Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Posts Tagged ‘Moral Injury’

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

February 23, 2017

Reclaiming the Story

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

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

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

Cal Bright

Cal Bright

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

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

John "Doc" Cicala

John “Doc” Cicala

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

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

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

Peter Weiss

Peter Weiss

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

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

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

Steve Wiese

Steve Wiese

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Documentary Film,Film Screenings

February 11, 2015

On Warriors’ Hearts and Body Burning Details

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On today’s date in 1968 at Khe Sanh, four men were killed as a result of enemy incoming. None of the men were in Bravo Company, 1/26, but as I read the names of the KIAs I am once again saddened by all those lives lost at that conflict.

That sadness leads me to think about what remains now, some forty-seven years after. Memories remain, and the names on The Wall, and for us who still live, the remnants of death and mayhem haunt us.

For example, at the end of January, Betty and I journeyed to the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada, where I ran into Vietnam veteran Bill Jones. Bill is well known at the Elko gathering for his cowboy poems, but he is also well known for his poems about his experiences as a United States Marine in Vietnam.

Bill, along with the late rancher and cowboy Rod McQueary, also a Vietnam vet, wrote a book of poems titled Blood Trails. The poetry in some of Bill’s titles, such as “The Body Burning Detail” and “Heathen Killer,” will sing a haunting memory to veterans. I am going to take the liberty of quoting a few of Bill’s lines here:

From “The Body Burning Detail:”

Twenty-five years later
They burn still.
Across sense and time
The faint unwelcome odor
Rises in odd places.
With a load of leaves
At the city dump
A floating wisp of smoke
From the burning soldiers
Mingles with the stench
Of household garbage.

And From “Heathen Killer:”

Sky Hawks and Phantoms
Climb almost straight up,
Dive and circle,
Drop tumbling silver
Cannisters of jellied fire
That flash in the sun.
We cheer the more spectacular
Rolling orange mushrooms;
The Greatest Show on Earth.
“This,” says Chief,
“Is one crazy white man’s war.”

Bill Jones is a neat and quiet man, polite and unassuming, yet in my visits with him about our mutual combat experiences, I can see in his eyes and hear in his voice the remains of battle. It resides there, PTSD I suppose, and something more, a sadness, a regret, and a hint of the bonds of brotherhood that tied so many of us together during our stints manning the lines, humping the bush, battling the North Vietnamese. The ties that still bind us. You can find Bill and Rod McQueary’s Blood Trails at http://www.abebooks.com/book-search/author/bill-jones-and-rod-mcqueary/.

Those of us who have fought in combat recognize these maladies that have haunted mankind since the beginning of war in our ancient mankind iterations; Soldier’s Heart and Shell Shock, Battle Fatigue and PTSD and Moral Injury.

Also while Betty and I were in Elko, we had the privilege of viewing a documentary film about Native American warriors and how they deal with the wounds of war, the kind that cannot be seen, the kind that are only manifest in the state of the spirit, the depths of the soul.

The title of the film is Healing the Warrior’s Heart and it was created by Taki Telonidis of the Western Folklife Center. Taki knows a number of Native American warriors and has produced a very informative documentary about how some of our native people help with (and they have dealt with these issues for centuries) the wounded warriors in their societies.

The film focuses on men and women warriors from the Blackfeet and Ute tribes, offering a close look at how the tribes deal with issues such as PTSD. Their methods differ quite radically from what the VA and associated organizations typically prescribe for this malady. I will not go into details of the film’s revelations; you can view the entire movie here, on YouTube, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uIuPPSz6gL0. Take the time to check it out; it’s informative and well made.

Ken Rodgers. co-producer of BRAVO! Photo courtesy of Kevin Martini-Fuller

Ken Rodgers. co-producer of BRAVO! Photo courtesy of Kevin Martini-Fuller

What I will say about this film is how I like the notion put forth that a tribe, a clan, a society has a warrior class that is called upon to defend the population of that tribe, clan, society. Furthermore, this notion postulates that the society owns an ongoing responsibility to those who serve in this way, to heal the warriors’ negative reactions to combat and to afford them an ever-present deep respect after they choose to make the journey into war. This idea is endemic with Native American tribes and their methods of dealing with returning warriors seems to be catching the attention of the VA and other warrior related organizations. Again, check it out.

On the screening front:

Mark your calendars for a fundraising screening in Casa Grande, Arizona, on February 15, 2015, at the historic Paramount Theatre. We are delighted to announce that Bravo Company’s Ken Korkow, a Navy Cross recipient and resident of Nebraska, will attend the event with his wife, Liz. Doors open at Noon, lunch served at 1:00 PM, screening of BRAVO! to follow at 2:00 PM. Ticket cost: $15.00 advance purchase or at the door. Proceeds will benefit the Mobile Veterans Outreach Center and Emergency Veterans Services in Pinal County.

On March 30, 2015, BRAVO! will be screened at the Egyptian Theater in Boise Idaho. Doors open at 6:00 PM. Program begins at 6:45 PM. Following the screening there will be a panel discussion moderated by Boise author extraordinaire, Alan Heathcock. The panel discussion will include veterans, some of whom are in the film. Proceeds will benefit the Idaho Veterans’ Network and Veterans’ Treatment Courts. Tickets are available online from the Egyptian Theater here.

Additional Idaho screenings to support the Veterans’ Courts and the Idaho Veterans’ Network will be held in Lewiston, Idaho, on March 27, 2015, time and location to be determined; Twin Falls, Idaho, on March 31, 2015, at the College of Southern Idaho’s Fine Arts Building, time yet to be determined; Caldwell, Idaho, on April 1, 2015, at College of Idaho’s Langroise Recital Hall, 6:45 PM; and in Pocatello, Idaho, at a time yet to be determined.

If you or your organization would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town this coming 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/. It’s another way to stay up on our news and help raise more public awareness of this film.