Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Posts Tagged ‘Shell Shock’

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

January 29, 2018

January 29–50 Years Gone

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

Fifty Years Ago—29 January 1968

Right before the siege began, a bunch of new Marines arrived to beef up Bravo Company to nearly its full complement of warriors. One of those Marines was a staff sergeant whose real name I never knew. Upon his arrival, he spent a large portion of his supervisory time hard-assing all of us who had been with the company a while.

What rankled a lot was the fact that most of his Marine Corps service was as a reservist, so when he came down the trench line kvetching at us for not filling sandbags fast enough or for too much jiving around, we waited until he moved on before muttering about “Mr. Macho Gung-ho Green Machine Maggot,” or badmouthing him for being a “weekend warrior.”

The man talked trash and bragged that he could kick our asses and do serious damage to the NVA, too.

But it wasn’t long after January 21, eight days or so, when one of my buddies, Corporal A, came marching down the trench with news of Mr. Macho Gung-ho Green Machine Maggot. Corporal A had arrived at Bravo Company three or four days before me and we’d palled around some even though he was in Weapons Platoon (his killing specialty was rockets).

A stark image of the damage war can do. Photo courtesy of Mac McNeely.

Corporal A was a pretty quiet guy who wasn’t given to overemphasis, so it was a great surprise when he came dancing down the line, a big smile on his face.

He yelled at me, “Rodgers, he’s gone.”

“Who’s gone?”

“Staff Sergeant Macho Gung-ho.”

I said, “Already? Did he get hit?”

“Naw, man, he lost it.”

“Lost it?” Right then I felt a little surge rocket up through my legs.

“Yeah. He went total dinky-dow.”

Right then, a notion leapt into my mind that here we were, the men of Bravo, privates and privates first class, lance corporals and corporals—what we often called the “Snuffy Smiths” of the Corps—and none of us had gone total dinky-dow. (Dinky-dow is the American bastardization of the Vietnamese dien cai dao which roughly translates as “crazy.”)

In my mind, I could see Staff Sergeant Macho Gung-ho Green Machine, his face the color of blood as he hard-assed us for some stupid stateside Jarhead idea that he thought accounted for something in the trenches, and how we’d bitten our bottom lips so as not to tell him exactly what we thought.

I mused out loud, “Dinky-dow, hunh?”

Corporal A surprised me when he jumped up and down and yelled, “Hell, yeah, just like this,” before dropping down on his hands and knees, digging in the bottom of the trench like a dog attacking a gopher hole, then howling and barking like said canine.

“Aw, hell, I don’t believe that,” I scoffed.

He jumped up and said, “No, Rodgers, I saw it, after that last little barrage of 122-millimeter rockets came in and hit behind the open space up by 2nd Platoon’s command post. He was ordering me and the rest of my rocket team to make sure our gear was squared away when those rounds came in and scared the hell out of all of us. Then he started running back and forth in the trench with a face that looked like it had been stretched in seven different directions. Then he dropped down and started digging like a dog and barking.”

At the time, I didn’t feel sorry for Staff Sergeant Macho Gung-ho Green Machine. I felt . . . I felt vindicated, proud. I might have stuck my chest out. We didn’t like that Marine and he hadn’t been too smart about how he treated all us old salts, so his breakdown made me proud. I think it made Corporal A and the men in my fireteam and any other “Snuffy” who had experienced the distinct displeasure of one of his butt-chewings proud. We held up. We could stand up to the fury. We were the real Mr. Macho Gung-ho Marines.

I don’t know what happened to Staff Sergeant Gung-ho Green Machine, but I do know I never saw him again.

Of course, later, as the Siege drug on, I had my moments where I came close to losing it, although I never lost it as bad as that staff sergeant.

That Marine didn’t last long before the mental aspects of incoming got to him. Over the succeeding years, many of the rest of us ended up exhibiting our own symptoms of what has been called over the decades, “Soldier’s Heart, Shell Shock, Battle Fatigue and PTSD” as the effects of warfare picked and whittled at our attempts to be the young men we had been before it all began.

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

At Khe Sanh We were macho and we were tough. Emotionally fragile yet for the most part also supple, we survived the direct onslaught of mental effects that combat bestows upon those who survive. Yet the siege made us brittle, too, and deep down some of us shattered, went “Dinky-dow” on some level. Some of us sooner than later. And like Staff Sergeant Macho Gung-ho, some not just on the inside where most of us stuff our feelings about the war, but on the outside: prison, jail, alcoholism, suicide, insanity.

One of the things I pride myself most on in surviving the Siege of Khe Sanh is how I, for the most part, held myself together in the face of maiming, death and the constant pressure of fear. But as I said, I had my moments of being “dinky dow,” too, and sometimes (for decades) I wondered if the Siege of Khe Sanh would ever let me be.

Now, fifty years later, I don’t feel compelled to judge the staff sergeant so severely. War and fear take a heavy toll on all of us, leaders and “Snuffies” alike.

***

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,Film Screenings

February 11, 2015

On Warriors’ Hearts and Body Burning Details

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

On today’s date in 1968 at Khe Sanh, four men were killed as a result of enemy incoming. None of the men were in Bravo Company, 1/26, but as I read the names of the KIAs I am once again saddened by all those lives lost at that conflict.

That sadness leads me to think about what remains now, some forty-seven years after. Memories remain, and the names on The Wall, and for us who still live, the remnants of death and mayhem haunt us.

For example, at the end of January, Betty and I journeyed to the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada, where I ran into Vietnam veteran Bill Jones. Bill is well known at the Elko gathering for his cowboy poems, but he is also well known for his poems about his experiences as a United States Marine in Vietnam.

Bill, along with the late rancher and cowboy Rod McQueary, also a Vietnam vet, wrote a book of poems titled Blood Trails. The poetry in some of Bill’s titles, such as “The Body Burning Detail” and “Heathen Killer,” will sing a haunting memory to veterans. I am going to take the liberty of quoting a few of Bill’s lines here:

From “The Body Burning Detail:”

Twenty-five years later
They burn still.
Across sense and time
The faint unwelcome odor
Rises in odd places.
With a load of leaves
At the city dump
A floating wisp of smoke
From the burning soldiers
Mingles with the stench
Of household garbage.

And From “Heathen Killer:”

Sky Hawks and Phantoms
Climb almost straight up,
Dive and circle,
Drop tumbling silver
Cannisters of jellied fire
That flash in the sun.
We cheer the more spectacular
Rolling orange mushrooms;
The Greatest Show on Earth.
“This,” says Chief,
“Is one crazy white man’s war.”

Bill Jones is a neat and quiet man, polite and unassuming, yet in my visits with him about our mutual combat experiences, I can see in his eyes and hear in his voice the remains of battle. It resides there, PTSD I suppose, and something more, a sadness, a regret, and a hint of the bonds of brotherhood that tied so many of us together during our stints manning the lines, humping the bush, battling the North Vietnamese. The ties that still bind us. You can find Bill and Rod McQueary’s Blood Trails at http://www.abebooks.com/book-search/author/bill-jones-and-rod-mcqueary/.

Those of us who have fought in combat recognize these maladies that have haunted mankind since the beginning of war in our ancient mankind iterations; Soldier’s Heart and Shell Shock, Battle Fatigue and PTSD and Moral Injury.

Also while Betty and I were in Elko, we had the privilege of viewing a documentary film about Native American warriors and how they deal with the wounds of war, the kind that cannot be seen, the kind that are only manifest in the state of the spirit, the depths of the soul.

The title of the film is Healing the Warrior’s Heart and it was created by Taki Telonidis of the Western Folklife Center. Taki knows a number of Native American warriors and has produced a very informative documentary about how some of our native people help with (and they have dealt with these issues for centuries) the wounded warriors in their societies.

The film focuses on men and women warriors from the Blackfeet and Ute tribes, offering a close look at how the tribes deal with issues such as PTSD. Their methods differ quite radically from what the VA and associated organizations typically prescribe for this malady. I will not go into details of the film’s revelations; you can view the entire movie here, on YouTube, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uIuPPSz6gL0. Take the time to check it out; it’s informative and well made.

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

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

What I will say about this film is how I like the notion put forth that a tribe, a clan, a society has a warrior class that is called upon to defend the population of that tribe, clan, society. Furthermore, this notion postulates that the society owns an ongoing responsibility to those who serve in this way, to heal the warriors’ negative reactions to combat and to afford them an ever-present deep respect after they choose to make the journey into war. This idea is endemic with Native American tribes and their methods of dealing with returning warriors seems to be catching the attention of the VA and other warrior related organizations. Again, check it out.

On the screening front:

Mark your calendars for a fundraising screening in Casa Grande, Arizona, on February 15, 2015, at the historic Paramount Theatre. We are delighted to announce that Bravo Company’s Ken Korkow, a Navy Cross recipient and resident of Nebraska, will attend the event with his wife, Liz. Doors open at Noon, lunch served at 1:00 PM, screening of BRAVO! to follow at 2:00 PM. Ticket cost: $15.00 advance purchase or at the door. Proceeds will benefit the Mobile Veterans Outreach Center and Emergency Veterans Services in Pinal County.

On March 30, 2015, BRAVO! will be screened at the Egyptian Theater in Boise Idaho. Doors open at 6:00 PM. Program begins at 6:45 PM. Following the screening there will be a panel discussion moderated by Boise author extraordinaire, Alan Heathcock. The panel discussion will include veterans, some of whom are in the film. Proceeds will benefit the Idaho Veterans’ Network and Veterans’ Treatment Courts. Tickets are available online from the Egyptian Theater here.

Additional Idaho screenings to support the Veterans’ Courts and the Idaho Veterans’ Network will be held in Lewiston, Idaho, on March 27, 2015, time and location to be determined; Twin Falls, Idaho, on March 31, 2015, at the College of Southern Idaho’s Fine Arts Building, time yet to be determined; Caldwell, Idaho, on April 1, 2015, at College of Idaho’s Langroise Recital Hall, 6:45 PM; and in Pocatello, Idaho, at a time yet to be determined.

If you or your organization would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town this coming spring or 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/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 to stay up on our news and help raise more public awareness of this film.