Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Posts Tagged ‘P J Staab’

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

September 5, 2018

I’d Rather Take a Beating

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

When my father died, one of his friends stood outside the chapel before the funeral service and told me, “I’d rather take a beating than go in there.”

I’ve often thought about that moment and I’ve even used the phrase from time to time, but I particularly felt that emotion twelve days ago as we laid Bravo Company, 1/26’s Skipper, Ken Pipes, in the ground at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego.

Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery. Photo courtesy of Ken Rodgers

The Skipper passed on in April, and in May there was a memorial service for him, but it didn’t seem like matters would be settled for family, friends and his Marines until he was finally interred in the place he wished to be laid to rest.

Getting the Skipper buried there turned out to be a four-month chore for his family and friends, and took the efforts of General Neller, the Commandant of the Marines Corps, General Dunford, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Secretary of Defense, General James “Mad Dog” Mattis, to override the bureaucratic layers that seemingly obstructed the Skipper’s last wishes at every turn. And it took a friend of BRAVO! Marines and the Skipper, Mr. PJ Staab, to help the family negotiate the heartburn of getting the appropriate location within the cemetery so that the Skipper’s wife, Sharon, could be buried next to him when her time arrives.

Left to right, Sharon, Conner, Sandra and Tim Pipes. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

The graveside service for the Skipper itself was well done and the folks who showed up, including a number of Skipper Pipes’ family, friends, former Sheriff’s Department pals, military contacts, Marines and Corpsmen, witnessed a fine ceremony conducted by the family pastor and the United States Marine Corps, lead by Brigadier General Ryan Heritage, commanding general at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego. General Heritage presented the ceremonial flag to Mrs. Pipes.

There was a rifle salute, a rendition of taps and a placing of mementos in and around Skippers burial urn, made by his son Tim.

The weather that day began with a light cloud cover but by the time we arrived at the service, it had turned sunny with a slight breeze from the Pacific Ocean to our west.

I served with Lt Colonel Pipes fifty years ago and for a long time I didn’t think of him often unless a flash of unpleasant combat memory invaded my thoughts. Even after our reintroduction in 1993, he wasn’t yet a big part of my life. But after making BRAVO!, that all changed and we became pretty close and talked often about . . . well, a lot of things.

The Skipper’s Urn. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

Betty and I went to visit Sharon and the Skipper a number of times at his home in Fallbrook, usually associated with some event related to the film. He and I would sit out on his back patio and drink coffee, and invariably our talk would turn to the events of early 1968 at Khe Sanh.

We’d recall people and actions, death and horror, and quite often our palaver would veer into the realm of the intellectual. Discussions on the nature of war and combat and the behavior of individuals in the stressed world of a full-blown siege.

Earlier I mentioned my father, and it is interesting to me as I write this blog that he and I never had the kind of discussions about war and men that the Skipper and I had. Father and I didn’t discuss those sort of things because he had no combat experience even though he was an Army top sergeant in World War II, serving in India.

The Smith Brothers, Lt Colonel John and Lt Colonel Michael, add insignias to the Skipper’s urn. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

But the Skipper and I, yeah, we could talk about those things and reminisce and rue the deaths of all those fine men with whom we served.

And in some ways, since my father has been dead for almost thirty years, Lt Colonel Pipes became a kind of father figure to me. Someone who understood what I had become post-combat. Someone who’d felt the rage, the fear, the grinding memories that refuse to relent their hold on how a survivor of long-term combat sees the world he or she lives in.

We would sit and remember the men associated with the names of the dead and the living and our reactions—or mine did, at least—welled up from the soles of my feet, roared up through my legs into my innards and often made themselves manifest by the tears that eked out of my eyes, forcing me to look away and fight to get control of my emotions.

He was brutally honest with me about how he felt about the Siege and the men with whom he served. Sometimes the discussion turned loud and raucous as we recalled one of our comrades who acted out as big as all the hills around Khe Sanh. We talked quietly, we argued, and then agreed, then argued again, then hugged. What we knew, down in the bottom of our guts, no one else knew unless they had undergone the terrible initiation into the club of those who have faced the awful fangs of combat. And we tried to articulate that. He liked to call it, “riding the elephant and looking the tiger in the eye.”

He could rocket from laughter to rage to laughter. He pondered man’s inhumanity to man. He kept close watch for those who would harm his loved ones. Not unlike me.

Ken Pipes understood things about me that my real father never understood, and because the Skipper is now gone, there will be a big void in my life and I’d rather take a beating than think about that.

To know him was a privilege, a gift.

***

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

April 22, 2015

On Lincoln’s Hearse and Veterans

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

From 1 May 2015 through 3 May 2015, the City of Springfield, Illinois, will be the site for a re-enactment of President Abraham Lincoln’s funeral. It’s been one-hundred-fifty years and a few days since President Lincoln was assassinated at Ford’s Theater in Washington, DC, by John Wilkes Booth.

BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR folks know Springfield as the home of Tom Quigley who served with Bravo Company, 1/26, during the Siege of Khe Sanh. Tom is also one of the men in the film.

Last June, 2014, Tom and his buddy, PJ Staab of Staab Funeral Homes, arranged for BRAVO! to be screened at the Hoogland Center for the Arts located in Springfield. A number of Marines and Corpsmen from Bravo Company attended the event.

PJ is a man who, I believe, wants to help heal the wounds we have on the inside of us, our damaged spirits. He is also one of those individuals who dreams of events or projects and then makes them happen. While we were there in Springfield, he told us about a project he had started in concert with the re-enactment of President Lincoln’s funeral. His dream for the re-enactment was to create an exact replica of the hearse that bore Lincoln’s body to his tomb and to have the hearse built by veterans. Lo and behold, here we are in 2015 and sure enough, the hearse has been completed for all intents and purposes.

But there’s more to the story. Last February, Betty and I were in Arizona for a screening of BRAVO! and a visit with friends and family. PJ was in California, picking up the partially completed Lincoln Hearse in Eureka in preparation for hauling it to Tombstone, Arizona. He contacted us and said if we were available he’d like us to meet up with him and see the hearse.

At the time, we were visiting BRAVO! friend and supporter Susan Parker whom we told about the trip from Eureka to Tombstone. She’s from Eureka originally, so she had an idea who might have built that part of the hearse, her old schoolmate, Eric Hollenbeck. When PJ called, I asked if by any chance a Mr. Eric Hollenbeck was with him, and he said, “Yes!”

So we put Susan on the phone with Eric and we all made a date to meet in Tombstone on February 22nd.

It was cool and breezy on the way down from Tucson to Tombstone and we met up with PJ there at around 9:00 AM. Susan and Eric visited about Eureka back in the 60s, before Eric went into the Army and then on to Vietnam.

Left to right: Eric Hollenbeck and Susan Parker. Lincoln Hearse in the background. © Betty Rodgers 2015

Left to right, Eric Hollenbeck and Susan Parker. Lincoln Hearse in the background. © Betty Rodgers 2015

We visited with PJ, admired the hearse, and subsequently talked to Eric about his creation. Eric and his students at the Blue Ox Mill School for Veterans, which is a vocational school for combat veterans, built the box for the hearse.

Eric told us that when he started, he had no idea what the dimensions of the hearse were until an original railroad bill of lading was found that noted the size of the rear wheels. With those dimensions, Eric and his team of combat veterans-turned mill workers were able to scale the hearse’s precise dimensions using photos taken back at the time of President Lincoln’s burial.

From there it was skill, dedication and determination.

Eric served with the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam and saw a lot of combat. The man he delivered the hearse to in Tombstone was Jack Feather who was the hearse’s lead builder and the man who convinced Eric Hollenbeck to work on the hearse in the first place.

Jack was also a Vietnam veteran who saw combat during his tour. After PJ headed for the airport and a flight back to Springfield, Betty, Susan Parker and Eric’s wife Viviana sat in Jack’s office and visited while outside Eric, Jack and I recalled our tours in Vietnam. It was an emotional morning for me and I think for them, too.

Left to right: Jack Feather and P J Staab. Lincoln Hearse in the background. © Betty Rodgers 2015

Left to right: Jack Feather and P J Staab. Lincoln Hearse in the background. © Betty Rodgers 2015

As we talked, a bond that I cannot name developed between us, or maybe it didn’t develop, it may have been there all along just waiting for these days, forty-seven years on, to come to the fore and all made possible by PJ Staab and his drive to honor veterans, veterans’ stories, and to help human hearts heal.

The veterans who helped build the hearse will be flown to Springfield for the May events.

You can find out more about the Lincoln burial re-enactment events in Springfield at http://lincolnfuneraltrain.org/2015_event.php. More information about Blue Ox Millworks is at http://www.blueoxmill.com/index.html. Information about PJ Staab can be found at http://www.staabfuneralhomes.com/staff/paul-john-staab-ii/. More information about Jack Feather’s company, Tombstone Hearse and Trike, is available at http://tombstonehearse.info/.

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

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

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

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

June 18, 2014

Notes on the Springfield, Illinois Screenings of BRAVO!

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

Last week Betty and I flew into Chicago, rented a car and drove down to Springfield, Illinois, the burial place of our 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. We traveled there as the guests of the Staab Family and to screen BRAVO! at the Hoogland Center for the Arts as part of a Flag Day benefit for the planned Oak Ridge Cemetery Purple Heart Memorial in Springfield.

We arrived in town and were met by BRAVO! Marine Tom Quigley, a native son of Springfield who was instrumental, along with PJ Staab and the Staab Family, in making these events happen.

The next morning, Betty and I met Tom at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library where Tom and I were interviewed by local radio personality Jim Leach of WMAY radio. Betty, Tom and I were impressed with Jim’s knowledge of the Vietnam era and the Siege of Khe Sanh in particular. You can hear the interview here: http://wmay.com/assets/podcasts/20140612jlsBravo.MP3.

Later, Betty and I walked down to the Hoogland Center for the Arts where we met with their events manager, Vanessa Ferguson, and checked out the facilities for the screening. On the way back to the hotel, we stopped in at the First Presbyterian Church and looked at their seven fabulous Tiffany stained glass windows and the pew where the Abraham Lincoln family sat during church services.

Left to Right: Tom Quigley, John Cicala, Michael E O'Hara, Cal Bright, Ben Long and Bruce Stuckey. Photo courtesy of Ken Rodgers

Left to Right: Tom Quigley, John Cicala, Michael E O’Hara, Cal Bright, Ben Long and Bruce Stuckey.
Photo courtesy of Ken Rodgers

During the day, Bruce & Francine Jones and Bruce & Judy Stuckey arrived. Bruce Jones, alias T-Bone, was a radioman for 81 Millimeter Mortars and spent a lot of time on patrol with Bravo Company. Bruce Stuckey was a radio man for Bravo Skipper Ken Pipes. That evening, we all went out for dinner at Saputo’s Italian Restaurant where we were joined by Tom’s wife Nancy and daughter Erin Parsons and her family. If you are ever in Springfield, I suggest you try the fare at Saputo’s. It is rumored that Al Capone liked to dine there, and as we tucked into our ravioli and manicotti and other dishes, I imagined seeing Al parade in with his entourage, all wearing natty summer suits and two-toned fancy shoes, ladies of the night hanging onto their arms.

Also arriving in Springfield later that night was BRAVO!’s associate producer, Carol Caldwell-Ewart.

The day of the screening, Betty and I and BRAVO! Marine Michael O’Hara, who had arrived early that morning, toured the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum—definitely worth the fees and the time it takes to watch the films, view the exhibits and look at all the memorabilia.

BRAVO! Marines Cal Bright and Ben Long with his wife Joyce, and John “Doc” Cicala who was one of Bravo Company’s corpsmen, arrived that day too. We all met at the Hoogland before the screening and had a moment to visit while Carol, Betty and I worked with the staff to make sure everything was in order.

The very capable A/V tech estimated that over 300 folks came out to donate funds to help build the Oak Ridge Cemetery Purple Heart Memorial and to watch BRAVO!. The evening started off with a reception hosted by the Staab Family. Right before the film was shown, Master of Ceremonies PJ Staab introduced all of the Khe Sanh vets in attendance, and we were honored by an enthusiastic standing ovation from the audience. I haven’t ever been honored like that since my return from Vietnam in 1968. You must recall that the Vietnam Veteran wasn’t particularly popular back in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Somehow we were blamed for our political leaders’ decisions, so the standing ovation was particularly heartwarming. And the ovations didn’t stop there! We were also honored at the end of the film as the credits ran, and yet again before a snappy and informative Q & A session that followed.

The scene at Staab Funeral Home in Springfield, just before the Ride in Honor bike run. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

The scene at Staab Funeral Home in Springfield, just before the Ride in Honor bike run.
Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

The next morning, all of the BRAVO! folks met for a special breakfast and then as some headed home, five us—Michael E. O’Hara, John “Doc” Cicala, Carol, Betty and I—traveled over to the Staab Funeral Home where lines of motorcycles threaded across the parking lots in anticipation of the annual Ride in Honor, a bike run to four of the area’s veteran’s memorials.

I had never been around one of these bike runs—I’ve heard about them—so it was exciting to see all the bikes with their multi-hued frames and the colorful characters who were riding them. Again, the bikers chipped in funds to participate in this event with the proceeds going for the Purple Heart Memorial.

Just prior to the run, PJ Staab invited us to meet his Aunt Catherine, the last of the World War II era Staab generation. We of course said, “Yes,” and followed PJ upstairs to visit with Aunt Catherine for a while. And what a delight! She’s seen the film twice and wanted to meet us.

Then it was off in a roar of engines to the veteran’s shrines, the first being the Oak Ridge Cemetery where the planned Purple Heart Memorial will be built. Also located at Oak Ridge is President Lincoln’s tomb as well as commemorative tributes to the men and women who fought and died in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. Michael E. O’Hara, Doc Cicala, Bob Cowles, Tom Jones and I made up a detail that placed a wreath on the Vietnam War Memorial.

I have never been a part of anything like the placing of the wreaths, so it was humbling to be a participant. Both Bob Cowles and Tom Jones have been instrumental in getting the Purple Heart Memorial project off the ground. Betty and I first met Bob Cowles, a US Army veteran of the Vietnam War, when he arranged for us to interview Tom Quigley for BRAVO! in 2010 at the Springfield VFW Post. Tom Jones, also a Vietnam Veteran and Navy Corpsman who served with Force Recon, is the author of the novel LOST SURVIVOR about an African-American’s journey to fight in Vietnam.

Left to right: Bob Cowles and Tom Jones. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

Left to right: Bob Cowles and Tom Jones.
Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

After placing the wreath at Oak Ridge, we proceeded to travel to the memorials at New Berlin, Spaulding and the National Veterans Cemetery at Camp Butler where we again placed wreaths at each location. We were treated to a poetry reading and to a trumpet rendition of “Taps.” Before departing Camp Butler, the crowd of bikers lined up and hugged and thanked each one of us for our service. It was intimate and humbling for each of us. For a generation of veterans who were pretty much shunned by their country, it is amazing, after 46 years, to be getting some thanks for what we did. We were young then, and wanted to do what was required, and we wanted to do it well.

We finished the day with another trip to Saputo’s, this time with PJ Staab and his lovely wife Ruth. For me it was sausage and peppers with a side of spaghetti. And they got the red sauce right.

Thanks to PJ Staab and the Staab Family, to Jessica McGee, to the Marine recruits who acted as ushers at the screening of the film, to the Hilton for our lodging and the Hoogland Center for the Arts for a screening venue, to all the folks who came to see BRAVO! and to Springfield with its wonderful memorials. And thanks to Carol Caldwell-Ewart and to the men of Bravo and their wives for traveling to participate in this special weekend.

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

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. For more information go to https://bravotheproject.com/buy-the-dvd/.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject/. It’s another way you can help spread the word about the film and what it is really like to fight in a war.