Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Posts Tagged ‘Pier 45’

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

April 9, 2014

After Action Report on Screenings at San Quentin and the SS Jeremiah O’Brien

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The cream-colored walls of San Quentin were shrouded in a cold mist as Betty, Associate Producer Carol Caldwell-Ewart and I arrived at the prison to screen BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR on Saturday, March 29, 2014.

The visitor parking lot was crammed with the vehicles of people who were lining up to get inside and visit prisoners incarcerated at San Quentin. As we waited our turn, we observed a steady stream of people going in and out, the sounds of bells and buzzers announcing things we did not understand.

As the sky drizzled a slow rain, we were greeted by Mary Donovan, Executive Director of Veterans Healing Veterans from the Inside Out, the organization that sponsored this screening. Mary does a lot of volunteer work with the veterans inside San Quentin.

At the gate an imposing guard barked out names of people who would not be allowed to go in for one reason or another. He wore a hooded jacket over his uniform and stared at each of us and our drivers’ licenses as we walked through. We were joined there at the gate by Vietnam War Marine Terry Hubert, the Vietnam Veterans of America’s chairman of the Veterans Incarcerated Committee. Terry has been and still is a big supporter of BRAVO!.

Hatch and Stairway into the Saloon at the SS Jeremiah O'Brien © Betty Rodgers 2014

Hatch and Stairway into the Saloon at the SS Jeremiah O’Brien
© Betty Rodgers 2014

Also joining us were Marine Steven Wiegert who served with Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines in Vietnam and Sunny Campbell, Lt. Colonel, USMCR Retired. Steven and Sunny spend a lot of time on the inside of San Quentin working with veterans, as well as other inmates. Also joining us was Rhonda Harris, a veteran who is—by providing housing assistance, higher education prospects and employment opportunities—instrumental in helping other veterans integrate into the mainstream society through an organization called The Veterans Resource Center.

We screened the film at the protestant chapel inside San Quentin and the facility had good audio/visual equipment and a proficient A/V Tech named Steve. The prisoners in these venues don’t volunteer anything other than their first names and we always feel there is a good reason for this, and not because I know what that might be, but because I can feel it in the tenor of the time and place. We never ask them what they “did” to get inside and it is really none of our business.

This is the second time we have shown BRAVO! inside a California state prison. A lot of people remark that surely the experience of screening inside a prison has more import or carries more gravitas than a screening outside a prison. I don’t think there is much difference. All screenings are unique. The one thing I can say about screenings with inmates in a correctional institution is that we, the filmmakers, receive well-thought-out questions and the viewers exhibit a lot of emotion. After some thought, I think this may come about as a result of the prison environment being a day-to-day war zone. These men know fear similar, I suppose, to what we experienced at the Siege of Khe Sanh.

L to R: Steve Wiese, Lou Kern, David Moragne and Ken Rodgers at the SS Jeremiah O'Brien © Betty Rodgers 2014

L to R: Steve Wiese, Lou Kern, David Moragne and Ken Rodgers at the SS Jeremiah O’Brien
© Betty Rodgers 2014

Folks often wonder why we would take our film into the prisons to show to the veterans, and Betty and I would say that even though these men (and women) have done things that earned them a prison sentence, that fact cannot, in our opinions, be allowed to detract from the service—especially the honorable service—they have given their country.

Another big OOORAH to Marine Brenton MacKinnon for all the work he did to bring this screening about.

After leaving San Quentin, we (including Carol Caldwell-Ewart) met with BRAVO! Marine Steve Wiese and his wife Deborah for dinner and talked about the screening that was to happen the next evening, March 30, aboard the SS Jeremiah O’Brien at Pier 45, Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco.

Associate Producer Carol Caldwell-Ewart manning the table. © Betty Rodgers 2014

Associate Producer Carol Caldwell-Ewart manning the table.
© Betty Rodgers 2014

March 30 is a banner day for the Marines of BRAVO!. It was the date of the Payback Patrol that plays a large part in the lore surrounding the film, and is also Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day.

A large crowd of friends, family, veterans, volunteers and supporters made their way to the dock, up the ship’s gangway, through a hatch and down another gangway into the saloon amidships where the event took place. Many of the folks wound their way through the museum and other areas of the ship before things got started. Over 150 folks viewed this screening in a genuine nautical environ (one of two surviving World War II Liberty ships) that added ambience to what was being depicted on the screen.

After the screening, BRAVO! Marines Steve Wiese and Ken Rodgers joined with Marines Lou Kern and David Moragne, as well as BRAVO!’s film editor John Nutt (also a Vietnam veteran) for a lively Q & A with the audience. Lou and David were with Force Recon at the Khe Sanh Combat Base during the Siege. Moderating the Q & A as well as acting as Emcee for the evening was Tom Croft from Santa Rosa, CA. Tom was a United States Navy dental tech in Vietnam. He worked on Marines’ teeth during the day and then treated wounded Marines at night as a Corpsman.

The Jeremiah O’Brien screening would not have been possible without the efforts of our nephew, Troy Campbell, who is the Executive Director of the Fisherman’s Wharf Community Benefit District, and Eliz Anderson, Office Manager, Corporate Secretary and benevolent angel of the SS Jeremiah O’Brien. We also want to thank the captain of the ship, Patrick Moloney, and all the ship’s many volunteers for their efforts to make this event such a success.

View from the deck of the SS Jeremiah O'Brien © Betty Rodgers 2014

View from the deck of the SS Jeremiah O’Brien
© Betty Rodgers 2014

Thanks to Nick Bovis and Al Casciato of San Francisco’s historic Gold Dust Lounge for providing food for the evening, along with Eliz Anderson who donated cookies and beverages. And as always, a big OORAH to Carol Caldwell-Ewart for managing the myriad administrative tasks that always arise at each screening. Thanks, too, to Bon Mot PR, FX Crowly, Inc., Hancock Sea Squadron, and Holiday Inn Fisherman’s Wharf for helping make this event happen.

We met up with a lot of old friends at this, our first screening in San Francisco, and made some new ones, too, which is always appreciated on our end. We feel that one or our primary duties with this film is to educate, but we also like to broaden our circle of friends.

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. For more information about purchasing BRAVO! DVDs, go to http://bit.ly/18Pgxe5.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject/. It’s another way we can spread the word about the film and the Vietnam War.

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

January 22, 2014

On January 21, 1968

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Yesterday I awoke early, when the dark still hung from the eaves and leered into my dreams like spirits of long-lost warriors. It was January 21, 2014. Most January 21sts are like that for me…an early awakening, an early rising, coffee and pondering January 21, 1968, the beginning of the Siege of Khe Sanh.

Here in Idaho it was dark and foggy and the stench of inversion settled into every crevice it could get its stinky fingers into. I thought about the men I served with and where they are now, if they are anywhere, and what they are doing and whether or not I am in contact with them. I thought about the day before the beginning of the Siege, and how it became clear to me that my experience in Vietnam was about to become more violent, and I thought about the night before as Puff the Magic Dragon spit curving arcs of red death at the NVA out in front of my bunker. I thought about the awful shock of being awakened around 5:30 AM on the 21st by a crescendo of terror that shook the ground, and frankly, shook me, too.

Still groggy from sleep, I got my gear and bolted into the trench, and light and fire and noise drove me into the bottom of the trench, on my face. Something thudded into my lower back below my flak jacket. My back and jungle dungarees sizzled and I smelled singed flesh and I wondered if I could move my legs. I started screaming, “I’m hit, I’m hit.”

Steve Foster, who was in my fireteam, scrambled over and began to laugh. Normally you would think that someone who would laugh at another man’s wounds was really weird but if you knew Foster, well… He scraped whatever was on my back and got his face close to my ear and said, “It’s only clods.” And then he laughed some more.

Ken Rodgers at Khe Sanh, Courtesy of the Estate of Dan Horton

I rose and went to my fighting hole and someone came by and ordered me into the machine gun bunker close by which was manned by wounded men, one with a huge gash in his shin and another with his face bandaged so he couldn’t open his mouth, and his arm in a sling. We watched outside for the enemy to overrun us, but they never came. The gas from the exploding ammo dump, which was close by, forced us to put on gas masks.

It wasn’t much better for the next seventy-seven days. And a lot of those days were worse than January 21, 1968.

For years I kept my memories of that day secret. Only I was allowed access to those terrifying moments that crept up my spine and stopped me in the middle of whatever I was doing. Nobody cared much about what happened to me at Khe Sanh unless they knew me well or were at the Siege or went through something similar. All of us Vietnam Vets were hibernating, I think, until it became cool to have been a veteran of the Vietnam conflict. As long as we let our memories sleep, we were almost the same as being gagged.

But now, the stories are rolling out of us like a river that has finally thawed. We are speaking and we are telling our story, about our war—not our fathers’ war, but our war—which in its own way was as nasty and deadly as any war fought any time or place.

Part of the story of Khe Sanh has been told by Betty and me in our film, BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR. It is not the only story, by any means, but it is my story and it is the story of the company of Marines I served with and in many ways it is a story that speaks for all Vietnam Veterans and maybe even veterans of other wars.

Marine and BRAVO! supporter extraordinaire Terry Hubert says that our job—Betty’s and mine—is to educate, and we hope that the film educates folks about what Vietnam Veterans went through and what it means to us now. There are messages in the film, it seems, that speak to some universal truths about conflict and humanity.

Part of the way we are educating America about the Vietnam War is by traveling around the country to give screenings. We are getting set to hit the road and travel to my home town of Casa Grande, Arizona, where we will screen the film in the historic Paramount Theatre on February 13 at 7:00 PM. In addition to educating folks, the proceeds from the screening of BRAVO! (entree fee is $10.00) will help fund the Pinal County Veterans Memorial.

If you are in the area, come by and catch a look at this powerful and poignant film. We’d really like to meet you, or get reacquainted if we have already met. You can find out more details about the Casa Grande screening at http://www.paramountfoundation.org/EVENTS.html.

On March 22, 2014, BRAVO! will be screened at VFW Post 1924 in Fallbrook, CA. BRAVO! Skipper Ken Pipes lives in the area and will be on hand along with Betty and me when we show up to screen the film. More details to come on this screening.

On March 29, 2014, BRAVO! is provisionally scheduled to screen for veterans incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison in Marin County, California. As soon as we know more, we will provide the information.

On March 30, Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day, we will be on board the SS Jeremiah O’Brien, The National Liberty Ship Memorial at Pier 45, Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, CA. The proceeds from this screening will benefit the SS Jeremiah O’Brien’s Memorial. Again, more details are to come.

Another way we are trying to educate the public about the Vietnam War is through the sale of DVDs. For more information about purchasing BRAVO! DVDs, go to http://bit.ly/18Pgxe5.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject/. It’s another way we can spread the word about the film and the Vietnam War.