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!.
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.
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.
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.
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.