Over two hundred Purple Heart medals were awarded, as many were wounded on multiple occasions. Numerous Navy Commendations were earned, and they contributed greatly toward the entire regiment earning the prestigious Presidential Unit Citation (PUC).

April brought new leadership to the company as many of our officers had been wounded or killed. New men arrived and the wounded were evacuated. Our fallen Marines from the patrol of 25 February’s remains were recovered within days.

It has now been nearly fifty years and those men, those brave young Marines will live in my memory forever. I hope the world will always remember as well.

Where do we get such men? What a privilege and an Honour it was to have served with and to have known them.
Semper Fidelis and may God always hold them in His arms

Michael E. O’Hara, Bravo Company 1/26 USMC 1967-1970

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

Michael graduated in May 1966 and by April 1967 had voluntarily enlisted in the United States Marine Corps.

Michael “went for four” and served one tour overseas during the Vietnam war with the 26th Marine Regiment, 1st Battalion, Bravo Company during the “Siege ” of Khe Sanh.

Upon returning to the States Michael became a Primary Weapons Instructor for the Marine Corps 2nd Infantry Training Regiment at Camp Pendleton, Ca. Michael was Honorably Discharged on the early release program a year early.

Michael and his partner Maxine have been together 41 years having raised five children, nine grand kids and have two great grand children.

Michael is a retired custom home builder and has spent much of his life dedicated to Veterans affairs and in particular to those with whom he served. He is a life member of the Khe Sanh Veterans Organization.

Michael now spends most of his free time with two of his four smallest granddaughters flying R/C airplanes.