Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Posts Tagged ‘Robert Ellison’

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

March 6, 2018

March 6—50 Years Gone

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In late February and on the 1st Day of March, 1968, the NVA massed at least a regiment out to our front with the intention of overrunning the Khe Sanh Combat Base.

Deep down in our guts, where the kind of knowledge resides that keeps you alive—not the information we learn later in life, but the intuitive stuff that dwells in our guts from our early ages—we knew they were out there and that they meant to kill or imprison us all. Knowing that turned us into salty, irreverent and determined men. We cleaned and loaded our M16s, our M60s, our M79s and waited for death to show his face.

Lucky for us, B-52 raids and heavy artillery attacks on the massing enemy forces blunted the impending assault.

Ron Ryan, KIA 6March68. Photo courtesy of Michael E. O’Hara.

Even though we never had to face crack NVA sappers breaching our concertina wire barriers during the 77 day seige, the consistent pounding of the incoming rounds and the threat of more attacks wore on us like big-gritted sandpaper rasping on soft wood.

On March 6th, a C-130 with the call sign BOOKIE 762 flew to Khe Sanh from Danang with a load of Marines, Navy Corpsmen and the freelance photographer Robert Ellison whose photos of the Siege of Khe Sanh became famous and who we’ve written about before in this blog series.

A near mishap with another aircraft forced BOOKIE 762 to abort its landing. The C-130 flew away from the combat base and crashed into a fog-enshrouded mountain, killing all aboard.

Stretchers at Khe Sanh. Photo by Dave Powell.

There were at least five Marines from Bravo, 1/26 on that flight, most returning from R & R. There were also a number of PFCs listed as being with H & S Company, 1/26, some of whom I am sure were new guys bound for Bravo Company as replacements for the casualties of the Ghost Patrol.

There were two men on that flight that I knew or knew of: the photographer, Ellison, and Corporal Ron Ryan, a machine gun team leader who had been with Bravo since the fall of ’67.

When people you know, and people you are related to by virtue of being in the same company, die, the realization that they will not be coming back gets up on your shoulders and weighs you down, and when the deaths accumulate, the accumulated burden debilitates more and more and more.

When I think of those deaths now, fifty years later, the thoughts still dredge up images of those Khe Sanh days, reminding me of the stacks of stretchers we would see outside the battalion aid station or Charlie Med.

The American poet, Dorianne Laux has written, “No matter what the grief, its weight,/we are obliged to carry it.”*

And with the added burden of the deaths of the men on BOOKIE 762, our grief, its weight, drove us down down down further into the depths of despair. And as the verse says, we were definitely bound to bear the weight. Which we did. Which we do.

When the word came down of the wreck of that plane, a bunch of us were standing in the trench jiving around, and “shooting the moose,” as I recall it. And then we were informed of the deaths—more deaths—and it was like there was no end to death and there would be no end and we were there to receive it and see it and deal with it.

We choked on the words stuffed down our throats, wanting to let them out. But they were trapped inside. All of us sucked long, hard drags on a Lucky, a Winston or a Salem and stared at the red mud deck, the chiseled red walls of the trench. Our thoughts about those men, Ryan, and the others, shrouded us, left us wondering if we would be next. Would it be us?

Lance Corporal R, a former mortician’s assistant from Albany, Georgia, with whom I had served in Bravo Company for almost a year, looked at me and shook his head.

A genuine wit and one of the great homespun philosophers with whom I have ever come in contact, he shook his head again and whispered to me, “Lord, don’t you know it’s a terrible thing.”

He paused, and from experience I knew he had more to say on the subject. He looked me dead in the eye for what seemed like a long time—his eyes seemed bigger than normal, their whites like lighted flares in the night—and then he said, “Better them than me.”

Blogger Ken Rodgers at Khe Sanh prior to the beginning of the siege. Photo courtesy of Michael E. O’Hara.

The brutal honesty of that saying, that moment, bored right down inside my guts and made me stop and ask myself what the hell I thought I was doing in Khe Sanh, the Marine Corps. Was a world so brutal as what we found at Khe Sanh something I wanted to be part of?

And even though I realized I agreed with him, and secretly reveled in my survival, I still felt some kind of guilt, some kind of loss, because those men would not be coming back to us—their family in Vietnam—nor would they go back to hug their mothers and their sisters, their wives and girlfriends.

And there was a passel of grief tied up in the notions that bombarded me as I kept thinking of those men, thinking of Lance Corporal R’s words, feeling guilty because I was alive.

And the grief weighed down and I am obliged to carry it—even now.

*Dorianne Laux, “For the Sake of Strangers,” from her book of poems, WHAT WE CARRY.

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

February 25, 2018

The Ghost Patrol—Fifty Years Gone

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3rd and 1st Platoons of Bravo Company, 1/26 walked into two ambushes that decimated 3rd Platoon and a little later, part of 1st Platoon while it moved to reinforce 3rd Platoon. The event remains one of the most horrifying of my memories of that long and terrible siege.

Prior to this date, back in 1968, Bravo Company ran patrols out on the south and east sides of Khe Sanh without much action, and it was a surprise when 3rd Platoon marched into the initial ambush that morning.

The patrol is well documented in books and films, and the action’s memories haunt the Marines and Navy Corpsmen who managed to work their way back to the combat base. For some of the men, it took hours to get back. Some don’t really recall coming back. It is a horror story. The few Marines I recall seeing and talking with that day looked at me with eyes haunted by the terrors of that fire fight.

For us, back in the base, the news about the debacle out in the field came through radio communications. If one stood radio watch, he heard the sad and frightening blow-by-blow account through the frantic calls of radio operators on site. We also got the news from the sounds of warfare out to our front.

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

It was misty that day, as it was on many days at Khe Sanh, but that didn’t deter the report of explosions and small arms fire that flew at us from out of the field.

We sat and waited and wondered if we would go out to relieve them. Several squads from our platoon, 2nd Platoon, mustered and saddled up and made way to the gate near the trash dump, and awaited orders to go out and help the Marines trapped in those ambushes.

Not picked to go out, I received orders to man a portion of the trench where our platoon was billeted. Instead of Marines in fighting holes all over the place, large gaps appeared between our manned positions. I recall thinking that if the NVA came at us right then and breached the concertina barrier, we were all, as the saying goes, “toast.”

That scared me. I recall Corporal A, who arrived at Bravo Company about the same time I did, being in charge of those of us manning the lines, and it was a great comfort to me when I heard the scuff of his boots in the red mud. I wasn’t alone.

Later, the Marines of 2nd Platoon who had been ordered to stand by to go out in the field began filtering back into our positions with wild tales of incoming pinning them down as they tried to move out the gate. They also cussed the higher-ups who put out the incomprehensible word that any relief for those wounded and dying Marines out there would not come to pass. Orders came down—some opinions I’ve heard and read attribute the orders to Lyndon B. Johnson, president at the time—for us to remain inside the combat base. We abandoned those men.

The stories that followed ate the inside of my guts, and that sensation remains with me today.

It took almost two months for the remains of those brave and forsaken men to be retrieved.

I recall, late on this date, fifty years ago, sitting in the trench with a Marine, Lance Corporal W, whom I knew from 3rd Platoon. A Native-American, he’d participated and lived through most of the combat action that Bravo Company had seen. He told me about what happened out there. About the death of 2nd Lieutenant Don Jacques, platoon commander of 3rd Platoon, about the ambush, and how he and others had carried the body of Lt. Jacques back. When he talked about bodies and wounds, the gunfire and death, I shivered.

Forty years later, when I first heard the fire fight of February 25th termed Ghost Patrol, I thought of cheesy movies and found the glib nature of the name offensive. But over the years, I’ve gotten used to it. I think it very appropriate, because the ghosts of those men keep appearing in my memory.

The ghosts show up in the families of the fallen, too. Last year I came in contact with a brother of one of the men who died on that patrol. He is haunted by the recollections of his brother back when they were young, and when his brother joined the Marines and went off for adventure and to do what generations of 20th Century America did: Joined up and fought. And what remains for him and for all of us, is the ghost, the ghosts.

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

The men of the Ghost Patrol are now just names to most people but the images of them lying in bomb craters with red water in the bottom, waiting for us to save them inhabit my being.

The ghosts often show up in my dreams. Together we man a trench in a night so dark it is almost impossible to see. I hear them breathing, the sound of dungarees swishing with motion, the clink and clack of weapons. And occasionally, I see some light, maybe the moon, the stars, or a flare, reflecting off the whites of their eyes.

And it haunts me.


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

February 21, 2018

February 21, 1968—Fifty Years Gone

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A lot of the great followers of BRAVO! have become personal friends, too. Back when we first dreamed of making a film, Lance and Pam Thompson became some of our initial mentors and have been supporters for years. Recently they gifted me a beautiful book of narrative and photographs titled REQUIEM centered on the work of all the photographers who were killed or went missing in the Indo-China, Vietnam and Cambodian wars of the mid-twentieth century.

One of the first photos I found as I thumbed through the striking pictures was a portrait of Robert Ellison who snapped a lot of photos of Bravo Company during the siege before his untimely death on a flight into Khe Sanh on the 6th of March, 1968.

Jarheads like me often sat around the trench aware that Ellison might sneak up and photograph one of us and if you were lucky enough for that to happen, you wanted to appear most vigilant, squared away, warlike, masculine. I doubt he was interested in capturing any image except what was to him, the emotional truth of a moment, the ragged determination, the fright, the courage the defenders of Khe Sanh exhibited.

Marines of Bravo Company, 1/26, on February 25, 1968. Photo by Robert Ellison. Used with permission.

We saw him often, in the trench with his camera, trying to be insignificant. But he knew his job was to portray the reality of war and so he willingly appeared at moments the grunts in the trenches tried to avoid such as the ammo dump going up in red and orange flame on 21 January, a trench full of very frightened men trying not to be pulverized by incoming 152 MM artillery rounds, the ambushed Marines of the Ghost Patrol. It was his job to show the world the ugliness of war in a stark and beautiful way.

My most memorable experience with him was on a day about a month into the siege when the base was taking an awful pounding from the NVA. When that happened—round after round after round of small stuff and big stuff and everything in-between shaking our world—I looked for a place to hide and so did most of the other Marines with whom I served.

We tried to get small. We tried to get away, but there was none of that—getting away. On the day in question, I sat in a bunker, back against a wall. On my left, the trenchline to the north, on my right, the trenchline to the south, and to my front, the trench itself passing right through the bunker where I sat.

I had my knees up against my chest and my head down on my knees, and I flinched with every explosion, and I bounced from the impact of the big ones that landed close and I…I don’t know if I can explain how it feels to be overwhelmed with the fear that all that artillery delivers along with the concussion and shrapnel and roar.

I do know that on that day, I sank deeper and deeper into an abyss. In reality, there was no escaping the physical aspects, the screams and the chaos, the men you knew were probably dying. No escape unless you could hide somewhere inside the mind.

Enduring the barrages allowed agony to creep into the small parts of your body, liver and lungs, vessels and veins, cells, molecules. It was physical input, what was happening outside, feeding what you were on the inside—the great and the ignominious.

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

I recall it well, after fifty years. My mind hightailed it away from my body. I could see myself not just sitting on my butt in the damp red mud, but also walking on a tightrope, or maybe a roof peak. On my left was insanity. On my right, sanity but with a caveat that outside, the end of the world as I knew it stalked. I was confused and didn’t know whether to jump to the left, to the side that whispered to me of safety (and some sort of insanity), or to the right, into the outside, the known, the specter of death, or maybe a leg gone, or an arm. No eyes, no jaw.

Lucky for me, I heard the snap of a camera shutter which drew me out of my mind, my fear. I looked to my right and there knelt Robert Ellison, taking photos of me.

I think I had mixed emotions. He had found me in a battle inside my mind, maybe at one of my worst moments at Khe Sanh, maybe the worst moment of my life. I was vulnerable, exposed, caught in the act of battling cowardice. (You couldn’t afford to be a coward there. Peer pressure would gobble you up, not to mention the guilt that would ride your back, spurring you like a devilish master for the rest of your life.) But I also understood that his intervention in my moment of doubt probably saved me from going crazy. And that has earned him my undying thanks.


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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.

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

May 1, 2015

After the Siege

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The Siege of Khe Sanh ended for me the moment I got on a CH-46 and flew to Dong Ha. As far as I can recall, that happened around April 4, 1968. As the big bird swooped off, I looked back at Khe Sanh and began to let the notion that I had survived soak into my soul. I was gone.

I hopped flights from Dong Ha to Phu Bai to Danang to Okinawa to El Toro and finally to Arizona on April 11. No more killing. No more hiding in a hole. No more whiz bang smash crash kaboom from incoming; except in my dreams.

As I traveled from the war to home and then from bar to bar to bar in the United States, I fought like hell any attempts to wonder about what was going on at Khe Sanh. I read the papers every morning and read the daily death tolls but I had already managed to jam a metaphorical arm’s length between the Khe Sanh Combat Base and me.

The last few days in Khe Sanh I’d promised Alvarado that I’d contact his uncle as soon as I returned and I promised Jake the Snake I’d send him a fifth of Chivas Regal and I suspect I promised a lot of other things to the men I fought with. But as soon as my legs steadied on the tarmac at El Toro, I let all the promises drain out of me along with a ton of the tension that tied my neck in knots.

I immersed myself in the glory of home, my buddies, the alcohol, and the women, not that I could get close to them or anyone, family or otherwise. But I tried to forget it all and I for sure didn’t wonder what was happening at Khe Sanh.
For me it was kaput, finis, dead, over.

American warrior on Hill 471.

American warrior on Hill 471.

But it wasn’t. Men were still being killed and maimed at my old homestead. Besides the warriors still trapped inside the combat base and surrounding hills, elements of the 1st and 3rd Marine Regiments and the United States Army’s 1st Air Cav, in what was named Operation Pegasus, were driving up Route 9 in an attempt to relieve Khe Sanh.

On April 6 while I was in Phu Bai turning in my gear at the battalion rear, Marines and Corpsmen from Bravo 1/26 and Delta 1/26 went out on a patrol and picked up the remaining bodies of the Bravo Company men who were killed on February 25.
On April 6 through April 8, Marines from 2/26 were moving off of Hill 558 to drive the enemy from the field and were engaged in three days of vicious combat.

On April 13, two days after I got home, Felix Poilane, the French national whose family owned one of the coffee plantations at Khe Sanh, was killed in a plane crash while coming back to Khe Sanh. That day, I was already running around with my old college roommate drinking cases of Coors.

On April 14, Operation Pegasus was complete and Operation Scotland II began, and the main breakout by the Marines of Khe Sanh started.

In Operation Scotland II, elements of the 26th and 9th Marines began to drive into the surrounding country and maul the North Vietnamese Army. 1/9 hit Hill 689. Marines from 3/26 assaulted Hill 881-N, which had always been a symbol of the North Vietnamese Army’s ability to battle toe-to-toe with us.

While all this fighting was going on, I was boozing it up on Cinco de Mayo in Nogales, Mexico, and traveling to Phoenix to hang out in honkytonks. Then I was with 5th Battalion Recon at Camp Horno, and all the time, for me, Khe Sanh was over.
Later, while I was rappelling on San Clemente Island and running along the beach at Camp Pendleton, the Marines were still fighting and dying at Khe Sanh.

On June 18, Operation Charlie began with the abandonment of the Khe Sanh Combat Base a primary goal. To get this job done, more Marines died. Khe Sanh was destroyed by our own forces.

On October 9, 1968, a ceremony was held at Khe Sanh—or more specific, the base’s remains—to memorialize the men who died defending the place. By the time of the Khe Sanh ceremony in October, I had been transferred to San Diego to begin a year of . . . even though I was still a Marine . . . living somewhat like a civilian.

After the Siege ended, over 600 Marines, Army, Navy and Air Force personnel perished in Operations Pegasus, Scotland II and Charlie. That number is much larger than the number of men who died during the Siege itself.

To be honest, in the back of my mind, while I lived my stateside life, I knew men were dying over there. But I was trying to stuff all those thoughts and the memories they led to. But some encounters made it impossible to hide from the recollections of my time at Khe Sanh.

Casualties on Hill 689.

Casualties on Hill 689.

For instance, one of the men I served with as a radio operator at Khe Sanh was stationed with me at San Diego. We had shared a bunker for over a month during the Siege. In San Diego we never spoke of our time in Vietnam. I suspect he was doing the same thing I was, trying to bury the recent past. But every time I looked in his face, his weary eyes talked to me about the days and nights spent cooped up like rats, the times we went outside the wire and assaulted NVA trenchlines.

I was also stationed with a Marine who was an engineer with the unit that blew up the Combat Base during Operation Charlie. One night he described to me the action, explosion by explosion. It all made me sick with disgust.

All those men who had died before, during, and after the Siege . . . thinking of them made me think, what a waste. Those brave and frightened men who died during the relief and the breakout, men of the 1st, 3rd, 4th, 9th, 11th, 12th, 13th and 26th Marines, 3rd Recon, and associated support units, pilots and flight crews. Seabees and Corpsmen and pilots and air crews from the Navy, pilots and air crews with the Air Force, pilots, air crews, special forces and ground-pounders with the United States Army. People like the photographer Robert Ellison, killed while serving as a civilian photojournalist. All the ARVNS and the local Bru montagnards who fought with us and died. Yes, it all made me sick with disgust.

I think a lot of fellow Vietnam veterans still battle memories of their time in Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s. For their sake, I hope the sacrifices made on both sides accomplished something beyond the death and despair.

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

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Guest Blogs

June 27, 2011

Part III

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Co-Producer Betty Rodgers continues comments on the creation of the movie Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor.

And then, serendipity stepped in…the delicate thread that weaves a web we could never have conceived.  After returning home from Washington, DC, and cataloguing all our materials, Ken and I went to visit our son and his family before Christmas of 2010.  His hometown newspaper, the Casa Grande Dispatch, published an article on Ken and Bravo!, and old acquaintances commented how they were eager for the film because they’d finally get to know the story of Ken’s experience.  He had never talked about the war after returning home.

It so happened that the Associated Press picked up the story, and it was published in several Arizona newspapers. At the same time, a sound and picture editor from northern California visited his daughter in Tucson.  He, John Nutt, and his wife Ann saw the article, and Ann suggested that John contact us and offer to help with Bravo!.  He was reluctant because he said it appeared the project was nearly complete.  Ann persisted and one day our phone rang. The caller said he was looking for Ken Rodgers the filmmaker.  It was John, who explained he was a Vietnam Veteran and had worked in film for 40 years.  He was interested in working with us, and we discovered his credentials were impressive.

While considering John’s offer, Sharon Larson of Larson Sound here in Idaho worked with us on all our audio recordings, cleaning them up and making them more intelligible where needed.  Sharon has been another “You can do it” cheerleader and referral source from the first time we met.

We took a little time to respond to John’s offer because we were considering local editors, and working with John would be a long-distance affair.  But we went to meet him, and that was the beginning of a thrilling and eye-opening adventure.  This was a man who believed so deeply in giving voice to these 15 survivors that he has lived and breathed their story for months, patiently guiding and teaching us along the way.  We are able to work with him closely thanks to telephone, email, and Federal Express/UPS.  The first rough cut was a revelation.  We were stunned by John’s insight and mastery of this story that speaks for all veterans, and at his ability to move it into the dimension of film with the materials we had provided.

We invited a few folks over to view the first rough cut with us, eager for their reactions and feedback.  Their response was strong validation…two thumbs-up from all. 

Backing up a bit, after our interview with Bravo Company Marine  Steve Wiese, Steve found some old cassette tapes in his mother’s belongings.  Come to find out, she had sent him tapes while he was at Khe Sanh, and he had recorded daily life in the trenches.  Steve thought she had taped over his recordings long ago, but no, they were still intact.  Very clear were the sounds and experiences of Bravo Company, as true and authentic as one could hope for.  It was an incredible find.  When he contacted Ken about whether of not we could use them, there was no hesitation in our positive response.

We also did some research on two very famous photographers who were at Khe Sanh, Robert Ellison and David Douglas Duncan.  Ken remembered Mr. Ellison taking his picture at least twice, and that he had perished in the crash of a C-123 at Khe Sanh.  We tracked down his work, did not find images of Ken, but did find images of Bravo Company during the siege.  They are held by an agency, and we are deciding how many of them to purchase licenses for.

David Douglas Duncan is still alive.  He is 95 years old and lives in southern France.  His body of work is held at the University of Texas.  We wish to use 4 of his images.  The procedure was to compose our request to him in the form of a letter, fax the letter to the university, who in turn faxed it on to Mr. Duncan in France.  We did this, and about a week later, Mr. Duncan called to discuss our project.

First of all, as a fellow photographer, talking to a man of his stature was such a privilege.  He is lively and wise, and asked many questions, among which was, “Where was your husband’s company located at the Khe Sanh Combat Base?”  When I said, “Next to the ammo dump,” there was a long pause, and then he said, “Oh my God.”  (This huge store of ammunition was targeted and blown up by the NVA.)  More questions, and a discussion about his latest book to be published soon, all images taken with a Nikon COOLPIX point-and-shoot.  Then he said, “I approve the use of these photos,” and this remarkable conversation was over.  Now we are working with the university to purchase licenses for those images.

The magical thread takes us to another remarkable person, a friend of John’s, Christopher Beaver. John showed Chris, an award-winning and passionate documentary filmmaker, the first rough cut to get his reaction.  He offered to speak with us, and told us we had a very important film, to take our time and not rush into things, to submit it to film festivals, and allow it to take on its own life.  Here, in Chris’ words:

“Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor is an important and deeply affecting film about the sacrifices and the courage of the Americans who fought in Vietnam. The emotional message of the film is as timely today as when the first American troops entered Vietnam.

“After watching the film, I sat in a deep personal silence remembering the friends who returned from the war and those who did not.  I wanted to express my gratitude to the men in the film for sharing what they went through, to say to each one of them that after hearing their words and seeing their faces I better understood what they endured then and what they still endure today, and that I hoped in the future that together we might find a better path to follow than more warfare. 

“To participate in the creation of this film is to honor those who served in Vietnam and to help heal the wounds that remain from the war that took so many lives and so deeply divided our country.”

To participate today, please click on  With 4 days left, we have surpassed our goal of $3,000 but as you will read, there are many other expenses to fund.  Stay tuned for Part IV, “coming soon” as they say in the film business.

Betty Rodgers is a writer and photographer turned film maker. Along with her husband Ken, she is husbanding the movie, Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor, from beginning to end.