Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Posts Tagged ‘War’

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

February 10, 2020

Give Them The Bayonet

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52 years ago today I awoke and realized that the end of my life could come at any moment. Before, even though Khe Sanh had been under siege for 20-plus days, I’d been quite optimistic that all would end soon and well.

Bayonet and Scabbard for an M-16

On February 5th, 1968, NVA troops had attacked the Marines of Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 26th Marines, penetrating the barbwire lines and a vicious up-close battle ensued.

On February 6th and 7th, 1968, NVA troops had assaulted and overrun the Special Forces Camp at Lang Vei and part of their weaponry—tanks! The first time tanks had been used by the North Vietnamese in the Vietnam War. All that long and scary night, I heard tanks. Doubt began to slither into my soul like a cobra in the mist. Did I hear them? Didn’t I? Am I crazy? And following doubt, the cold viper of fear followed.

On February 8th, 1968, NVA troops had attacked and penetrated the defenses of Hill 64, manned by Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 9th Marines. A lot of good men died that day in another up-close-and-personal melee.

Misgivings started kicking the inside of my mind. No relief for Khe Sanh was in sight. Supply aircraft were blown out of the sky. The airstrip was damaged. Men I served with were maimed and dying.

Joining the Marine Corps, for me, was an act of pure impulse, like stepping off the edge of a cliff which is shrouded in a thick fog. I fully believed that I would land on my feet on some unseen safe ledge. My optimism defeated any doubt I might have harbored.

But the Marine Corps has trained millions of warriors and they know that when the bullet meets the breastbone and fear begins to gnaw and nibble, the warrior might begin to entertain doubt.

And I believe that’s one reason for the vicissitudes of Marine Corps training. The physical and mental exercises of Boot Camp. The harassment. Then the hard training in what they now call the School of Infantry.

They want to harden your body, your heart, your mind. They want your backbone ramrod straight when the manure hits the fan. They know doubt and they aim to defeat it.

Blogger, Ken Rodgers

But 52 years ago today doubt crept in.

I doubted I could overcome fear.

I doubted my country could save me.

I doubted my ability to do what must be done to survive. The hard things: Die for your brother, charge under deadly fire up a hill with fixed bayonets like Stonewall Jackson’s Confederate Army warriors after he told them, “Give them the bayonet,” and meet your enemy face-to-face. And kill him.

Stonewall Jackson

As the Siege wore on, doubt seeped into my bones, my skin, my attitude, and at times I felt as if the end of the world would show up any minute: A barrage of 152 Millimeter artillery rounds that would obliterate me, the deadly hiss of an 81 Millimeter mortar round hurtling out of the misty sky to send me home in a body bag, or a sniper round that would slap against the side of my head leaving me with a momentary expression of complete surprise before I slumped into the red mud in the bottom of the trench.

But then, after two months of getting pounded, pounded, pounded, we went into action. Action overcame doubt. I still feared mightily every possible way I might die, and I feared other things like what was out there that I didn’t know—yes, all of that. But I needed to concentrate on the tasks at hand, so doubt, for me, didn’t disappear; but it waned.

More than once we charged up hills with fixed bayonets, into the teeth of death, my doubt forgotten because I had a job to do.

We gave them the bayonet.

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

June 3, 2015

On the Vietnam War and History Students at Boise High School

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Several weeks back, I spent a day screening segments of BRAVO! and talking about the Vietnam War and war in general with high school students in Mrs. Sandie Waters’ Boise High School history classes.

Over the years I have spoken with high school students about various subjects including creative writing, poetry and Vietnam, and except for one instance I have been impressed with the interest of the students in the subject matter discussed and in the reception they have afforded me.

In the last decade, public schools and schoolteachers have taken quite a rhetorical beating from large segments of the American public. The complaints I have heard run from no discipline in the schools, to no history being taught in the schools. It’s very common to hear from other Vietnam vets how the school systems in America don’t teach anything about Vietnam. Another common type of complaint runs around the notions that teachers are not motivated, aren’t knowledgeable about a particular subject matter and don’t seem to care whether or not they help students get educated. And kids have no respect for anything but what’s happening now. That’s another one I hear a lot.

Ken Rodgers speaks at Boise High School

Ken Rodgers speaks at Boise High School

I have been pondering this over the last year or two, this business of competence in the schoolroom. I was educated in a public school and my wife Betty was educated in a public school and I feel both of us are fairly cognizant of what goes on in the world. When I point that out to folks, some say, “Well, that was back when schools were run right.”

Two of my granddaughters have been or are now being educated in public schools and both of them are excellent students, and I think at least some of that excellence must reflect on both their teachers and their schools.

For the record, my experience with Mrs. Waters’ students was inspiring. They were prepared to ask great questions about BRAVO!, the Vietnam War, and war in a more general sense. The questions ran the gamut from specifics like, “What did you eat?” “What was the weather like?” “What were the people over there like?” “Were you frightened?”

We talked about weather and cobras and leeches and 782 gear and living with rats for bunker mates. We talked about the siege of Khe Sanh and about death and injury and corpsmen and the monsoon. We talked about incoming and fear and what it was like to return here and deal with public opinion in 1968. They were really interested in that. They knew quite a bit about the history of the war. They knew where Vietnam was on the map. Some of them have already signed up to go into the military and others plan to pursue military careers. One young man desires to be an interpreter in the United States Army. In concert with his plan, he is already learning to speak both German and Arabic in addition to his other studies.

Some of the kids in those classes probably have no plans to serve our country in a military uniform. I was lead to that conclusion based on some of the questions they asked. “What do you think about war?” “Were all the deaths in Vietnam worth the results?” “Do you think it right that we are fighting in the Middle East?” “Do you believe in war?”

As I fielded those questions I found the profundity of the queries to be troubling. I am a man who generally tries to keep his opinions about this kind of stuff to himself. I wasn’t sure how to handle the situation, whether to hem and haw or whether to leap right in.

I hate war. I told them that. I told them that I love peace more than almost anybody. I told them that my job in Vietnam was search and destroy; to kill people. But I also told them that history is replete with humans killing each other and over the long run of millennia, most societies engage in war. Often it is offensive, often it is defensive, but nevertheless, it’s one of the things we have done and we do right now. I told them it’s one of the things that we as a species do best.

Most of these kids managed to maintain expressions that hid what they thought about the things I said, but I do know that when each of the six classes was over, a number of them approached and thanked me for talking to them and for serving the country.

Another shot of Ken Rodgers at Boise High School

Another shot of Ken Rodgers at Boise High School

Furthermore, Sandie Waters is a keg of dynamite. As you talk to her, you can feel all that energy, the excitement she brings to her work every day. Some folks tell me that teachers are overpaid and don’t work very much. That’s not what I saw. I saw dedication and preparation. I saw a teacher who commands the respect of her students. Students from a wide variety of ethnic groups and interests. What was happening in those classes when I was there was the business of education, query and curiosity.

I don’t know much about all the other school systems in this country. Some of them are undoubtedly a mess. By virtue of the number of towns and districts and cities we have, there are bound to be failures. But I bet, if we look closely, the majority of school systems are like the ones I have visited and the bulk of the instructors are like Mrs. Sandie Waters. And at least in Boise, Idaho, these students are learning about the Vietnam War.

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