Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Posts Tagged ‘The Basic School’

Documentary Film,Guest Blogs,Khe Sanh,Khe Sanh Veteran's Reunion,Marines,Veterans,Vietnam War

November 11, 2019

Vieil Ami

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Guest Blogger and BRAVO! Marine Michael E. O’Hara muses on the passage of time, war, the film and comrades in this blog for Veterans Day, 2019.

Fall 2019

Vieil Ami

When I first arrived in a place that would change my life and the lives of many others forever, it was October 1967. I made many friends, each unique in their own way.

We were Marines, charged with guarding a lonely outpost high in the Annamite Mountains in northwest South Vietnam. It is known as the backbone of Vietnam.

One of my new acquaintances, among many, was a young man from Casa Grande, Arizona. It was a while before we became close. Many nights we would test each other’s knowledge, mostly about history. But time and events would bring us all together. Brothers-in-arms is much more than a simple cliché.

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

Time would pass and eventually we all went our separate ways. Some forgot and most did not. For many years we all would relive, at least in the memories of our minds, the friends and events that had shaped each and every one of us. Everyone processed that experience differently.

It would be 25 years before I would see my good friend from Casa Grande once again. I would also be introduced to his beautiful wife. We would find ourselves gathering with all those friends from long ago in Washington, DC. It was the 4th of July, 1993, and Bravo Company 1st Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment had assembled once again. We would all descend on “The Wall” to touch the names and remember old comrades who never made it home to “The World.”

Although we stayed in touch over the next few years, it wasn’t until 2009 that he attended his next reunion. It was in Denver. I wasn’t planning on going that year until he called. I could tell he had something on his mind. He came to DC when I asked; I would go to Denver.

Denver was great. Lots of friends from Bravo were there. It would be the last time I saw Danny Horton before he passed. When I arrived, my friend from Casa Grande was there waiting for me to arrive. It was very emotional. Ken Rodgers has been a good friend my entire adult life and his beautiful wife Betty was just awe struck at the emotion we both shared that day over ten long years ago. Much has happened in that time. They have since visited our home twice. Betty and Maxine hit it off well and interestingly, Betty still keeps in touch with my daughters via FB. They all got along very well in DC in ‘93 and remain friends to this day.

But I was curious as to what Ken had on his mind when he called me. He never did really say. However, we were all sitting around a table sharing stories and Betty made the statement what a shame it would be if this was all lost, and someone should be writing it all down. I casually asked her what she was waiting on, not fully understanding what the two of them were thinking.

Within weeks after getting home, they had developed a plan. They were going to make a movie about Bravo Co at Khe Sanh in 1968. Most, not all, showed up in San Antonio next summer and Ken and Betty started filming interviews. For those, like Danny Horton, who couldn’t be there due to health concerns, they went on the road. One year later they debuted what would become one of the most profound war documentaries ever produced.

Bravo!
Common Men
Uncommon Valor

It has earned numerous accolades across the spectrum. It has also brought Ken and Betty great validation for their work. One of the great moments in my life was when Ken and Betty asked me to attend their awards ceremony at the Marine Corps Museum in the spring of 2016. They had received a prestigious award for their work by our peers in the USMC. It was a black tie formal event with more Marine Generals than I had ever seen in one place in my life. Ken and Betty were, as we say colloquially, “standing in tall cotton” and I could not have been happier for them. But he wasn’t going to forget his old friend, either.

Left to Right: Filmmakers Betty Rodgers, Ken Rodgers, and BRAVO! Marine Michael E. Ohara at the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation’s 2016 Awards Ceremony. Photo courtesy of Daniel Folz

He made sure the Lt. Gen. who was the emcee that evening asked for another Marine to stand for special recognition as a 3 Purple Heart survivor of the Siege of Khe Sanh. I have to tell you, it was the proudest day in my Marine life. Even my old friend and CMH recipient Harvey Barnum came over to congratulate me. It was a moment I will cherish forever.

As I stated previously, we all have processed our feelings about those emotionally charged days differently. It would seem “Bravo!” would become my good friend’s catharsis. He and Betty travelled all over the country screening their film at Legion halls, VFW posts, theaters, prisons, universities and more. Sometimes they found sponsorship, other times they just went. As the awards mounted, other folks began to seek them out.

The Commanding Generals of Marine bases found it a useful tool. One such event drew a very large crowd at Marine Corps base Camp Pendleton. Whenever possible, the men from Bravo themselves would show up and participate in after-action discussions. I made 2 such screenings myself in Springfield and Chicago, IL, and went with them to the Marine Basic School in Quantico, VA, where they trained young Marine Officers using Bravo! as a training tool.

They have been pursuing this for ten long years, and are now producing another documentary.

I will always be in touch with my dear friends who now call Boise their home. However, speaking for myself, I believe we are both getting past our need to process our experiences. As another old friend and fellow Vietnam vet likes to say “I’ve put that book back on the shelf.”

I cannot express how good it makes me feel to know that my good friend seems to finally be at peace with the life-changing events that brought us together so many years ago.

Guest blogger Michael E’ O’Hara. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers

Their film has also helped bring closure to our fellow Marines from Bravo and many other vets who have experienced the healing power of this magnificent piece of American history during the Vietnam War.

Although there are a few Marines from Bravo still living, Ken and I are the last of the 2nd platoon 3rd squad who have maintained contact throughout the years.

Toujours Fidele, Vieil Ami,
Michael E. O’Hara

Michael E. O’Hara served with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment before and during the Siege of Khe Sanh. Michael, the recipient of three Purple Heart Medals for his wounds while serving at Khe Sanh, is also one of the warriors interviewed for the film BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR.


DVDs of BRAVO! are available @ https://bravotheproject.com/store/

A digital version of BRAVO! is available in the US on Amazon Prime Video @ https://amzn.to/2Hzf6In.

In the United Kingdom, BRAVO! is available on Amazon Prime Video UK @ https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07BZKJXBM.

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

February 23, 2017

Reclaiming the Story

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I recently received two articles from friend and BRAVO! supporter Norma Jaeger about the power of story to help heal mental health issues. As I read the articles I was particularly struck by two notions.

One: The notion that we need to reclaim our stories—and by that I mean that the memories we have, whether they are related to combat or not, are somewhere in our minds—and by reclaiming them, rethinking them, telling them for the first time or relating them again, we allow ourselves to investigate how those stories are relevant to who we have become.

Two: Mention the unmentionable; dig down and remember those instances that are so horrible and so frightening that we want to hide them from ourselves. Quite often our failure to think about, relive, and analyze the unmentionable moments of our lives can lead to mental and/or physical issues that may be harmful.

Cal Bright

Cal Bright

The interesting thing is that when we try to hide the unmentionables from ourselves, they really don’t hide down there, dormant, obedient, submissive. They try their damnedest to worm their way out of the vault in which we attempt to lock them. They want out, they need to get out. Out, so we can examine them and discover what they really mean vis à vis the person we are now as well as the person we wish to become.

For Khe Sanh veterans it is the season of remembering. The particular time of year rolls around every January and sticks in our minds through the end of spring. For the various men who served during the siege there are ample examples of unmentionables that for years have been crammed and stuffed into the dark and inaccessible places of our memories.

John "Doc" Cicala

John “Doc” Cicala

Three days from now, on February 25, most Khe Sanh vets will recall—and in some cases mentally relive—a platoon-sized patrol outside the east end of the combat base. That event has come to be called “The Ghost Patrol.” The Marines of 3rd Platoon, Bravo Company, 1/26 and later 1st Platoon of the same outfit ran into a slaughter house of an ambush sprung by the North Vietnamese. The battle decimated the Marines and left them mired in the chaos of combat. They received little help from the combat base. They saved each other the best they could. Some were forced to save themselves, and in a number of cases, could not comprehend how they even managed to survive.

Now, forty-nine years later, that patrol…that ambush…has gained a sort of fame, so to speak, where the lessons learned by the warriors on both sides are now being taught to the incoming generation of new combatants.

According to Reverend Ray Stubbe’s publication titled PEBBLES IN MY BOOTS, VOLUME 4, the North Vietnamese Army uses the events of February 25th in their training on how to set up ambushes. And as Betty and I found out last spring while at Quantico to receive an award for BRAVO! from the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation, The Ghost Patrol is also the subject of a field problem during a class on Scouting and Patrolling in The Basic School which all officers in the Marine Corps attend before they are assigned to their initial deployments.

Peter Weiss

Peter Weiss

For those of us who endured or witnessed that sorry, sorry event, the magnitude of what happened in The Ghost Patrol is imprinted on our souls. But other people not involved in the death and mayhem, most of them not even alive in 1968, also saw—or see—value in remembering, in a kind of way, the events of that day.

And aside from instructional purposes, is there any other value in recalling what happened on February 25, 1968?

In BRAVO! three Marines, Cal Bright, Steve Wiese and Peter Weiss and one Navy Corpsman, John Cicala, talk about the events of that day. The pain and horror, the knife-edged realization that the memories remain as virulent now as they ever were, are etched all over their remembrance of The Ghost Patrol. Maybe the recollections are a little softened by time, but they are still capable of delivering an overdose of pain.

Steve Wiese

Steve Wiese

They reclaimed their stories. In the moments when I interviewed them, they told—they witnessed again—the horrors of that day. I can only imagine the courage it took for them to discuss events that even though decades old, could disrupt the calm demeanor these men normally carry. The moments they described—mentioning the unmentionable, the painful unmentionable, to one degree or another—bore on their faces like a map of the blasted land around Khe Sanh in 1968.

I am not a psychologist and don’t pretend to know much about how moral injury, PTSD and TBI affect us, but I believe that those four men, by revealing to us their memories about The Ghost Patrol, found some relief from the nagging images and the unpleasant reactions they suffer as a result of that infamous battle.

Marines on The Ghost Patrol.  Cal Bright on the left. Photo courtesy of Robert Ellison/Blackstar

Marines on The Ghost Patrol. Cal Bright on the left. Photo courtesy of Robert Ellison/Blackstar

And I think there is something in their examples for each of us to think about. Most combat veterans have experiences like The Ghost Patrol in one form or another, and a lot of the memories of those moments stay chilled in the recesses of their minds. And not just combat vets, but every one of us has things dwelling in our memories that we would rather not think about; things that fester there like splinters jammed deep beneath the skin. Like all things that fester, they can become toxic and dangerous, and as such we need to acknowledge them through talking to a friend, a counselor, writing them down, painting or drawing them in a picture, or reliving them in a documentary film so we can begin to put them in their proper place inside the framework of our lives.

Again, we should reclaim those memories instead of letting them simmer in the back of the mind. Let them become a vital and much less toxic part of who we have become. Retelling our tales, whether to a friend, in a poem, or to a mental health professional, allows us the opportunity to change the foreign into the recognizable. It makes that which remains unspoken into the verbalized and may very well allow us access to a new sense of awareness about our story and its relationship to our wellbeing. And that can’t do anything but help.

_______________________________

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,The Basic School at Quantico,Vietnam War

May 18, 2016

The Basic School at Quantico

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In the last BRAVO! blog we wrote briefly about a visit we made to The Basic School (TBS) at Camp Barrett on Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia.

While at the National Museum of the Marine Corps, BRAVO! Marine Michael O’Hara, his son-in-law Daniel Folz, Betty and I received an invitation from Marine Captain Joe Albano to come over to TBS and observe how Bravo Company’s ill-fated patrol of February 25, 1968 is currently being used to train Marine officers in the Scouting and Patrolling class. We were pretty excited about that, and surprised that they wanted to talk to us.

Aft the sand table at The Basic School. Left to right: Daniel Folz, Captain Josh White, Captain Jason Duehring, Ken Rodgers, Michael O'Hara,  Captain Joe Albano. Photo by Betty Rodgers

Aft the sand table at The Basic School. Left to right: Daniel Folz, Captain Josh White, Captain Jason Duehring, Ken Rodgers, Michael O’Hara, Captain Joe Albano. Photo by Betty Rodgers

Upon our arrival we were greeted by Captain Albano, TBS Commanding Officer Colonel Christian Wortman, and Captains Josh White and Jason Duehring, an impressive group of Marine Corps officers. Captains Albano, White and Duehring are instructors at TBS training the future leaders of the Marine Corps.

And we were not the only ones excited about the meeting, so were these young officers. They were excited to meet two Marines who had survived the Siege of Khe Sanh as well as some of the folks involved with the production of BRAVO!.

After our welcome, the captains took us to various classrooms where the Scouting and Patrolling Operations class is taught, including a visit to the sand tables where the new officers work out scouting and patrolling scenarios.

In the classroom. Left to Right: Captain Jason Duehring, Michael O'Hara, Ken Rodgers, Captain Joe Albano, Captain Josh White and Daniel Folz. Photo by Betty Rodges

In the classroom. Left to Right: Captain Jason Duehring, Michael O’Hara, Ken Rodgers, Captain Joe Albano, Captain Josh White and Daniel Folz. Photo by Betty Rodgers

From there, we went to a lecture hall where Captains Albano, White and Duehring talked about how they teach the class and how they researched and worked on the Case Study related to the events of February 25, 1968.

When we first walked into the room, we noticed the BRAVO! DVD was sitting on the table with the instructors’ materials, which was a nice surprise. Then Captain Albano gave us an abbreviated version of the class. What surprised and humbled us even more was learning that the captains included clips from our film as part of the lecture. And a lot of the clips aren’t specifically about February 25th, but more about introducing the new lieutenants to the humanity of the Marines and Navy Corpsman they will command in the future. The presentation included Bravo Company men talking about, among other things, combat and brotherhood and fear.

During Captain Albano’s lecture, the students are advised of the events surrounding the Ghost Patrol—as the events of February 25 are commonly referred to—and to the disposition of troops on the ground on the morning of that fateful day. Then, amid the Marines of BRAVO! talking to them with the sounds of war in the background, the instructors, in a suddenly chaotic classroom simulation, fire questions at the students asking how they are going to deal with threats that are killing their Marines.

On the way to The Hawk. Left to Right: Captain Joe Albano, Michael O'Hara, Daniel Folz, Ken Rodgers, Captain Josh White

On the way to The Hawk. Left to Right: Captain Joe Albano, Michael O’Hara, Daniel Folz, Ken Rodgers, Captain Josh White. Photo by Betty Rodgers

The class is taught, among other things, in a way that emulates the bedlam of combat, and if a student can’t come up with a solution to a question asked by the instructor within a matter of seconds, he/she gets told, “You just lost another Marine,” and the instructor turns to another student and fires questions at him/her. These simulated combat moments are intended to train the new lieutenants to think quickly and respond appropriately. The questioning is rife with tension and with an aura of the uncertainties encountered when opposing groups of warriors go to killing each other. Fear, confusion and pressure are recognized as elements one encounters in combat and which cannot be understood by a leader until they are experienced.

After Captain Albano finished up, we repaired to The Hawk—the club at TBS—for some refreshments and some time to talk about the film, war, Vietnam and the more current wars that the captains fought in.

At The Hawk. Captain Joe Albano, left, and Captain Josh White, right, discuss the Marine Corps. Photo courtesy of Daniel Folz.

At The Hawk. Captain Joe Albano, left, and Captain Josh White, right, discuss the Marine Corps. Photo courtesy of Daniel Folz.

For years we have thought of BRAVO! as a way to preserve history and to educate the public about the Siege of Khe Sanh and the horror of combat, about brotherhood and death and fear. What an overwhelming thought it is to realize the men of BRAVO! are also helping to train today’s Marines.

Thanks to Captain Albano and the instructors at The Basic School for sharing their efforts with us old-time Marines and our guests.

Semper Fi!

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,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.