Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Posts Tagged ‘NVA’

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

February 25, 2019

Ruminations

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Fifty-one years ago today at Khe Sanh, Marines from 1st and 3rd Platoons of Bravo/1/26 went out on patrol from the combat base and walked into an ambush that killed 27 Marines and Corpsmen and wrecked the psyches and memories of a hell of a bunch of young warriors.

This event, now known as the Ghost Patrol, has been written about a lot by both me and other folks, and it was the subject of a field problem in the Scouting and Patrolling Course at the United States Marine Corps Basic School where all new Marine Corps officers and warrant officers receive training. So what I say here isn’t any revelation of new events.

What strikes me now, after all these years, is how raw the memories can be when someone recalls the names, the weather, the terrain, the terror of that day.

For those who survived, the memories are indelibly scratched into the psyche and cannot be kicked out of the mind. For those of us there who witnessed that massacre in one way or another—what happened—the memories are also pretty much inescapable.

Marines on The Ghost Patrol. Photo Courtesy of Robert Ellison/Blackstar

But it’s not just the combatants who live with images of those men. There are also the families who haven’t been able to forget, either.
Since Betty and I made BRAVO!, we have had a lot of communications with folks who lost family members at Khe Sanh.

I recall one day picking up my cell phone and seeing I had a voicemail message from the brother of a Marine killed on the Ghost Patrol. He had found me by chance when he discovered a DVD of BRAVO! in a museum. He hadn’t known about the film until then, and was stunned to see his brother’s name listed in the litany of the dead from that terrible day, February 25. We talked a number of times and I told him I did not know his brother, but if I could help him with any info, I’d be happy to do so.

Then I remembered that a friend of ours had sent a donation to memorialize this Marine in the film credits. In fact, he had recovered the Marine’s remains when a patrol from Bravo and Delta Companies, 1/26, went out and retrieved them.

Here’s what really sticks with Betty and me. My Marine buddy and the brother were able to meet up and talk about memories, about what happened, and hopefully the get-together helped the deceased Marine’s brother process the recollections and questions that had flooded his mind for over fifty years.

Stark image from the Ghost Patrol. Photo courtesy of Robert Ellison/Blackstar

Not long after, I received a call from another man whose brother was also KIA on the Ghost Patrol. I knew that Marine, not well, but still, we’d arrived at Bravo Company about the same time and although he went to a different platoon, my recollections of his renown as a joker, a gung-ho Marine, an ebullient young man who entertained his comrades, matched the brother’s memories.

We discussed that Marine and the film and I could tell from the telephone conversation that what I said had helped him settle something in his thoughts—what it was I have no idea, but it was palpable over the phone.

When we set out to make BRAVO! it was an endeavor to tell the story, preserve the history if for no one else, at least for me. But the creation of the film has turned into so much more for not just Betty and me, but also for lots of other folks who have those memories and ties that they don’t want to chuck out like a set of dirty dungarees. After all the years, the intimate pain still grates.

BRAVO! lives on and as proof, we have more screenings coming up in March.

Blogger Ken Rodgers while at Khe Sanh. Photo courtesy of Michael E. O’Hara.

On March 9, 2019 at 5 PM the film will be screened at the Paramount Theatre in Casa Grande, Arizona—my hometown—in association with the Arizona Marine Corps League’s spring convention. The screening is open to the general public. The event will begin with a panel discussion followed by the film, then a Q&A will end the evening. Proceeds from the event—a $10 advance donation per attendee or $15 at the door or VIP seating at $15.00—will go towards funding the Marine For Life program that helps Marine Corps veterans and their families transition from active duty to civilian life, including education opportunities, employment and other veteran and community resources. More details about the event can be found here: https://m901.org/category/event/.

On March 29, 2019, BRAVO! will be shown in La Grande, Oregon (our Oregon premiere!), as part of the local Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans celebrations. More details soon.

We look forward to seeing you at these events, and greatly appreciate your help in spreading the word. Semper Fi.

***

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

January 16, 2019

If

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I woke this morning and thought about the date, and like most mornings as I lie in bed, I contemplated what I’d done while in Vietnam on that same date.

On January 16th, 1968, the morning was probably misty and the sense of urgency that had risen since the early part of the month was alarming to a lot of us.

I have written about this before, about the word coming down from Battalion and Regiment that something big was about to occur.
I was on the back end of my tour and kept telling myself that it was all bullshit, like a boy crying wolf, something the higher-ups simply dreamed up to keep us on edge like fighting men need to be.

Blogger Ken Rodgers. While at Khe Sanh. Photo courtesy of the estate of Dan Horton.

In the late Spring of 1967 I’d been sent down to Phu Bai to a combat demolition school, and so over the course of the year, I’d been called upon to detonate suspicious caches of mortar rounds and rocket rounds we’d found out in the field while on patrols.

I always had a healthy respect for det. cord and blasting caps and C-4 and explosives large and small.

“Fire in the hole,“ I’d yell, and hope like hell that the NVA hadn’t planted that little cache on top of something bigger—a thousand pound bomb or something like that—which would erupt beneath me when I set the smaller load of munitions off. If that happened, I’d be blown to smithereens.

Anyway, on or about this date in 1968, I went on a detail with a Marine whose name I can’t recall to set out some munitions that would blow the hell out of anyone trying to come through the rows of concertina wire—the German kind—that we’d been stringing every morning the weeks before.

Roll of concertina wire.

This Marine, who was a machine gunner and also a combat engineer, stuffed rolls of barbwire with sticks of C-4 that, when detonated, would turn everything and everybody that was exposed into shards and splinters and toothpicks and chunks of bloody flesh and bone and sinew. And it wasn’t just him; it was me, too, doing the stuffing, trying to keep my mind on my business so I didn’t manage to blow the two of us to kingdom come.

Sensations like spider legs crept up my spine as we loaded the explosives in the rolls of wire and then inserted a blasting cap in the top of the C-4 and strung detonator wire back to bunkers so that, if and when—and at the time, “if” was there in my head, and as long as “if” was there, the reality of what was to come remained only a possibility—the NVA came through our wire defenses with his blood curdling screams. And if that happened the Marines in their bunkers could squeeze the detonators and blow the enemy to pieces.

If, yeah, if. We were just being prudent. We were exercising the caution that maybe we should have had back in September and December when it seemed all we did was slip and slide in the monsoon slop, never building any decent bunkers or trench lines.

As I did my dangerous and dirty work, I stymied thoughts of the mayhem of screaming voices, AK-47 reports, explosions, and then, when my handiwork was set off, the bloody chaos of bodies torn to shreds and how if one was caught out in an open place above the sandbag trenches, he’d be taken apart so that no mortician could ever put him back together.

Roll of barb wire.

I tried not to squirm as I thought about my endless curiosity and how I might want to watch what madness I’d created when one of those makeshift weapons went off, and in my desire to witness it, lost my head to the hurtling shards of metal thrown from the exploded barbwire.

Here’s the thing, I know I had that thought because it haunts me now as I write this; it haunts me every time I think of it. So I clung to my notion of “if.”

In my mind, just because we were up all night on Red Alert, and working all day on barriers and sandbags and trenches and bunkers, and improving the qualities of our defenses didn’t mean anything would ever come of it.

I’d heard it all for almost eleven months; I’d heard it all.

If.

***

On a separate note:

Betty and I are making another film titled I MARRIED THE WAR, about the wives of combat veterans from World War II until the present. We have finished interviewing eleven dynamic wives and have now embarked on turning their stories into a documentary film.

I Married the War

This last Monday morning we delivered all our footage, photos and a preliminary script to our editor, John Nutt.

We are soliciting donations to help us get this movie edited, sound mixed and color corrected. If you are in a giving frame of mind, please check out the website for the new film at http://imarriedthewar.com/ and scroll down to the section about donating.

We appreciate our friends and followers and know we cannot succeed at our filmmaking efforts without their generous support.

***

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

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

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

***

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

***

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,Vietnam War

December 14, 2018

Christmas in Nam

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The Christmas season is upon us and as I do every year, I think about many of the Christmases I’ve lived through including my tour with the 26th Marines in Vietnam.

In the house where I grew up, we celebrated Christmas with lots of hoopla and family and giving and eating and singing Christmas carols, getting bicycles and sleeping bags and new shotguns. So when I went to Nam, I harbored expectations that Christmas might still be something special. But it wasn’t, at least not in the traditional sense of the festivities to which I was accustomed.

A story that I often see mentioned in articles on the internet describes Christmas on the Western Front, World War I, 1914. Across the British-German trench lines, combatants on both sides met and observed spontaneous and unofficial truces and exhibited a more Christ-like behavior to one another than they had been practicing during the preceding months. Although in some places, this apparently did not happen and there were some vicious battles fought on Christmas Day between Allied and German troops.

Christmas on Hill 881 South, 1967. Jimmie McRae. Photo courtesy of Michael E. O’Hara.

I don’t think Christmas truces happened in World War II or Korea, but I believe the opposing powers, the NVA and Vietcong and the US and its allies, declared one every year from 1965 through 1972 in Vietnam. It seems to me the truces served as an attempt to recognize that some level of humanity remained in the most savage of human interactions.

In 1967, the Christmas truce was in effect, but few of the Marines with Bravo 1/26 up on 881 South believed it would come to pass.
We ran a long patrol the day before Christmas, we ran a short patrol on Christmas Day followed by hot chow that was delivered up on the hill via chopper from the combat base. We got some mail and although I can’t say for certain, I suspect I received hand-dipped chocolate bonbons and cookies and white cotton socks and candles from my family, all of which I shared around the squad.

On Christmas Eve, we had a church service and before I went on watch, I decided to go down and participate. On the way to the tent where they held the service, I listened to men softly speaking about the holiday and whether or not the truce would hold.

Blogger Ken Rodgers at Khe Sanh, 1968. Photo courtesy of Michael E O’Hara.

In the church tent, the chaplain and his assistant led a non-denominational service that included some songs, communion, a sermon with some readings from the Bible. One of the songs, I think it was the last one we sang—which I didn’t sing even though we had been given reproduced copies of the words—was altered from the original “Eternal Father, Strong to Save,” (also known as the Navy Hymn) written by William Whiting and adapted with the all-service lyrics and an added stanza composed specifically for the Marine Corps which read:

Eternal Father, grant , we pray,
To all Marines, both night and day,
The courage, honor, strength and skill
Their land to serve, Thy law fulfill;
Be Thou the Shield forevermore
From ev’ry peril to the Corps.

While everybody else was singing I heard the words, “Fire Mission called in to the 81mm mortar battery just outside the church service. That was followed by mortars leaving the tube, the crash of them off to the west, towards Laos, and I wondered who was out on Christmas Eve, during the Christmas truce, that needed a fire mission. Maybe it was just the regular interdiction barrages we sent out, or maybe it was a recon team out there in danger.

I thought it all pretty weird. Truce and Christmas and Jesus’ birthday and the words to that hymn and killing and 81mm mortars.

It jarred me on a spiritual level. Deep and hard and so damned incongruous.

I went back and hit the rack but soon was awakened by the words, “Red Alert.” So, there wasn’t a Christmas truce at all, and I wondered who decided there was or wasn’t, and we all stood watch, all night, the fog so thick you could almost lean up against it. Gloomy and full of the ghosts of doubt and death and fear.

But we weren’t attacked that night. We didn’t hear any sound of sappers sneaking up to the wire. We didn’t hear anything but the occasional cough of a Marine on watch or the soft cries of someone in a nightmare.

***

On a separate note:

Betty and I are making another film titled I MARRIED THE WAR, about the wives of combat veterans from World War II until the present. We have finished interviewing eleven dynamic wives and have now embarked on turning their stories into a documentary film.

I Married the War

We are soliciting donations to help us get this movie edited, sound mixed and color corrected. If you are in a giving frame of mind, please check out the website for the new film at http://imarriedthewar.com/ and scroll down to the section about donating.

We appreciate our friends and followers and know we cannot succeed at our filmmaking efforts without their generous support.

***

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

September 26, 2018

Michael E. O’Hara Muses On Navy Corpsmen and Marines

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FLEET MARINE FORCE

(FMF)

Navy Corpsman

In today’s guest blog, a reprint of an entry from January 2016, 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.

John “Doc” Cicala, US Navy Corpsman with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines 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.

Guest blogger Michael E. O’Hara at Khe Sanh

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.

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.

Guest blogger Michael E. O’Hara.

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.

***

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

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

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

***

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,Post Combat Mental Health,Veterans,Vietnam War

August 22, 2018

But Still . . .

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First it was the dreams

No, wait, that’s not what was first; what barged in first was the envelopment, the saturation, the occupation of my bones and blood, my mind and my soul by the searing recollections of what happened at Khe Sanh.

The realization of what I’d seen men do to each other, do for each other, in some of the bloodiest combat in the Vietnam War, got on me, in me, over me . . . so all-encompassing that it’s really impossible to articulate the real impact of that kind of war experience. The whys, the implications of humanity’s behavior in combat haunt me to this moment.

And then it was sleep, as much time as I could steal. I was accused of having depression. I told everyone I was just tired.

Then, later, a few years, it was the dreams that began to snake into my brain like a slinking King Cobra intent on striking my mind and debilitating me for the balance of my life.

Blogger Ken Rodgers at Khe Sanh, 1968. Photo courtesy of Michael E O’Hara.

Forty-five years ago, I punched my first wife in the face when she tried to wake me and find out what was wrong, while I dreamed. Sometimes I remembered the dreams when I woke, but that time I didn’t. Other times I would come to in a cold sweat. Sometimes—and this still happens—I would awake to my heart hammering in my chest.

More than once I recall lying beneath the damp sheets in the dark, my breath sharp, eyes straining, listening for someone to come sneaking down the red clay trenchline and then realizing I wasn’t at Khe Sanh, but just coming out of a nightmare. I can’t tell you what it felt like as relief swept into my consciousness and literally over my body. I would lie there and think, “That’s not real. It’s just a memory.”

And there was rage, and estrangement and hyper vigilance . . . locking the doors and then checking again and again to see if they were locked.

If other drivers drove vehicles in a way that scared me or made me anxious, I burst into long diatribes about their family lineage. I still do.

I stopped toting my pistol twenty-five years ago because I was afraid that in a fit of rage I would shoot somebody for something that seemed monumental at the moment but only trivial after my rage—and the fear that fueled the rage—subsided. Then I’d witness the cell doors clang as I began my murder sentence.

If I heard something outside, either day or night, I’d rise—I still rise—from my desk, a chair, my bed, and move quietly to a window so I could peek out.

One Saturday night years ago a foolish young man—who at the time I didn’t recognize—who wanted desperately to be my friend kept calling me at midnight, just messing around, breathing into the phone and not talking. After six or seven of those calls, I screamed at him about what I would do if he didn’t stop.

Then he came to my apartment and scratched at the windows, the doors. My pistol was beneath the seat in my truck, so I rushed to the kitchen and grabbed the biggest knife I could find. Trying to be stealthy, I sneaked up to the front door and listened. Outside, traffic hurried down 36th Street and somewhere a siren sounded. Then again, the sound of someone scratching the front door. My heart pounded and I felt like a young Marine engaged in hand-to-hand combat, enraged and deadly. I managed to unlock the door and throw it open simultaneously and then leap out with the knife held in position to drive it into the intruder’s vitals.

A big man stood there, trying to look in my front window. I took a long step and grabbed the collar of his shirt as he turned to look at me. Lucky for him and me, light from the next-door neighbor’s outside lamp shined on his face and I recognized him in time to stop the thrust of that knife into his heart.

Sometimes I was—I am—roused by the smell of rotting flesh—maybe a dead cow or someone’s deceased pet—which pulled me back to Khe Sanh where the wind would blow just right and you smelled the dead people out there in the no man’s land between the enemy and us. Then the memories would flood in.

Sometimes when I walked down the street or stood in the back yard, the loud bang of a car backfire or some other loud sound assaulted my being and I ducked or flinched as I looked around for the death associated with that noise and wished—not thinking, just reacting—for some place to hide. Then I’d hope that no one observed me in that moment of weakness. That hasn’t stopped, either.

Or the fireworks shows that my family expected me to attend. But the loud noises scared me and I couldn’t explain to them my fear. And I hated to admit it was fear.

Sometimes it was the sense that I was being watched by someone as I pushed a grocery cart down the aisle of the local store. Or maybe while I walked across the street. I still find myself stopping to look around and see who’s out there watching me.

While driving, I’d swerve to avoid a brown paper bag or a black plastic one because, maybe, just maybe, there could be a booby trap concealed inside. I considered myself pretty damned foolish when that happened, and yet . . .

And sometimes I felt the need to get away from crowds so I could stand back and watch to see who might be interested in doing me and mine harm. I shy away from crowds.

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

Sometimes it was the need to get away from crowds because all those people crammed together could die—easy targets jammed up like that. One round. One suicide bomber wearing a vest full of C-4 and rusty nuts and bolts and steel ball bearings. You can see that happening, right?

And I know help is out there, and I’ve been to see the shrink—or shrinks—and I’ve done other things to mitigate the rage, the paranoia, the estrangement. But still . . .

***

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

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

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

***

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,Vietnam War

July 30, 2018

Wayne Moore

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Sometimes the work we do with the story of Bravo Company, 1/26, resonates in unexpected places.

Recently, I received the text below from someone who lost a friend, a Marine named Wayne Moore, who served with Bravo at Khe Sanh. Wayne was killed in action—for which he was posthumously awarded a Silver Star for valor—on what has become known as the Payback Patrol of March 30, 1968.

Wayne Moore’s photo on the Vietnam Veterans Wall of Faces

Betty and I thought it worth sharing the message we received.

Hi,

I recently watched your documentary on the Battle of Khe Sanh and was amazed at what I had learned.

I knew one of the Marines mentioned several times that was KIA on 3/30/1968; his name was Wayne Moore. After 50 years I finally found out what had happened to the man that meant so much to myself and my family.

My Mom and Dad worked with Wayne in a furniture shop and were very impressed by him. So impressed we asked him to dinner a few times and then asked him to live with us in our home in Plymouth MA.

He dated my sister Linda and they were later married.

He was an extremely talented musician (played a Burns of London guitar) and played in a band as lead guitarist and vocalist. He was amazing.

Wayne Moore, center, playing his guitar,before joining the Marine Corps. His brother-in-law, John Hammer, is the drummer on the left. Photo courtesy of John Hammer.

I was a few years younger than him and he was like a big brother. He changed my life in ways that are still with me today, over 60 years later.

When he was KIA, my sister was devastated along with myself and parents. He was a figure larger than life and his death shocked us to our core.

I am the only remaining person of the people I mentioned and am now the only one that knows what happened on the day of his death in 1968.

I will be forever grateful to you and the fellow Marines that helped to make this project, especially Steve Wiese who seemed to know him the best.

If you could forward this to Steve so he can add these things to Wayne’s memory, I would truly appreciate it.

Steve Wiese. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

Again, thank you for your efforts to bring the enormity of the Battle of Khe Sanh to life. Hearing his name and how he was killed was something that means a great deal to me.

John Hammer

Sometimes I wish that we could move beyond the seemingly eternal nature of the story of Bravo Company at Khe Sanh, and put those long ago events behind me, but getting messages like Mr. Hammer’s makes the ongoing efforts worthwhile.

Here is a link to Wayne Moore’s page on the Wall of Faces: http://www.vvmf.org/Wall-of-Faces/34976/WAYNE-P-MOORE.

***

On a separate subject, we wish to announce that Bravo Company’s Skipper, the late Lieutenant Colonel Ken Pipes, will be interred at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego, California, on August 24, 2018 at 10:00 AM.

***

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

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

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

***

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/.

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Amazon Prime,Documentary Film,Film Screenings,Khe Sanh,Marines,Veterans,Vietnam War

May 5, 2018

Cinco de Mayo–50 Years Gone

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On Cinco de Mayo my leave was about done, but before heading back to Camp Pendleton I traveled down to Nogales, Mexico, with friends, and we attended a bullfight. There was a lot of hoopla at the arena: folks all dressed up, the men in suits and the women in fancy dresses. I recall the men wearing fedoras that matched the hues of their outfits, white and tan and other tints of light brown. The ladies looked to me like they should be going to Mass instead of to a bullfight.

The fancy red and black advertising bills that hung all over the walls of the city announced three matadors who would kill three bulls as part of a wider celebration to observe the holiday which commemorates the Mexican Army’s defeat of a French army at the Mexican city of Puebla in 1862.

The white walls of the arena reflected the bright light. It’s warm that time of year on the Arizona-Mexican border and besides the weather, the beer, Modelo, was warm and something that I’d prefer not to consume but I did. Every time I took a swallow it caught in the back of my throat and I wasn’t sure if it would go down and stay down or rocket out through my nose and my mouth all over my lap and the people sitting in front of me.

The Kill

The bullfights seemed steeped in a tradition I didn’t really understand; the honoring of the bulls as if they were heroes, the formal entrance into the ring by the participants that reminded me of Marine Corps ceremonies I’d been a part of. The matadors and picadors reminded me of ancient warriors, and the horses protected by what looked like quilted armor hinted at a more martial tone to the event. Bugles blew at what seemed like critical moments in the performance and I thought of bugle calls we answered to in the Corps: Taps, Reveille, Assembly.

And then the torment and killing of the bulls began. The toreros—bull fighters—stabbed the bulls with sharp, short spears called banderillas and men on horses stabbed the bulls with long spears and the matador used a cape to tire out the animal and to create a kind of performance art before killing the bull with one clean thrust of a sword that punctured his tortured and weakened heart through a soft spot behind its lowered head.

What bothered me was how the crowd loved the action and cheered at the torture the bulls were put through, the stabbing and the capes the matadors used to entice and lead the bulls around the bullring.

The first two matadors failed to kill the bulls cleanly and the crowds did not like that, hissing and acting like the bull had more of their respect than the men who were supposed to kill the animals.

The third matador, who was the star of the whole day’s shebang, did manage to kill the bull with some panache and I had to admire his apparent physical skills, even though the repeated stabbing of the bull on the neck and shoulders beforehand tipped the odds in the matador’s favor.

Watching the bulls stagger around made me dizzy and the beer turned pretty damned bitter and the crowd’s thirst for the savagery of it all surprised me. It seemed a metaphor for what I’d seen at Khe Sanh. Brutal battles, bayonets grinding into bone, death-maimed men, and all of us, on both sides—NVA and Yanks—debauched with savagery.

The bloody images of Khe Sanh, that bull fight, the cheering Mexican crowd rejoicing in the chaos, visions of dead men lying in the dust, the incompetent matadors down in the ring, the bulls staggering around the sandy arena with hearts as big as the State of Sonora were all mixed up in my mind. Ole! Dios mio!

I couldn’t get out of that place fast enough, almost knocking several men down as they stood on the steps in the aisle as I charged out of the bullring. I knew enough border lingo to understand the names they called me but instead of punching someone in the nose, I had to escape the scenes of the bulls being dragged from the sandy arena floor, the bouquets of red flowers and fedoras tossed into the ring. The scarlet of the flowers highlighting the burgundy tint of the blood on the ground.

Author Ken Rodgers at Khe Sanh. Photo courtesy of Michael O’Hara.

Outside, I squatted in the shade up against the walls of the arena and waited for my friends to come out. They thought it was glorious and a righteous example of culture and history and the influence of Spain’s glory days upon the world.

That memory is clear in my mind and I have gone back to it many times, me sitting on my haunches looking up at them as they talked excitedly about the action in the ring, their smiles, me seeing the blood red mud of Khe Sanh, dead men dragged down the dusty road.

Dios Mio! The savagery.

***

NEWS!

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

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

***

ON THE SCREENING FRONT:

At 3:00 PM on May 27, 2018, BRAVO! will be shown in Paris, TN at the Krider Performing Arts Center. You can find out more about this event and the Krider Performance Art Center here.

***

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.

Amazon Prime,Documentary Film,Film Screenings,Khe Sanh,Marines,Veterans,Vietnam War

April 25, 2018

April 25–50 Years Gone

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On leave at home in Arizona, waiting to head to Camp Pendleton for my next Marine Corps billet, I spent a lot of time partying and sleeping and driving around at five AM on dusty farm roads, moving at 70 MPH or faster in my parents’ brown Buick LeSabre, a chilled can of Coors on the seat between my legs.

Feeling guilty because I’d promised the men of Bravo, 1/26, special things that I would send along when I got home: brownies, cookies, a fifth of Chivas Regal. Instead of arranging to send those goodies, I got drunk and ate home-cooked chow and aimlessly drove amongst the cotton and alfalfa fields like a sheriff’s deputy speeding to a bank robbery.

Cotton crop ready for harvest near the author’s original home in Arizona

Later in the Arizona mornings, with a newspaper on the kitchen counter and a cup of Folgers steaming in my hand, I read about the war. Most of what I read concerned news about battles in places I did not know, head counts of dead people, both the enemy and our folks. I suspect I hoped for news about the men I’d served with, but 1968 was a tumultuous year for the war and a host of stories were out there; too many, I imagine.

Even though I tried, I couldn’t shove scenes of my year at war out of mind. Wrecked helicopters and busted sandbags and triple canopy jungle that hid who knew what, the tangle of vines, and the last two-and-one-half months of my tour, the thump and thunder of incoming, incoming, incoming.

All the images and sounds of war got mixed up in keg parties in the foothills north of Tucson and me in the Buick LeSabre, sitting in the drive-through lane at six in the morning at Pinal Liquors waiting for them to open, or on a date in Tempe with one of my old girl friends, me not having anything to say about anything that was familiar to her about English 101 or Sociology or what kind of swimming suits her other friends were planning to wear when they went water skiing at Saguaro Lake the next weekend.

On Easter, my mother demanded I go with her to church where she had volunteered me to deliver a speech about the war in Vietnam. I stood up in a church for the last time—unless it was for a wedding or a funeral—and tried to get the words out that might enlighten folks about what it was like to crawl through mud and slime to save your life.

Afterwards, all the ladies in the church who were friends of my mother’s cornered me with attempts to tell me how glad they were that I made it home, but to me it was like being trapped, under attack by an enemy I could not understand. I didn’t think I could somehow explain that instead of a brotherhood based on Jesus like we’d heard about that day, I survived because of a brotherhood based on the 7.62mm bullet and the bloody bayonet and the M79 grenade launcher, and that my salvation at Khe Sanh came in part from men I didn’t even know—nor probably ever would—who sortied out of Thailand and Guam with B-52s loaded with tons of bombs and by jet pilots who dropped napalm on the NVA hidden in the valleys to our front and all the supply flights that kept us knee-deep in ammo and fed with a minimum amount of chow.

So I fled church for a Camel cigarette and another sortie down to the liquor store for a six-pack of Coors and a pint of Old Crow. Ooorah! And then I drove around the streets I used to know, and thought and remembered.

When I pondered then and think now about Khe Sanh—the Americans who died in that place, and who knows how many of the enemy—I see the red dust on everything and the red mud that got on your hands and face and stuck like cement to whatever it came in contact with: M16s, entrenching tools, jungle boots. I see trenches roaring with runoff from rain, rain, incessant rain, and I see Marines standing knee-deep in the torrent as the black night surrounds them, choking down their thoughts of home. I see men crammed into bunkers sharing lies about sex and home and cars and fighting. I see grunts storming up the sides of steep hills choked with jungle grass that sliced their skin. I see bodies on the ground, their faces the yellow tint of the dead. I see myself leaning over to find out if I know who the dead might be. I see a hell of a waste of lives spent over a piece of land that, when matters settled out, wasn’t that important.

Blogger Ken Rodgers at Khe Sanh just before the siege began in January 1968. Photo courtesy of Michael E. O’Hara.

I see young men who went to war as Marines and who for the most part proved eager to quash the evil of the world. In my mind’s eye I see many of their names etched into the black stone on The Wall and who they were and what they did in Vietnam will weigh down my thoughts as long as I am able to think.

The memories of the dead—and the living—are strong.

***

NEWS!

BRAVO! is now available in digital form on Amazon Prime. Please check it out if you are interested, and please consider sharing this news with your friends and contacts whom you think might be interested in seeing the film. And please ask them to give us a review if they would. It will help get the film out to a broader audience.

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

***

ON THE SCREENING FRONT:

At 3:00 PM on May 27, 2018, BRAVO! will be shown in Paris, TN at the Krider Performing Arts Center. You can find out more about this event and the Krider Performance Art Center here.

***

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,Veterans,Vietnam War

March 30, 2018

Cutting the Mustard—March 30—Fifty Years Ago

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In situations where folks failed to accomplish a goal, my father used to say, “He can’t cut the mustard,” like Mickey Mantle striking out with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning in game seven of the World Series. He’d say, “Couldn’t cut the mustard.” So as I write this, I wonder if one of the big reasons I joined the Marine Corps was to see if I could “cut it.”

A lot of folks join the Marines because they think it offers excitement and adventure and an opportunity to test one’s mettle. My experience at Khe Sanh tested me in ways I never imagined beforehand, and none sticks in my mind so much as March 30, 1968. Some images that come forth:

– Before dawn, the fog, the trench prior to going out the gate to attack a battalion of NVA. Not a word uttered, just Marines weighed down with grenades, M72 Light Anti-tank Weapons, magazines for M-16s, belts of machine gun ammo. Warriors leaning against the red mud trench walls smoking cigarettes, the fiery ends like beacons at the edge of the world. And then out we go.

– A mortar crashing between Staff Sergeant A and me, blowing both of us onto our butts. A chunk of shrapnel embedded in my head. In my mind, a sensation like the ripples one sees after a stone is tossed into a pool of water. A peaceful few seconds where I am not caught in a life-or-death sequence of savage events.

What Khe Sanh looked like at the end of the Siege. Photo courtesy of Mac McNeely.

– At the top of the ridge, watching First and Third Platoons in the enemy trench. The noise, the smoke, the death. Getting doctored by the Corpsman while the Gunny worries if I’m alright. His hands shaking. And that shakes me up—that old battler being frightened.

– Then into the enemy trench as Marines drop grenades and satchel charges into bunkers manned by the NVA. Our guys burning them out with flame throwers.

– The dead littering the trenches, the shattered ground around. Sallow-faced dead men, and hard to know if they are theirs or ours.

– Moving to the front of the battle, seeing a machine gunner thump an ammo humper with an M60. Me knowing that the humper didn’t cut the mustard.

– Running past the Company Command Post that’s hunkered in a bomb crater. A North Vietnamese prisoner on his knees. A barrage of enemy mortars falling into the command post. Smoke clouds and mud eruptions. As the chaos clears, most of the Marines lying on the deck, dead or wounded, and if not, standing there drenched in blood. Someone shooting the prisoner with an M1911A .45 caliber pistol. The prisoner’s head jerking as he falls on his back.

– Being out front in the blasted terrain where our advance ends, calling in an artillery barrage to protect us from their counter attack as we retire and gather our dead and wounded.

– Being sent with Lieutenant M who has lost his radio operator. He keeps jumping out of the trench as we head back to the combat base. I keep telling him to get back in the trench because he will set off booby traps. But he is a lieutenant (although a very new one) and I’m an enlisted man. The next time he jumps out of the trench, he does what I feared. He trips a booby trap. A round erupts out of the ground and strikes him. Since his back is to me I can’t see what happens but it stops him cold and I know it is a white phosphorus round of some kind because the squiggly white guts of the thing come flying at me and some of them hit me in the face. I curse him. Not once, but many times and scold him as I approach to see what kind of damage he’s encountered. When I get even with him and then in front, I see the round has smashed him in the chin and lower jaw. It’s all white smoke and stink and Willie Peter (what we call white phosphorus.) I pack his face with red mud, since Willie Peter burns on contact with oxygen. I get him to the temporary aid station at the rear of the battle field. Willie Peter, I keep thinking at the time, is poisonous. I imagine that the white phosphorus that hit my face is burning deadly holes in me, so I pack red mud on the spots. I curse the lieutenant again.

– On the way back into Khe Sanh Combat Base, the sky is yellow and filled with smoke. Explosions from our stuff, 105mm artillery and bombs dropped by our Phantoms.

Blogger Ken Rodgers at Khe Sanh. Photo courtesy of the late Dan Horton.

-Marines walking down the road and hitting the deck every time enemy rockets scream in. Hitting the deck jolts my head, my neck, my knees, jams the lip of my helmet into my upper spine.

– I spy two Marines dragging a dead body. I get close and see the back of the corpse’s flak jacket and even though the dead Marine is dragged face down in the dirt, I know it is Corporal A, who begged me the night before to take his dog tags and a letter to his parents telling them he would die on this patrol. I didn’t take the letter or his dog tags. I screamed at him, “if you feel that way, it’s what will happen.” It bothers me that he is being dragged like that, like he is something not worth picking up and carrying. But I don’t do anything about it.

Something about my failure to help him still haunts me and the shrapnel still resides in my skull.

***

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/.

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

March 21, 2018

Friendly Fire–Fifty Years Gone

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March 21, 1968

On the morning of March 21, 2nd Platoon, Bravo Company, went outside the wire. As far as I know, it was the first time anyone had ventured out into the hellscape surrounding the combat base since the Ghost Patrol debacle of 25February1968.

We went out early as the ever-present fog and mist lifted. We got on line, something Marines have done since the United States Marine Corps’ inception in 1775, and we swept off to the southeast towards one of the NVA’s trenchlines.

1st Squad was on the left, 2nd Squad in the middle and 3rd Squad on the right. The platoon sergeant and I were behind the formation, bringing up the rear. I was his radio operator.

Being a short-timer, I shivered and my mouth felt like the cracked bottom of a dry creek bed. I didn’t know what awaited. We went as feelers to test the enemy’s strength. I felt like a little chunk of chum to bait the NVA.

As we tread down an incline into a shallow valley, .50 caliber machine guns opened up from our rear, firing over our heads, giving all of us some cover. I could see the tracer rounds as they streaked like red jets into the tree line on the opposite ridge, our initial destination.

Grenade. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

As our formation neared the summit of the ridge, the .50 calibers firing from our lines were supposed to cease fire. As 3rd Squad reached the summit of the ridge, the .50 caliber fire continued. I witnessed as those big, hot rounds began hitting amongst our marines.

Busy monitoring the radio I carried made it difficult to process what I saw: that instantaneous chaos up there where that friendly fire had hit around our men.

That’s what we called it, “friendly fire,” like it was nothing to worry about. It was our friends shooting at us. So why worry?

My first encounter with friendly fire was on June 7, 1967, when the fire team I was in went out on an LP on Hill 881 South. One of our own men evidently hadn’t received the word about our departure. We exited the south gate and swung around on the west side below the wire a ways and settled in.

Not long after, something bounced in among us and the fire team leader, a seasoned warrior name John T. Poorman, said, “Grenade.” It went off right there amongst the four of us. We didn’t wait around, thinking it was the NVA sneaking up for an assault. We went straight up, with Poorman jabbering into the handset of our radio that we were “coming in.” We barged through the wire barrier in front of one of our machine gun bunkers.

Fortunately only one person was hit. It was Corporal Poorman, and his wound wasn’t serious.
We soon found out that one of our machine gunners, thinking the hill was about to be probed, lobbed that grenade down there. He was a “friendly.”

On a sunny morning in the fall of 1967, 2nd Platoon patrolled at the bottom of Hill 881 South when attacked by two Marine Corps Hueys. Lucky for us, a lot of big boulders were lodged in the creek we followed so we dove behind them and lay low while our lieutenant pleaded with someone out in radio frequency land to get those choppers to stop firing rockets and machine guns at us. They were friendly, too, and luckily, no one was hit this time.

But on 21March1968, someone did get hit, in the back, by friendly fire. Corporal Jacobs, 3rd Squad’s leader, took one in the back that destroyed his flak jacket and flayed the skin and muscles of his back. He required a lot of stitches but lived and went on to fight and earn laurels for his bravery and leadership in Vietnam. He was a hell of a Marine.

I have always marveled at the way the military, or large organizations of most kinds, like to coin a term for something that lowers war’s brutal nature to a case where the brutality appears less vicious, damaging, deadly.

Friendly fire. The word is accurate but infers incongruity, and if you are the one getting hit by friendly fire, it ain’t friendly.

People tend to blame things like friendly fire on the chaos of war and I suppose there is some truth to that, but there is also the human factor: not paying attention to what is going on and not doing your job, like passing along word about something, your own guys, your allies moving into harm’s way.

On 21Mar68 we made it back into the base and were exhilarated because, other than five Marines wounded by enemy activity and one by friendly fire, we got in the enemy’s trench, reached all our checkpoints and returned to our area without any of our own being KIA.

Blogger Kn Rodgers at Khe Sanh in 1968. Photo courtesy of Michael E. O’Hara.

At the time, I recall thinking that the enemy had finally hightailed it back into Laos or up north to their own country. But the next night, the NVA laid an artillery shelling on us like we’d only endured a few times. They pounded the hell out of Bravo Company’s lines and I spent the night with my face buried in a fighting bunker. Unbeknownst to us, not far from our lines, the NVA massed for an attack with the intent of overrunning us, killing us all, or if not all, then marching our remnants up the Ho Chi Minh Trail into years of captivity.

But that assault was shattered by our own air strikes and artillery and lucky for us, none of that supporting fire went awry to kill any of us with “friendly fire.”

****

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.