Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Posts Tagged ‘NVA’

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

March 29, 2017

On Payback and Recapture

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One of the things that I’ve discovered during the process of making BRAVO! is how the memories of various men who went through the same events are different. What I remember, someone else doesn’t remember at all, or remembers in a very different way, or maybe the only difference is in a detail or two.

And a follow-up to that notion is the question: Because we don’t remember events the same, are all, one, or none of the memories not the the truth? And that begs another question: Does it matter?

Tomorrow, March 30, will be the 49th anniversary—if that is the correct word—of what has come to be called the Payback Patrol.

On that day, March 30, 1968, I had just a few more days to make it through my thirteen month tour of duty without getting hurt or killed.

Bayonet and Scabbard for an M-16

We had been told, as I recall, that the patrol out the southeast gate of the Khe Sanh Combat Base was to be a standard patrol to bring back the twenty-seven Marines and Corpsmen we hadn’t saved or salvaged from the nasty events related to the Ghost Patrol of February 25, 1968.

I also recall that when I was told that the patrol would be “standard” some little message kept sneaking into my consciousness whispering something like, “Don’t believe them. It will be hell out there.”

And as it turned out, it was. Twelve Marines lost their lives and most of the other ninety or so participants on our side were wounded. I think, collectively, we killed a lot of our adversaries. But to make matters worse, we didn’t have the opportunity to retrieve our fellow Ghost Patrol Marines because we were locked in mortal combat with the entrenched NVA for hours.

While I was interviewing the men of the film, BRAVO!, it surprised me that some of them recalled the events of March 30 differently than I did. Some remembered that they were told we were going out to assault an entrenched battalion of the NVA’s best troops. Not something I heard or if I did, I chose not to believe it, and if I did that, why? Because I wanted to put the best face on it? I suspect that could be the answer. Optimism is something I have a healthy load of.

Tom Quigley at Khe Sanh

Tom Quigley at Khe Sanh.

One of the other things I don’t recall is the order that Skipper Ken Pipes gave to his radio operator, Tom Quigley, to, “Be advised, fix bayonets.”

Tom Quigley passed that order along to the rest of us via our radio network and as a radio operator, I must have heard that order.

No less than five of the interviewees of the film remember that moment very well—the fixing of bayonets and the inference they took away from the order: that they would be involved in up-close and personal combat, in some cases hand-to-hand battle, and all the images of death in close proximity that one’s mind could dredge up to scare the hell out of you.

With that many of the men spontaneously recalling the event at the interviews some forty-two years later, individually with no prompting from me, I have come to the conclusion that I must have blanked that memory out.

I wonder why. Was it because the thought was too horrible for me to deal with?

I wasn’t personally part of the combat where Marines and NVA soldiers were locked in fights that required the use of bayonets. And since I wasn’t, maybe my memory and my mind settled on the things that did happen to me: getting hit in the side of the head by mortar shrapnel, watching Marines satchel charge and flame throw bunkers with the enemy in them, running out front to call in artillery fire so we could begin to retire and collect our dead and wounded, watching Second Lieutenant Moscato trip a booby trap and get hit in the chin with a Willie Peter round that caused his face to smoke, to find my buddy David Aldrich’s body being carried back to the base after we retired from the battlefield.

It was a horrible day. One of those times, if you are thinking about the Marine ethos, that you associate with what happens when Marines go to war. Although not as long-lived, but over its four or five hour duration probably as savage, the Payback Patrol was akin to Belleau Wood, or Peleliu or Chosin Reservoir. On March 30, 1968, there were enough monstrous memories for every one of us who survived to store away a whole bevy of them and still not recall everything.

Ken Pipes

It’s curious what you do recall, sometimes, from those moments. One would think that the only thing that mattered was those ultimate instances where your survival was challenged in a terrifyingly personal way in a grippingly personal moment. But one of my clearest memories is of the faces of the dead. How the NVA all looked to me like they were fifteen years old and how the faces of the dead Marines began to change color, becoming sallow, and after a while they seemed to me to be no different in that regard—the tint of the skin—than the enemy. And of course, in the most important way—all of them being dead—they were no different.

I have been thinking a lot, over the past few months, of memory and how important it is for our mental health, that we have the ability to extract these mementos of horror and retell them so we can somehow better deal with the effects they have had on who we have become.

And if one man’s truth isn’t the same as mine in terms of what we recall, I don’t think it really matters. What matters in this regard, it seems to me, is that we learn to confront the reservoirs of monstrance that our un-dealt-with memories harbor.

I know that tomorrow a lot of men who were on the Payback Patrol will join me in recalling their own individual memories of those particular instances—fixed bayonets, charging the NVA trench, killing other men up close—and thinking about them.

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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.

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

March 22, 2017

Ghosties–Redux

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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.

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

March 10, 2017

Bookie 762. . .Redux

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Betty and I and our guest writers have been maintaining this blog site for six and one-half years. From time to time we venture back and read what showed up on the site in the past. Here is a blog I wrote in March of 2011 as we were weorking on the intial edits for the film.

Photo of a Marine Corps C-123.

Photo of a Marine Corps C-123.

On March 6, 1968 a planeload of Marines on a C-123 with a call sign of “Bookie 762” flew in from the real world in Danang and upon arrival at Khe Sanh combat base was damaged by incoming North Vietnamese Army .50 caliber machine gun and 57 millimeter recoilless rifle fire. She lost three of her engines, and the pilot veered off to return to Danang. From our vantage point, she got lost in the fog. Later, we learned she crashed. No survivors. There were 5 Marines from Bravo Company on that plane:

Herbert Aldridge

Willis Beauford

Joseph Brignac

Winford McCosar

Ron Ryan

Ron Ryan shortly before the Siege of Khe Sanh began. Photo courtesy of Michael E. O'Hara.

Ron Ryan shortly before the Siege of Khe Sanh began. Photo courtesy of Michael E. O’Hara.

At the time, when the word came down the trench, the faces of the survivors in Second Platoon wore expressions of fear, shock and surprise.

I knew Corporal Ron Ryan fairly well, as well as that curious battlefield intimacy we enjoyed at Khe Sanh allowed. He was a machine gunner who’d been with Bravo Company, I think, since early October, 1967.

At the time, it all reeled by in my mind like movie cartoons. My breath shrunk in my chest, grew shallow. Red mustache, dirty dungarees, big smile, Ryan kicking asses when catching Marines asleep on watch. Our shared miseries like no water for showers, not enough chow, constantly cleaning rusty rifles, incoming attacks, more incoming attacks, how we surfaced after they let up and laughed and laughed and laughed. We would see him no more. My head spun.

Lance Corporal “J” looked at me with his huge .50 caliber eyes and shook his big, helmeted head. He glanced down at the red mud in the trench bottom and kicked at it with a scuffed jungle boot. He peered at me and said, “Lord, don’t you know it’s a terrible, terrible thing.”

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

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

He shook his head again, “Terrible…life is terrible.” Then he let the slightest grin come across one-half of his mouth as he whispered, “But better him than me.”

We both laughed, surreptitiously, of course. There was a lot of gloom from the other Marines standing there, pondering life and its aftermath.

He said it a little louder, “Better him than me.”

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

January 18, 2017

N-Day

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Winter has been ferocious in Idaho this year with lots of ice and snow, below-zero temperatures, then rain and flooding. One local weatherman predicted death and destruction, causing locals to clean out the shelves of grocery stores and hardware outlets in anticipation of days of dark and death and privation.

And even though the local weatherman’s predictions turned out to be overblown, the season’s hostile weather seems to act as a perfect metaphor for what did come to pass at Khe Sanh Combat Base on January 21, 1968.

During these cold days of winter in the 21st Century, the minds and memories of survivors of the early days of the Siege of Khe Sanh turn to the horrible events of the first day of the Siege.

It wasn’t cold and ice, but it was death and destruction, mist and fog, and the raining down of mortars, rockets and artillery from the North Vietnamese Army which had begun to surround us in the days leading up to 21Jan68. The NVA attack was then followed by our ammo dump erupting for hours.

Recently, I received a book in the mail from Reverend Ray Stubbe titled, PEBBLES IN MY BOOTS, VOLUME 4, which is a compilation of writings that Ray has written mostly concerning Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment (my old outfit and the subject of the film BRAVO!) at Khe Sanh.

Marines from Second Platoon, Bravo Company, Gray Sector, Khe Sanh Combat Base not long before the Siege. Photo courtesy of Michael E. O'Hara

Marines from Second Platoon, Bravo Company, Gray Sector, Khe Sanh Combat Base not long before the Siege. Photo courtesy of Michael E. O’Hara

Ray was the battalion chaplain before and during the Siege and is the foremost historian and memory keeper of all the men who served there. His informative books include VALLEY OF DECISION (with John Prados) and BATTALION OF KINGS.

One of the more interesting things about Ray’s most recent book is that he included information that has been translated from North Vietnamese records about the Siege. I learned some of the North Vietnamese combat lexicon referring to Khe Sanh including the term they used to denote 21Jan. They called it N-Day.

N-Day was one of those days when you woke up and found yourself trapped in a world that, even though you had pondered the possibilities,, was a thousand times worse than what you might have imagined.

What made the day even more chaotic for me was my earlier dogged refusal to believe it was approaching even though we were constantly warned about the impending arrival of an Armageddon of sorts.

As I look back on it now, I suspect my reluctance to believe in the oncoming holocaust was because I’d been hearing about imminent threats for months, none of which had come to pass, and I also suspect it was a naïve optimism that I would somehow waltz through a generally combat-free thirteen month tour and onto the flight that would haul me back across the pond to the good old USA.

Nevertheless, the manure hit the fan early the morning of 21Jan and it drove me out of my bunker and into the trench. It was like I would imagine the end of the world, the worst thing you could dream up. Loud, crashing, frightening, we were all facedown in the trench for a short while before our officers and NCOs kicked us in the butts and made us come to grips with the sorry stink and roar of battle.

I remember getting hit, believing I was paralyzed until one of my mates knocked red clay clods off of my back, laughing at me because I thought I’d never walk again.

And then the base ammo dump, not more than fifty meters away, went up in fireworks that added to the eerie reality of the Dante-esque morning. It was Hell in the real, not something from a movie or a poem, but the genuine Hades that all of us Marines had secretly hoped for when we sat in the classes at Boot Camp and heard the stirring stories of Marine heroes Presly O’Bannon during the First Barbary War, Smedley Butler during the Boxer Rebellion, Dan Daly at Belleau Wood in 1918 and John Basilone on Guadalcanal.

But be careful what you wish for because stories of heroism and grit in the face of death are a bit different than being gripped in the maw of chaos.

When the ammo dump went up, it was electric, voluminous, colorful, and loud, like the Devil’s own fireworks. Old Nick’s claws gnashed the sky and his big-gun drums thundered so that the hard red ground thrummed like a bevy of kettle drums. The CS gas grenades and ammunition stored in the dump also caught fire and spread across the trenches before settling in. We had to put on gas masks and looked like bugs, and when people spoke, it sounded like one was listening to those people talking from the insides of #10 fruit cans.

We watched the wire perimeter with the sure knowledge that Charley would be coming through the barrier any minute, sappers first, then a banzai assault of men intent on impaling us on the shafts of their bayonets.

A close up look at Khe Sanh after the Siege began. Photo Courtesy of David Douglas Duncan and Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas Austin

A close up look at Khe Sanh after the Siege began. Photo Courtesy of David Douglas Duncan and Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas Austin

My memories of it fit and start, and I suspect they reflect what it was like to me—alive in a world impossible to imagine and almost impossible to accept, except men were dying from the NVA incoming and men were lying in the trench with shattered bones where our own rounds that had cooked off in the ammo dump had rocketed straight up and then plummeted on top of them.

And it was N-Day and it was pure hell and after it calmed down later in the day, I remember thinking, “Okay, now I’ve experienced that, I suspect (or maybe I should say hope) that we won’t have any more of it.”

But once again, my naiveté was proven to be a shoddy and dangerous outlook, because what began on N-Day went on for another seventy-six days.

The anniversary of N-Day (and my wife and co-producer/director, Betty wonders if N-Day might refer to naiveté, too), which approaches, looms huge in the minds of those who survived it.

And thanks to Ray Stubbe, I can read extensively about what happened to Bravo Company from the perspectives of us and the NVA.

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 27, 2016

On Savagery

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“War produces many euphemisms, downplaying or giving verbal respectability to savagery and slaughter.”
― Patrick Cockburn

On a recent airplane flight that Betty and I made to screen BRAVO!, I busied myself by reading an article by George Packer in THE NEW YORKER that introduced an interesting notion about violence and warriors. The article got my attention and has me still thinking.

I interpreted that notion as follows: The world offers a variety of narratives in which one can choose to participate. Some narratives are peaceful, some career minded, some offer adventure. Sometimes the adventurous narratives proffer us the opportunity to experience our own inner savagery.

As I pondered the latter idea, I thought that it was ugly. But then I thought about it some more and decided that yes, the idea that we can take the opportunity to experience our own inner savagery is ugly, but maybe not that uncommon.

Photo of author, historian and Marine William Manchester. Photo from Veterans Today.

Photo of author, historian and Marine William Manchester. Photo from Veterans Today.

I recall reading William Manchester’s book titled GOODBYE DARKNESS about his service in the Marine Corps during World War II. What stuck with me more than any other ideas and incidents he wrote about were his comments about the battles with the Japanese. Marines quite often did not take prisoners. Neither did the Japanese. In many ways, the battles in the Pacific theater were no-quarter-given affairs. Manchester intimated that even when an enemy soldier tried to surrender, you killed him.

I know there were a lot of reasons why prisoners were not taken, but as I think about it, there is an element of savagery here that would shock the folks at home who have no knowledge of war.

Various definitions of savagery speak of barbarity and violence and brutality. And of course war is all of those things, and savagery may be necessary for the warrior when locked in battle.

I was involved in a nasty battle in Vietnam in which we assaulted a trench line held by a battalion of North Vietnamese soldiers. We got them on the run and moved through their fortifications, killing every enemy soldier we came upon.

At one point in the fight, as another Marine and I advanced through the maze of trenches, I noticed a group of Marines in a deep bomb crater nearby. Among them was what looked like a North Vietnamese soldier who must have surrendered. As I watched, in just the minute it takes for you to start to breathe, a barrage of enemy mortar rounds landed in and around the bomb crater, decimating the Marines and Navy Corpsmen inside the crater. As the smoke and dust cleared, I saw a Marine take a .45 caliber pistol and shoot that NVA prisoner in the head.

For years I doubted I had really seen this event take place. Not that I couldn’t believe it happened, but on that day, so much chaos and mayhem ruled the moment that I’ve wondered if the event was a figment of my imagination or a memory based on something someone else had told me.

Several years ago, I finally did some checking around and I am now convinced that what I saw did actually happen.

I am not saying that when the Marine popped a pistol round into the prisoner’s head that it was wrong, or right for that matter. I think each of us has to decide these things for ourselves. And I would like to throw into the thinking mix the notion that the question of whether it was right or wrong wasn’t even relevant to the moment. I don’t believe any of us were pondering the finer points of morality while this battle raged.

Would I have done the same thing? Even though I was a witness, I can’t really say since I wasn’t in that exact situation and that very particular place.

I wonder what was going through that Marine’s mind as he pulled the trigger and killed his prisoner. I know he was racked with fear—we all were—and he may have been cognizant that what happened when the barrage of mortar rounds landed was a catastrophe for everyone in the bomb crater and that the NVA prisoner looking at him was an enemy combatant who, if given the opportunity, would most likely do anything he could to help kill Marines.

Houses burned by American soldiers during the My Lai massacre on March 16, 1968 in My Lai, South Vietnam.  (Photo by Ronald S. Haeberle)

Houses burned by American soldiers during the My Lai massacre on March 16, 1968 in My Lai, South Vietnam. (Photo by Ronald S. Haeberle)

What I witnessed at that moment was a lot of things, including savagery.

Earlier in my tour of duty, some Marines arrived in Bravo Company from another regiment. They had been in-country for a while and were seasoned warriors. I got to know a few of them and more than once I asked how and why they ended up getting transferred to Bravo Company.

The Marines would blow me off or they’d look at each other and shrug, but finally, two of them told me they’d been involved in an operation in the mountains south of Khe Sanh. The operation, among other things, involved sweeping through a lot of rough country and a few of the local villes.

According to what these Marines told me, every time they went through one of the villes on search and destroy missions, one or more Marines would get shot, always after the Marines had left the ville. Evidently it happened so many times that one day, after several Marines were shot and killed after the company left a particular ville, the company got on line and swept back through the ville and killed everything: men, women, children, dogs, pigs.

I served with these men, some of them for quite a long time, and they were good men, so it makes me wonder if captured in a particular time and place, most of us aren’t susceptible to such momentary fits of aggression, rage or savagery.

As I compose this, I think of the incident at My Lai in 1968 where American troops slaughtered hundreds of Vietnamese people in a horror where savagery evidently got the best of a good number of the United States Army participants. I can’t imagine that all those men who were involved in that massacre are monsters now if they are still alive. They may have been monsters in that short time but then came home to not be like that at all, and when I think that, I wonder if most of us don’t have that person living inside us, that monster.

Is this kind of savagery a result of fear or is it a result of what we become in order to survive when faced with the possibility of imminent death; or is it that there is some kind of communal blood lust that happens in combat; or is it even more complicated than that? Is revenge considered savagery? A lot of questions, I think, and not a lot of answers.

Another photo of the action at My Lai on March 16, 1968. (Photo by Ronald Haeberle)

Another photo of the action at My Lai on March 16, 1968. (Photo by Ronald Haeberle)

Many people who read this will, without a moment’s hesitation, say, “No, people who act this way are monsters without exception.” But some of us who have been in combat won’t be so sure. We’ll think about what we saw and what it felt like to be confronted by another human intent on killing you and the person next to you, and who has the means to do so.

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

June 29, 2016

In the Blink of an Eye

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In Khe Sanh Marine Mike Archer’s latest book, THE LONG GOODBYE, he describes a scene from his memory of incoming artillery rounds:

“Then it struck. It was not quite a direct hit because the roof did not collapse, but it could have not been closer. There was absolutely no sound. We were inside the explosion. A vacuum instantly sucked dust, loose paper and other light objects out the bunker’s hatchway. A painful pressure pushed on my eardrums. Then, as swiftly as it happened, it was over…”

One thing that interests me about Mike Archer’s passage from this exemplary book is how it intimates the moments where close calls remind us how mortal we all are.

Call it luck or divine intervention or karma, but those moments where you don’t die because you happened to be in the right place at the right time leave a lasting impression on you.

On March 30, 1968, Bravo Company, 1/26, went out the wire at Khe Sanh on an assault that has come to be known as the Payback Patrol. I was radioman for Second Platoon’s platoon sergeant, Staff Sergeant Gustavo Alvarado. As the company charged through a valley and up a ridge into a trenchline full of North Vietnamese troopers, SSgt Alvarado and I brought up the rear of the line of march.

As the Marines of Bravo dove bayonet-first into the NVA positions, SSgt Alvarado and I worked our way towards the apex of the ridge. Somewhere near the top, amid a small stand of shell-splintered trees, a mortar round landed between the staff sergeant and me. We couldn’t have been more than four or five feet apart when the round hit and exploded.

The first thing I knew was that I was alive, or at least I thought I was. I was sitting on my butt in the red mud. I had the strangest sensation that I was the center of a ripple of energy, or sound, that was emanating from me as if I was a stone tossed into a pond. I had the same sensation on the left side of my head, where shrapnel had entered the side of my face near my temple. That metal’s still lodged there like a memory that won’t go away, as if I needed to be reminded in one more way of my time at Khe Sanh.

SSgt Alvarado was hit in the leg by the mortar’s tail fin assembly and he was on the ground, too. But after a cursory inspection of each other, we moved into the melee over the top of the ridge and lived to tell about that ecstatically stimulating and horrible day where death flew perilously close like a flock of angry hawks.

I often return to that scene and think about how lucky we were that we didn’t die, or lose a limb or an eye, or have hot shrapnel penetrate a temple and hack out half of our intellects.

Another incident that often comes to mind happened several weeks before the Payback Patrol. Again, close calls were the name of the game during the Siege of Khe Sanh and any survivor can deliver a litany of the times they managed to beat death or maiming because they happened to be in the right place.

Cover of Mike Archer's book, THE LONG GOODBYE.

Cover of Mike Archer’s book, THE LONG GOODBYE.

The other member of Second Platoon’s radio team was a man named Curtis Horn. I think Horn hailed from West Virginia. We spent a lot of time trading off on radio watch along with the platoon’s right guide. I don’t recall many specifics about Horn other than he was a damned good Marine and he didn’t talk much.

On this particular day we’d just spent quite a bit of time upgrading the platoon command post so that it could take (we hoped) a direct hit from a 152 mm shell, even one with a delayed fuse. Horn and I made the mistake of thinking that since we’d done the lion’s share of the work on the new bunker we would be allowed to bunk there. But we were sorely disabused of that notion and ordered by the platoon commander and SSgt Alvarado to bunk next door in the platoon ammo bunker.

The ammo bunker was a paltry excuse for a well-built facility. It had one layer of sandbags on top of a framework of pallets. The bunker was stuffed with machine gun ammo, rifle ammo, smoke grenades, willy peter grenades, hand grenades, mortar rounds, rocket rounds, claymore mines, pop up flares. Lots of things that burned, killed, smoked and exploded.

I didn’t like having to spend my rack time in that death trap, but it was late and we were tired and there were two cots inside, one on the floor and the other suspended off the walls above the one below.

As night settled in and the regular blanket of mist and fog descended on the combat base, Horn and I hit the rack. Always alert to the possibility of incoming, I lay in the cot and listened to NVA rounds hitting at the other end of the base.

I listened and listened until sleep wormed its way into my body, and I had just dropped off, I think, when I was jolted out of the bottom bunk with Horn soon crashing down on me from above. I didn’t have to think about it because escape is one of the original and fundamental human responses to imminent danger.

We scrabbled out of that death trap and into the command post. One of the higher ups, maybe the right guide, or maybe SSgt Alvarado, or maybe even the platoon commander, ordered us out of the bunker but I was scared and I was hearing none of it and I don’t think I threatened to shoot any of them but Horn and I spent the rest of that night inside the command post.

The next morning I crawled around the back of the command post and up to the top of the ammo bunker and saw where a round had hit near the southwest corner. There was an impact crater less than two inches from the roof. It looked like it must have been an 82 mm mortar round that, had it hit, would have probably spread little chunks of Horn’s and my bone and meat and gristle and red blood all over Second Platoon’s area of operation.

Blog author Ken Rodgers.

Blog author Ken Rodgers.

But it didn’t. It just scared the hell out of me and left an indelible set of images etched into my memory. And it also left me with an enduring wonder at how often we avoid death due to nothing more than blind luck.

One of the Marines, Ron Rees, in our film, BRAVO!, talks about how he lives his life a second at a time because that’s all it takes for you to be gone, snuffed, history, dead. Folks who have survived combat often tell me they exist from one second to the next. Living like that makes it hard to plan ahead, hard to think about how one might choose to live in years ahead because one second from now, you may not be alive; in the blink of an eye.

You can find out more about Michael Archer and his books about Khe Sanh and other subjects at http://www.michaelarcher.net/.

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/store/.

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

May 4, 2016

They Put Their Trousers On Just Like You Do

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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,Guest Blogs,Khe Sanh,Marines,Vietnam War

April 18, 2016

THE LONG GOODBYE: Khe Sanh Remembered

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Today’s guest blogger, Mike Archer, is an author, Marine and survivor of the Siege of Khe Sanh. Mike shares information on his books, his friend Tom Mahoney and efforts to find Tom’s remains forty-eight years after Tom disappeared at Khe Sanh.

IN THE CLOSING HOURS of the fight to hold the Khe Sanh Combat Base, after the longest and bloodiest battle of the Vietnam War, Tom Mahoney inexplicably walked away from his platoon, unarmed, and was shot to death by enemy soldiers hiding nearby. His fellow Marines made several desperate attempts to recover their well-liked comrade from under an intense enemy ambush, but were finally forced to leave him behind―though never forgotten.

Tom and I were high school friends who joined the Marines together in June 1967. My latest book, The Long Goodbye: Khe Sanh Revisited, released in April 2016, and a sequel to my first, A Patch of Ground: Khe Sanh Remembered, chronicles my exhaustive search for answers to his mysterious July 6, 1968 stroll into oblivion. This quest eventually led me though an improbable series of connections: from Tom’s childhood friends and fellow Marines, past the frustration of ineffective attempts by the U.S. government to locate his remains, and eventually teaming up with a Vietnamese psychic intent on communicating with Tom’s “wandering soul.”

Mike Archer at Khe Sanh, 1968.

Mike Archer at Khe Sanh, 1968.

Along the way, I discovered the unexpected compassion of former mortal enemies from that battlefield, now wishing to help honor the memory of a lone American among the tens of thousands on both sides who were sacrificed in the great meat grinder of Khe Sanh. Swept up in this increasingly bizarre pursuit of clues, I was drawn back to that infamous battleground and eventually tracked down and interviewed the last remaining eyewitness to Tom Mahoney’s death―one of those who killed him.

UPDATE:
In June 2016, the Defense POW-MIA Accountability Agency (DPAA) will be taking three former members of Tom’s unit back to where he was killed on Hill 881 South in an effort to identify the exact site and excavate. It is not the first time the DPAA has searched for Tom’s remains, but it is the first time they have taken witnesses who were on the scene moments after hearing the gunshots that killed him.

An excavation in August 2014 was unsuccessful because the DPAA was looking on the wrong hill. But the expectation of success is higher now, as one of these three Marine veterans of that fight had worked his way to within just a few yards of reaching Tom’s body from under an intense enemy ambush, when darkness fell forcing the men to call off the effort.

The cover of Mike Archer's Book; THE LONG GOODBYE

The cover of Mike Archer’s Book; THE LONG GOODBYE

Another reason for optimism is a series of successful identifications of remains from the Khe Sanh area by the DPAA over the last eleven months. These three American soldiers were killed at different locations just a few months, and a few miles, from where Tom fell. Vietnamese and Laotians, dealing in the illegal, but booming, bone trade, provided these partial remains; two of the sets confiscated in 1989 and turned over to U.S. officials, where they became part of over one thousand sets of human remains backlogged and being warehoused in the Central Identification Laboratory near Honolulu.

But is there evidence of bones being found on Hill 881 South?

In January 2007, U.S. and Vietnamese MIA researchers met at Khe Sanh with two elders from the village of Lang Ruon, located down a steep slope on the north side of Hill 881 South, about five hundred yards from where Tom’s body was last seen. They told the researchers that after their return to Ruon in the early 1970s, they’d heard nothing about the discovery of remains or the personal effects of an American soldier. However, as the villagers began forays up the hill to collect metal to sell, they regularly saw bones. “Many buffaloes died,” one elder explained, “and when people saw the bones, they were unsure what kind of bones they were.” Perhaps some were collected and sold to bone traders and, although it is a slim possibility, Tom’s remains may already be at the Central Identification Laboratory in Honolulu.

AUTHOR PHOTO

Mike Archer

But, more likely, they are still on the hill which, unlike the highly acidic deep, rust-colored volcanic soil in the lowlands surrounding it, is comprised of metamorphic rock, like schist, thus giving hope they have been better preserved. Everyone involved in this upcoming mission back to Hill 881 South in a few weeks is very excited and hopeful. I will keep you in the loop as things progress and thanks to so many of you for your interest in The Long Goodbye.

Michael Archer
April 13, 2016

MICHAEL ARCHER grew up in northern California and served as a U.S. Marine in Vietnam during 1967-1968. His books include A Patch of Ground: Khe Sanh Remembered, an acclaimed first-person account of the infamous seventy-seven-day siege of that American combat base; A Man of His Word: The Life and Times of Nevada’s Senator William J. Raggio, about one of Nevada’s most courageous, honorable and admired citizens; and The Long Goodbye: Khe Sanh Revisited, chronicling the author’s search for answers to a friend’s mysterious death at Khe Sanh. Michael lives in Reno and, in addition to his writing, is a staff member with the Senate Committee on Finance at the Nevada State Legislature. You can find out more about Mike Archer and his books at www.michaelarcher.net.

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,Veterans,Vietnam War

February 24, 2016

On February 25th

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Forty-eight years ago on February 25, 1968, Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment’s Third and First Platoons were trapped in a nasty ambush that has since become something of a legend in the lore of the Marine Corps.

Third Platoon, on a patrol outside the wire at Khe Sanh Combat Base, was ambushed by troops from the North Vietnamese Army and when elements of First Platoon attempted to relieve Third Platoon, they were also ambushed.

I wasn’t out there that day. I was sitting inside the wire, peering in the direction from which the gunfire and explosions were coming, and listening to the strained voices of men in extreme danger come over the radio.

I have written about the event—now known as The Ghost Patrol or the Lost Patrol—before, and one of the reasons I keep writing about it is because the memories of that day and the men we lost preys on my mind.

Photo of Marines on the Ghost Patrol. Photo courtesy of Robert Ellison/Blackstar

Photo of Marines on the Ghost Patrol. Photo courtesy of Robert Ellison/Blackstar

At the time, and for some time after, we, the Marines and Corpsmen of Bravo Company, didn’t call it The Ghost Patrol or the Lost Patrol. I don’t think we called it anything. We didn’t need to because it loomed large in our psyches and in some regards, for some of us, it remains so today.

Unfortunately for mankind, this kind of event is fairly common in warfare and I suspect will remain so as long as we humans send our warriors into harm’s way.

You don’t have to go back very far in history to find record of the mayhem that ensues when a combat operation falls apart. S. L. A. Marshall, in his book titled THE RIVER AND THE GAUNTLET about the American 8th Army’s debacle in Korea, describes in detail fire-fight after fire-fight in which American troops were wounded, killed and captured, their units chewed up by the Chinese Army in November of 1950.

The thing that’s on my mind now, as I write this, is that if it is so common, why is it so devastating to us? Of course it’s because these sorry, dismal events happen to real people. More than maps and strategies, the things that we as warriors often remember are the faces or our comrades before and after the combat, the memories of a shared can of peaches or pears, three on a match, telling stories about back home as we brew coffee in a C-ration over the heat from a chunk of C-4. It’s personal.

In our film, BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR, we manage to capture some of that sense of loss that we, the men of Bravo Company, felt, as the events of February 25 tumbled about us. The loss. Such a waste. If only things had occurred differently. But they didn’t. They don’t. And of course, it wasn’t just us. Every service has had and will have the moments where close comrades are lost as an operation falls apart.

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

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

There was a civilian photographer at Khe Sanh (there were several) when the events of February 25 happened, and his name was Robert Ellison. Ellison captured some graphic and profoundly revelatory photographs of some of the Marines and Corpsmen involved in The Ghost Patrol. He was roaming around outside the base perimeter, helping wounded Marines struggle in while he took photos of the faces of war. What he captured on film reveals the men in ways that are heart rending. I share a few of his photos in this blog.

Unfortunately, Robert Ellison became a casualty of the Vietnam War on March 6, 1968, while aboard a plane on its way back to Khe Sanh from the coast. That plane crashed into a mountain outside the combat base and Ellison was killed along with all the other men on that flight. The photographs he left us are a powerful legacy.

Marines hauling a casualty during the Ghost Patrol. Photo courtesy of Robert Ellison/Blackstar

Marines hauling a casualty during the Ghost Patrol. Photo courtesy of Robert Ellison/Blackstar

Yes, combat is about people and personal loss and the things that happen to our souls when we go through the nightmares of war. In many ways, I think, our souls are damaged, often until the end of our lives.

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

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

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

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

February 17, 2016

In Search of My Father (Part 2)

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Guest blogger Ron Reyes’ continuing story of his search to discover more about his father who was killed in action at Khe Sanh on March 30, 1968.

“We weren’t in Khe Sanh.” I am wondering what he is talking about. “We were overlooking it on a hill. Well, Ron, it was a bad day; there were a lot of bad days. We were sharing the first beer we had had in a month. The beer was warm, but it might as well have been the finest wine. Tommy had just gotten up out of the trench to grab an ammo box when BAM, incoming. Tommy goes down and it is not good.”

Pete skips through the next sequence of events. I find out later that Pete jumped out of the trench to grab Tommy as mortar rounds were splashing all over the place. He carries Tommy and BOOM gets knocked down, picks up Tommy and, BAM, down again. One more time, and WHAM. This time he makes it to the trench. Those few yards must have seemed like a football field. Pete gets to the edge and my dad is the first one there to help out. They grab a stretcher, put Tommy in it, and away they go. The group gets moving, BOOM, they drop Tommy. This is not Tommy’s day. Get going again, and BLAM. Silence, or so it seemed. Everyone was hit. My dad was killed and Pete was hit badly. I talked to Pete for about an hour. “He was a good Marine,” he said. Wow, this has really come together. Pete gave me a phone number for a Bill Cassell and told me to call. I called as soon as I hung up.

The answering machine picks up. I figure I had better leave a message. “Hi, this is Ron Reyes. I am Ronnie Reyes’ son. Pete gave me your number.” The phone picks up, “Hello,” silence, Bill was trying to get over the shock. He didn’t go to the reunion and hadn’t talked to Eddie or Pete. He said he was staring at the answering machine while his wife was telling him to pick up the phone. Bill watched everything happen that day. He knew my dad was killed. He knew my dad was going to have a child. He knew he was from La Puente, California. For the next 30 years Bill would wonder what happened to me. Was I a boy or a girl? He would drive to La Puente a couple of times and try to find our family, but no luck, and now here I am on the phone. We talked for about an hour. “Your dad was a good Marine.”

Ron "Baby Sanh" Reyes posing in a mortar pit with a  60 mm mortar. Photo courtesy of Ron Reyes.

Ron “Baby Sanh” Reyes posing in a mortar emplacement with a 60 mm mortar tube. Photo courtesy of Ron Reyes.

At this point, I am still not sure what to tell my grandparents. I talk to my mother after each phone call. She is happy, sad, excited, and scared, not really sure what to do, except let me figure it out. I should explain a little about my mom. She raised me on her own, made sure I had everything I needed and just about everything I wanted. My mother made sure that I never lost contact with my grandparents and that I spent a lot of time with them.

Thursday night the phone rings.

This time I answer the phone. “Hello, I’m looking for Ronnie Reyes.” “This is Ron.” Silence. I am getting used to this now. “My name is Tommy, and I knew your Dad.” I can’t wait for the rest of the story, and then I get thrown for a loop. “It was a bad day, and I don’t remember much of it. I was hit and your dad was one of the guys who helped me.” I had just assumed that Tommy “T” Wallis had been killed. This was great news. It was in this moment that I realized that my father didn’t die in vain, but for a fellow Marine, a 1/9er, and a brother. We spoke for about an hour.

Now I have to tell my grandparents. I make the call. I start talking really fast. My grandparents aren’t sure what I am trying to say. I finally stop and say, “I just talked to some men who were with my father in Vietnam.” I can tell they don’t know what to do. “Grandma, would you like to talk to them?” She doesn’t hesitate and says, “Yes.” I think I gave her Pete’s number. They spoke to a couple of 1/9ers over the next few days. They were happy I made contact.

Ron "Baby Sanh" Reyes holding a M1911A1 .45 caliber pistol while relaxing in a bunker. Photo courtesy of Ron Reyes.

Ron “Baby Sanh” Reyes holding a M1911A1 .45 caliber pistol while relaxing in a bunker. Photo courtesy of Ron Reyes.

On October 25th, 1998, my own son Ronnie was born. It is fun listening to my mom say, “Aye, Ronnie, you’re just like your dad.”

January of 2000, Tommy calls and wants to know if I would like to get together with him and Pete and go fishing some time later in the year. I have to go. This is the moment I have been waiting for. “One last thing, don’t tell Pete.” What? “It is a surprise. I’m going to tell Pete we are going to drive out to California after the fishing trip and meet you for a day.” I talk with Pete on and off and arrange a date and time to meet him. I fly to Tommy’s hometown to meet Tommy at the airport. We stop in the bar to break the ice and have a beer. Ok, maybe a couple. We pick Pete up and I introduce myself as Eddie Martinez.

Tommy explains how he is going to drop me off on the way to their fishing trip. We drive for about an hour and a half and stop at a gas station. I have been having a conversation with Pete about how he is going to meet his friend’s son, Ron. He tells me he is about my age. We stop at a gas station to take a break, and Tommy says he wants to take a picture. “Hey, Eddie, hand him your card.” Ok, I hand Pete my business card, he looks at it and smiles, and turns back to the camera. “Read it, Pete.” Ok, Citibank. He turns back to the camera. “Read the whole thing!” Why is it such a big deal? He reads it out loud, “Ron Reyes,” turns back to the camera, pauses, then he turns back to me. “I am Ronnie Reyes’ son.” After we have a moment, we are on our way. We proceed to badger and laugh at Pete for a while.

We spent a few days in Mexico. Then we drove to MCRD San Diego for graduation. We saw the last of the Quonset huts. Then we drove up towards LA. We stopped by the cemetery where my father is buried. Then we met with my Mom and had dinner. The next day my grandparents and my aunt arrived, and we spent all day together.

This is where my story ends…or so I think…

Next week, Ron continues with his story about searching for clues about who his father was and his resultant journey.

Ron Reyes lives in Moorpark, California. He has been married to his wife Lori for 23 years and is the father of 2. His son Ronnie is a junior in high school. His daughter Danielle is a junior in college and lives just 2 blocks north of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC.

Ron "Baby Sanh" Reyes on the left. Unknown on the right. Relaxing. Photo courtesy of Ron Reyes.

Ron “Baby Sanh” Reyes on the left. Unknown on the right. Relaxing. Photo courtesy of Ron Reyes.

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

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

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