Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

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

May 26, 2016

When a Community Honors Their Own

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We have been all over the USA showing Bravo! to groups of people who’ve invited us. It’s always gratifying when someone wants it shown locally in Southwestern Idaho, which happened last November. The Boise State Veteran Services Office hosted a screening as part of the Veterans Week activities on campus.

Attending that event were women from the local Eagle Chapter of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, also known as the NSDAR. Not long before meeting them in person, we learned that they had decided to nominate Bravo! co-producer Ken Rodgers for the NSDAR’s Founders Medal for Patriotism, a very prestigious national award given to a person “who has displayed outstanding patriotism in the promotion of our country’s ideals of God, home, and country.” As part of this country’s observance of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, this was intended to thank Ken for serving, and for telling the powerful story of his company of Marines through film.

Betty and Ken Rodgers. Photo courtesy of Don Johnson.

Betty and Ken Rodgers. Photo courtesy of Don Johnson.

The submission involved a lot of effort, including letters of recommendation from across the nation. We were thrilled when we learned that the award had indeed been granted by the national committee, and that it would be presented locally by the Eagle Chapter.

So on May 12, we got dressed up and drove to the Bishop Tuttle House in downtown Boise for the event. When we arrived, the ladies busied themselves with setting up the podium, tying balloons and decorating tables while we greeted a wonderful crowd of friends, old and new.

Visiting before the beginning of the ceremony. Left to Right: Lance Thompson; Retired Marine Colonel Gary Randel; Retired Marine Colonel and Director of the Idaho Division of Veteran Services, Dave Brasuell, Former Director of the Boise Office of Veterans Affairs, Jim Vance and Ken Rodgers. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

Left to Right: Lance Thompson, Retired Marine Colonel Gary Randel, Retired Marine Colonel and Director of the Idaho Division of Veteran Services Dave Brasuell, Former Director of the Boise Office of Veterans Affairs Jim Vance and Ken Rodgers. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

We were gratified by the diversity and size of the gathering that came to be a part of the evening. These folks represented a chunk of the many friends that we have met in Idaho over the years.

Before the festivities commenced, Ken was awarded his own special tribute by eight-and-a-half-year-old Nicholle Bacon, a handmade certificate that was so spontaneous and so special he hung it in his office.

The program started with a welcome from Shannon Lind, an invocation by Jana Kemp, the Pledge of Allegiance led by Barbara Grant, and the American’s Creed led by Anita Allex.

The special award for Ken Rodgers created by Nicholle Bacon. Image courtesy of Nicholle Bacon.

The special award for Ken Rodgers created by Nicholle Bacon. Image courtesy of Nicholle Bacon.

Then we heard comments from three champions of Bravo!. Lance Thompson spoke about how Ken resolved to give voice to those who had so long kept silent. Elaine Ambrose noted, “We were – and are – exact opposites. Ken’s quiet, distinguished, respected, and reserved. I’m noisy, clumsy, tolerated by others, and regarded as a comedienne. But, we both love to write, we honor our military, and we love our country.” Norma Jaeger gave us two quotes during her comments: Isak Dinesen said, “All sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story or tell a story about them.” Maya Angelou said, “There is no greater burden than carrying an untold story.”

Ken was then presented with the beautiful medal, and an American flag that has flown over both the US Capitol in Washington, DC, and the Idaho Statehouse in Boise. This was followed by Rebecca Bowen-Odom, who, along with her husband, Ron, was the mastermind behind the award. Rebecca read a congratulatory letter from Mindy Kammeyer, Reporter General of the NSDAR. Apparently Mindy was a flight attendant during the Vietnam War, serving our young men as they flew off to Vietnam, and then when they came back home again.

Ken spoke briefly about what the award and the film mean to him, commenting that he is not a rah-rah-let’s-go-to-war kind of patriot, but one who wishes to remember all who have dedicated a portion of their lives in service to our country. He closed his remarks by naming some of the men in his Bravo Company band of brothers who either lost their lives in Vietnam, or have since passed away. Those names became a very moving work of poetry.

A complete surprise was in store at this point in the program when Bravo! co-producer Betty Rodgers was presented with the NSDAR award for Excellence in Community Service for her part in producing the film.

Finishing up the evening with a bang was Idaho’s Senator Marv Hagedorn who spoke about his own military background, and then read a proclamation from the governor of Idaho, C. L. “Butch” Otter, declaring May 12 as Kenneth and Betty Rodgers Day! One of the whereas statements reads thusly:

Ken and Betty Rodgers, the evening's awardees (center), along with the Eagle Chapter of the DAR. Photo courtesy of Don Johnson.

Ken and Betty Rodgers, the evening’s awardees (center), along with the Eagle Chapter of the DAR. Photo courtesy of Don Johnson.

WHEREAS, those whom see “Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor” will forever remember the story of the Siege of Khe Sanh, understand that freedom is not free and recognize that combat lives on forever in the daily lives of those who have experienced it.

The proclamation further states that the awards represent our “combined efforts to honor the service of Vietnam War veterans and their families.”

And that is where we turn to you, dear reader, and say we share these accolades with every single person who has walked the walk with us in one way or another. We couldn’t have done it without you, and we thank the NSDAR for the recognition, and especially Barbara Grant for her energy in keeping us informed throughout the entire months-long process.

Boise’s KTVB Channel 7, the NBC affiliated station, was on board to record the ceremony. You can view a short clip here.

As BRAVO! Marine Steve Wiese always says, “Bravo lives on!”

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

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at

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

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at

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

April 6, 2016

BRAVO! To Receive 2016 Major Norman Hatch Award

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After we put our first cut of BRAVO! in the can, I remember talking to one of the filmmakers we met during the editing process. An award winner himself, he talked about BRAVO! being a film that ought to be in the running for an Oscar.

At the time, with my lack of knowledge about the process of making films, I remember sitting out on the patio dreaming about Betty and me bouncing up the stairs to the stage to accept our Oscar our hearts thumping like .50 caliber machine guns. But then reality hit and we discovered how the Academy Awards really work.

First, you have to screen your film in both Los Angeles and New York and the funding requirements are overwhelming for an operation like ours. One hopes for a distribution agreement that would make it possible to have your film screened in LA and New York without you, the filmmakers, having to pay the tab for theater rental in those two cities. And though we tried to find a distributor, alas, it has yet to happen.

We’ve been on this filmmaking journey for six years now, and it’s been fun and rewarding and depressing and elating, a roller coaster ride for sure, and as we have gone along, we would have liked to see BRAVO! recognized by our peers, the filmmakers, and not having that happen was disappointing.

Warrant Officer Norman T. Hatch, officer-in-charge of the photographic section for the 5th Marine Division in Hawaii is shown here in photo taken in January 1945. One month later Hatch landed on Iwo Jima. Photo courtesy of Norman T. Hatch

Warrant Officer Norman T. Hatch, officer-in-charge of the photographic section for the 5th Marine Division in Hawaii is shown here in photo taken in January 1945. One month later Hatch landed on Iwo Jima. Photo courtesy of Norman T. Hatch

Until last year when BRAVO! was recognized as Best Documentary Feature in the 2015 GI Film Festival San Diego and that took a huge bite out of the disappointment.

And this year, 2016, brings even more good news for the film. The Marine Corps Heritage Foundation will be awarding BRAVO! the 2016 Major Norman Hatch Award for Documentary Feature on April 23 at the National Museum of the Marine Corps.

Major Norman Hatch was a photographer and filmmaker who landed with the Second Marine Division at Tarawa where he shot footage for an award winning documentary film about that battle. He also documented the Marines’ combat on Iwo Jima and went on to spend forty-one years working with military films and photography.

This award is like getting a double shot of praise because the judges who chose BRAVO! are film industry professionals, so we are getting some more kudos from our filmmaking peers. And there is another angle to look at, too. To be chosen for this extraordinary award by this organization of warriors is for us every bit as important, if not more so, as being recognized by moviemakers.

To be told by your fellow warriors, so to speak, that yes, here’s to a job well done and yes, BRAVO! speaks to the agony and ecstasy of war, is an honor that makes us feel like we will pop all the buttons off the front of our shirts and blouses.

BRAVO! filmmakers Ken and Betty Rodgers. Photo courtesy of Kevin Martini-Fuller

BRAVO! filmmakers Ken and Betty Rodgers. Photo courtesy of Kevin Martini-Fuller

The Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Robert Neller, will be presenting Betty and me with this award. BRAVO! brother Michael E. O’Hara, who is in the film, plans on joining us (along with his son-in-law, Daniel Folz) for the event as does one of our biggest supporters, our friend Betty Plevney. It should be a great evening, beginning with the awards ceremony followed by a dinner at the Museum.

In some ways receiving the Major Norman Hatch Award feels like we’ve come full circle since it was a grant from the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation back in 2010 that jumpstarted BRAVO!

We are humbled and happy and raring to go east to Quantico.

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

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at

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

February 10, 2016

In Search of My Father (Part One)

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Today’s guest blogger, Ron Reyes, blogs about his father, also Ron Reyes, who was killed in action at Khe Sanh on March 30, 1968, a date of some importance to the men of BRAVO! This is part one of a multiple blog story.

I was born February 28th, 1968. My father, Private First Class Ronnie (Baby Sanh) Reyes was killed March 30th 1968; he was 19. That is where my story starts.

I have always wondered who my dad was. I saw the pictures, heard the stories, but I never knew him. I had a pretty good idea who he was before he left. In fact, every time I got in trouble I heard, “Aye, Ronnie, you’re just like your dad,” but I had no clue who he was the day he was killed. In fact, no one did except his fellow Marines—his brothers. My mother Elaine always made sure that she answered any question I asked. She wanted me to know as much as possible.

Ron "Baby Sanh" Reyes. Photo courtesy of Ron Reyes

Ron “Baby Sanh” Reyes.
Photo courtesy of Ron Reyes

I studied everything about Vietnam. I looked at maps, interviewed soldiers from all branches. I watched every special. Every time I went to the library in school I would check out books about Vietnam. I was very interested in Khe Sanh; the only information I had about my dad was that he was there. This was something I needed to know. I searched out information all through school and into my late 20’s. That all changed on June 5, 1995, the day my daughter Danielle was born. I couldn’t believe it; I was a dad. I thought that was the coolest thing because I grew up without a dad. It was a strange feeling. I was so excited about my first child being born and at the same time at peace with my father. I realized I wasn’t going to find out about my dad, and decided it was okay.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC, is very powerful. I hear it is very powerful. Everybody I know who has been to the Wall has brought me back a rubbing. I must have about 15 of them. Every time I get one, I do the same thing: research. I received a rubbing in the fall of 1998. My research technique had changed. I’d just bought a new computer, and decided to try the World Wide Web.

I was armed with one more piece of info at this point. About a year earlier I had visited my dad’s gravesite, just like I did on most Memorial Days when I was a little kid. I always read my dad’s name. PFC Ronald R. Reyes. This time I paid more attention to what the rest of the headstone said. CO D, 9 MAR, 3 MAR DIV. I had the day of his death (03/30/1968), the place that he was killed (Khe Sanh), the fact that he was a Marine, and now my first clue. I searched the Internet. Several hours later I found what I needed. I found a page that listed my father KIA with additional info. He was in Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, the Walking Dead. This was very exciting but didn’t mean much to me yet. I started researching the 1/9.

Back to the Internet. I took the information that I had and kept digging. I found an early version of the Khe Sanh Veterans site. In the site I found about 80 e-mail addresses. Out of that 80, I found 5 who served with D/1/9. I sent out a brief e-mail to all 5. I didn’t expect much, but was hopeful. That was on a Wednesday. What I didn’t know was that the New Orleans reunion was taking place that weekend. The weekend passed and I didn’t think much about it.

MCRD Recruit Platoon 124, Ron "Baby Sanh" Reyes' outfit. Photo courtesy of Ron Reyes.

MCRD Recruit Platoon 124, Ron “Baby Sanh” Reyes’ outfit. Photo courtesy of Ron Reyes.

Tuesday night my phone rang.

I answered the phone, and the voice on the other end said, “Is this Ron Reyes?” “Yes it is, I said.” His response was, “My name is Eddie and I knew your father,” then silence. I wasn’t sure about what to say and Eddie wasn’t either. Could it be that after 30 years I was going to get the information I’d always wanted? I didn’t know if I wanted to hear whatever was waiting on the other end of the line.

“I was with your dad at Camp Pendleton and in Vietnam.” It turns out Eddie “Archie” Arcienega was with 2nd Platoon, D/1/9. My father was with Weapons. He told me how my dad had taken him back home to visit his parents (my grandparents). In Vietnam, Eddie told me, Ronnie would always check up on him and make sure he had everything he needed up front. He was a good Marine. I talked to Eddie for an hour. We talked about a lot of things. I got off the phone and told my wife, called my Mom, e-mailed some friends. I had to tell everyone except Pasqual and Ramona Reyes, my grandparents.

What was I going to say to them? Ronnie was the oldest of 4 kids, a leader in the family. My grandfather served with the Army in WWII. He fought from Italy into France where he was captured on his way to the Battle of the Bulge. He is a Bronze Star Recipient. The prison camp couldn’t break him, but the death of his firstborn son devastated him. I would have to think about how I would let them know the news.

Wednesday night my phone rang. My wife Lori picked up the phone. She said it was “somebody named Pete who knew your dad.” This time I couldn’t wait to talk. It was a lot harder for Pete to gather his words than it had been for Eddie. Maybe it was because Eddie knew my dad had died, and on what day, but Pete Mestas went home that same day and was in a VA hospital for a couple of years. He didn’t find out my father was dead until he visited the Wall a few years before this call. He was looking for the names of the Marines that he knew died that day. Then he saw my father’s name.

I had always heard the story of how my father was hit by a mortar as he went to retrieve his buddy who was hit. I wanted to embrace the story, but understood that families like to think the best always. Pete was about to fill me in. He was in Weapons with my dad. Pete said they called my dad Baby Sanh because they knew his girlfriend was pregnant. He asked me what I knew about Vietnam, the Tet Offensive, Con Thien, and Khe Sanh. I told him I had studied it, and had the map of Vietnam tattooed in my mind. I knew my dad was in Khe Sanh.

Guest blogger Ron Reyes at a young age, at his father's grave. Photo courtesy of Ron Reyes.

Guest blogger Ron Reyes at a young age, at his father’s grave. Photo courtesy of Ron Reyes.

Next week, Ron continues with his story about searching for clues about who his father was and his resultant journey.

Ron Reyes lives in Moorpark, California. He has been married to his wife Lori for 23 years and is the father of 2. His son Ronnie is a junior in high school. His daughter Danielle is a junior in college and lives just 2 blocks north of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC.

If you or your organization would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town this coming spring, summer, fall or next winter 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

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at

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

April 22, 2015

On Lincoln’s Hearse and Veterans

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From 1 May 2015 through 3 May 2015, the City of Springfield, Illinois, will be the site for a re-enactment of President Abraham Lincoln’s funeral. It’s been one-hundred-fifty years and a few days since President Lincoln was assassinated at Ford’s Theater in Washington, DC, by John Wilkes Booth.

BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR folks know Springfield as the home of Tom Quigley who served with Bravo Company, 1/26, during the Siege of Khe Sanh. Tom is also one of the men in the film.

Last June, 2014, Tom and his buddy, PJ Staab of Staab Funeral Homes, arranged for BRAVO! to be screened at the Hoogland Center for the Arts located in Springfield. A number of Marines and Corpsmen from Bravo Company attended the event.

PJ is a man who, I believe, wants to help heal the wounds we have on the inside of us, our damaged spirits. He is also one of those individuals who dreams of events or projects and then makes them happen. While we were there in Springfield, he told us about a project he had started in concert with the re-enactment of President Lincoln’s funeral. His dream for the re-enactment was to create an exact replica of the hearse that bore Lincoln’s body to his tomb and to have the hearse built by veterans. Lo and behold, here we are in 2015 and sure enough, the hearse has been completed for all intents and purposes.

But there’s more to the story. Last February, Betty and I were in Arizona for a screening of BRAVO! and a visit with friends and family. PJ was in California, picking up the partially completed Lincoln Hearse in Eureka in preparation for hauling it to Tombstone, Arizona. He contacted us and said if we were available he’d like us to meet up with him and see the hearse.

At the time, we were visiting BRAVO! friend and supporter Susan Parker whom we told about the trip from Eureka to Tombstone. She’s from Eureka originally, so she had an idea who might have built that part of the hearse, her old schoolmate, Eric Hollenbeck. When PJ called, I asked if by any chance a Mr. Eric Hollenbeck was with him, and he said, “Yes!”

So we put Susan on the phone with Eric and we all made a date to meet in Tombstone on February 22nd.

It was cool and breezy on the way down from Tucson to Tombstone and we met up with PJ there at around 9:00 AM. Susan and Eric visited about Eureka back in the 60s, before Eric went into the Army and then on to Vietnam.

Left to right: Eric Hollenbeck and Susan Parker. Lincoln Hearse in the background. © Betty Rodgers 2015

Left to right, Eric Hollenbeck and Susan Parker. Lincoln Hearse in the background. © Betty Rodgers 2015

We visited with PJ, admired the hearse, and subsequently talked to Eric about his creation. Eric and his students at the Blue Ox Mill School for Veterans, which is a vocational school for combat veterans, built the box for the hearse.

Eric told us that when he started, he had no idea what the dimensions of the hearse were until an original railroad bill of lading was found that noted the size of the rear wheels. With those dimensions, Eric and his team of combat veterans-turned mill workers were able to scale the hearse’s precise dimensions using photos taken back at the time of President Lincoln’s burial.

From there it was skill, dedication and determination.

Eric served with the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam and saw a lot of combat. The man he delivered the hearse to in Tombstone was Jack Feather who was the hearse’s lead builder and the man who convinced Eric Hollenbeck to work on the hearse in the first place.

Jack was also a Vietnam veteran who saw combat during his tour. After PJ headed for the airport and a flight back to Springfield, Betty, Susan Parker and Eric’s wife Viviana sat in Jack’s office and visited while outside Eric, Jack and I recalled our tours in Vietnam. It was an emotional morning for me and I think for them, too.

Left to right: Jack Feather and P J Staab. Lincoln Hearse in the background. © Betty Rodgers 2015

Left to right: Jack Feather and P J Staab. Lincoln Hearse in the background. © Betty Rodgers 2015

As we talked, a bond that I cannot name developed between us, or maybe it didn’t develop, it may have been there all along just waiting for these days, forty-seven years on, to come to the fore and all made possible by PJ Staab and his drive to honor veterans, veterans’ stories, and to help human hearts heal.

The veterans who helped build the hearse will be flown to Springfield for the May events.

You can find out more about the Lincoln burial re-enactment events in Springfield at More information about Blue Ox Millworks is at Information about PJ Staab can be found at More information about Jack Feather’s company, Tombstone Hearse and Trike, is available at

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

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at

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

September 3, 2014


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This week the blog revisits a poignant encounter we had at The Wall in Washington DC while photographing the names of deceased Marines of Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment.

Bamboo flooring echoes like an old-time wood-floored hallway. The crack of sound rebounds into the corners of rooms and rackets irritatingly when you are trying to film an interview. When the old Marine you are interviewing is nervous and keeps tapping his feet it’s mindful of M-16 fire off in the distance, down in a canyon or a draw denuded of elephant grass and triple-canopy jungle, just raw, red ground pocked by the plague of bomb craters, trenches, and dead snags.

Betty and I found this out the way you usually find things out…the hard way. Right in the middle of an interview, you emerge from the monsoon mist into an ambush of recognition that you didn’t even think about: the need to muffle the sounds the floor makes, or that you need gloves to handle the lights, to keep them from sizzling the fat on your hands. Or from pinching the webbing between the thumb and forefinger, or that you better chat with your subject for a while about the rudiments of interviews so they aren’t in a state of sheer fright when the beams snarl at them and the red light on the camera blinks its message that the interviewee is suddenly naked to the world.

The Wall at night

The Wall at night

And there are other things necessary when you make movies: research—patience, patience, patience—and more research and checking the validity of info, of sources.

This week in Washington, DC, we are doing research at Quantico and the National Archives. We’ve located films and photos and command chronologies and after-action reports and oral interviews conducted during 1968.

And things are moving forward. We will have a final trailer in the coming weeks, and we will then begin the editing process to finish the film.

As my old Marine Corps mate, Michael E. O’Hara, says, Betty and I are pilgrims, pilgrims of the body and the mind, in the realm of movies and film and memories. Across the big flat green eastern United States, roaming around looking for the threads that help it all make sense. The threads of story.

We’ve been to The Wall twice this trip to take photos and film the names. Last Sunday we went down early while the Park Service was tidying up after the twin revivals conducted by Glen Beck and Al Sharpton. The sun glared and dew coated the grass. A few people moved among the endless plastic bags of trash that lined the paths and walkways.

The wall was damp and looked like it had been hosed off and there was little hope we could immediately take any pictures because each name was coated with tiny bullets of water. I dug out my trusty big blue kerchief and began to wipe the water off the names. I started at panel 35 E with Steven Hellwig and was interrupted from my chore by an earnest young man and woman who asked me how to find names, understand the logic on the wall. Inside, I said to myself , what logic, logic to all this? But I didn’t because there isn’t a logic. I said, “Where you from?”

He smiled and so did she. “We’re from Alabama and we’ve been here for the Beck revival and we thought we’d come pay our respects to some men from our town who served and died.” I expected wild-eyed Beck followers but these people were polite and earnest. I explained how The Wall works and then went back to drying names and worked through the subsequent panels until I was at 46 E on my knees wiping off Gregory Kent and Jimmie Lafon McRae when a short man about my age holding a digital camera knelt next to me and asked if he could borrow my kerchief to dry a name when I was done.

He was tanned and had a hard New England accent. For some reason, I blurted, “Who you looking for?”

“Gregory Kent. He and I ran track together in high school and . . .”

I blurted, “I know him.”

He stared at me. “You know him?”

I hesitated. “I knew him. We served together.” The stare on his face made me think he wasn’t sure he believed me.

I pointed my finger at him like a pistol and went on, “You’re from Boston, right?”

“I live in Florida, but yes, I’m from Boston.”

I looked down and wiped the name again. “I served with him until he was killed on March 28, 1968, with this fellow.” I pointed two rows down to Jimmie Lafon McRae.

He sat back on his heels and looked at me like someone contemplating stabbing a snake.

Panel at The Wall with the names of Greg Kent and Jimmie L McRae

Panel at The Wall with the names of Greg Kent and Jimmie L McRae

I hesitated again and then nodded. “They stepped out of a hooch and were talking along with Ron Exum from Philadelphia. A mortar landed between them and Kent and McRae were killed.” I could have told him that there were shrapnel holes in Kent’s chest that spewed like oil gushers, but I didn’t.

The man said, “My name’s Sully Grasso and, and . . .”

I looked at the names and brushed at them though they were already dry. I thought about Greg Kent, and how he liked to talk about dancing. He said he loved to dance, dance, dance.

Sully Grasso said, “Greg Kent won the state championship and could have gone to the Olympic trials but he joined the Marines instead. I’m here for Glen Beck’s memorial and I want to take a picture and a tracing and I want to write an article . . . this is a miracle.”

I don’t think I believe in miracles but I didn’t tell him that. I just cleared my throat as I looked away. He took my photograph, twice, as I knelt there. He asked my name and the pertinent details of Kent’s death.

I wrote on a piece of yellow-lined paper from my yellow pad the barest of details as I remember them. He went to get something to trace names. Betty and I tried to take photos. Sully came back and took some more pictures and traced the names, Gregory Kent and Jimmie L McRae. Then he walked up to me. Tears swelled in his eyes. I couldn’t look at him. He leaned towards me and I stuck out my hand to shake in order to avoid more intimate shows of emotion, but he pulled me close and hugged me. He said, “God knows my heart and he sent you here to meet me. He knows my heart. I didn’t have any idea about how Greg died and now I know.”

I’m not sure I even believe in God, but I didn’t tell him that. The steps of people walking by echoed off the smooth surface of the wall. A multi-colored wreath stood at the junction of the monument’s east and west wings and an old, scuffed jungle boot stood there by itself, in front of panel 22 W. A red rosebud stuck up from inside the boot. I nodded at Sully and thought about how Kent liked to prance around and dance, his energy exploding out of him, and then he was dead.

On the screening front, BRAVO! will be shown in Nampa, Idaho, on September 25, 2014 at the Elks Lodge. Doors will open at 6:00 PM with the screening of the film at 6:30, followed by a Q & A session. Suggested donation, $10.00 to benefit the Wyakin Warrior Foundation. Joining us for the screening will be BRAVO! Marine Ron Rees. Noted Boise author Alan Heathcock has agreed to be the Master of Ceremonies for this event.

If you would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town this fall or winter, please contact us immediately.

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. For more information go to

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at It’s another way you can help us reach more people.

Documentary Film,Guest Blogs,Khe Sanh,Marines,Vietnam War

June 25, 2014

A Beacon for All the Words that Remain Unspoken

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By Don Johnson

2.5 ~ 58,000 ~ 6,000,000 ~ 60,000,000 ~ 250

Numbers, the kind I’ve seen a lot of recently, the kind that makes me realize just how fortunate my number really was.

I’ve seen Bravo! twice now; 2.5 times, to be exact. The .5 was the time I tuned into its broadcast on the local PBS channel, but misread the schedule and tuned in an hour late. That’s a dumb way to watch this moving documentary; it can’t be cut up into pieces. Bravo! must be swallowed whole.

Bravo! doesn’t go down like honey. It’s a bitter pill, but turns into honey later once you get to know the minds and hearts of the veteran Khe Sanh
survivors who were interviewed for the film.

Don Johnson Photo courtesy of Crane Johnson

Don Johnson
Photo courtesy of Crane Johnson

I last saw this amazing and heart-wrenching documentary on May Day, at a showing hosted by our local camera club. It’s a small group, so we were treated to some genuine and rare personal time with Ken and Betty. We’re lucky to have such hometown heroes, and grateful that they could find time for us. Because of the intimate atmosphere, I was able to absorb the events on the screen as if it were being screened only for me. It made a huge impact, and not in the way I expected.

I’ve watched I don’t know how many war movies and documentaries on WWII, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, just like most people my age (63). But this one was different. Although I have a number of friends and acquaintances who served in Vietnam, including old high school classmates, none ever talk about it anymore. I don’t think they ever did, at least with me. So Bravo! is a beacon for all the words that remain unspoken.

A few days after the club screening, my wife and I were on a plane to Washington DC, and Bravo! was still on my heart. I spent a lot of time thinking about the Khe Sanh story, the men interviewed for the film, and what they said. It interested me that they didn’t speak in one voice. Every one of them served heroically beyond imagination, but not one behaved anything like a hero of the movies. I heard, along with the hard descriptions of their life and death situations, their humility and sacrificial love of their fellow Marines, acceptance of impossible circumstance, and surprisingly some tinges of doubt and criticism of the war effort, wondering now, decades later, why they had been sent and how they had been treated on their return. I wasn’t prepared for that. These were real human beings and their honesty floored me.

In DC, we visited all the war memorials on the Mall and around the Tidal Basin. We’d seen them before, but not with Bravo! on my mind. The numbers were overwhelming. 58,000, the number inscribed on the Vietnam Wall. Six million dead Jews named in the Holocaust Museum. Sixty million dead in WWII, 2.5% of the world’s population, causing FDR to say “I hate war.”

I Have Seen War Photo courtesy of Don Johnson

I Have Seen War
Photo courtesy of Don Johnson

It was about that point that I had a poignant realization, that my life could well have taken a different turn but for a certain number. That number was 250, my draft number in 1969. I vividly remember sitting around the TV with my family, as did all my high school buddies, watching the Selective Service lottery being drawn. Some of my friends drew low numbers and went off to boot camp before shipping off to Vietnam. One friend drew a 13 and headed off to Canada; another got a deferment to work in a Portland mental hospital. I drew number 250. I was safe and relieved of having to make any kind of decision to join in a war we watched every night on TV.

The men of Bravo Company, First Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment went to Vietnam and suffered the Khe Sanh siege in Ken and Betty’s harrowing tale that will stick with me permanently. It’s not untrue to say that they went in my place because of the random fortune of a number. Bravo! has reinforced my love for those who sacrificed their own safety to allow civilians like me to go on with our lives rarely thinking of war and our warriors. For me, 250 represents the gratitude I haven’t properly expressed.

The Wall Photo courtesy of Don Johnson

The Wall
Photo courtesy of Don Johnson

Thank you, Ken and Betty, and the warriors of Bravo Company for making this film. May it travel far and wide and open the eyes and hearts of peace-loving people everywhere. War no more.

Don Johnson is an Idaho photographer, blogger, and educator who loves to instill the joy of cameras and vision in others. His popular Facebook group, Photo Assignment, is open to anyone interested in becoming a more creative photographer. Don is owner of Arrowrock Photography, co-founder of Sawtooth Photo Pros, and author of his almost-daily blog, Motel Zero.

You can find out more about Don Johnson and his work at:

Facebook Photo Assignment:
Arrowrock Photography:
Sawtooth Photo Pros:
Motel Zero:

If you would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town this summer or fall, please contact us immediately.

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. For more information go to

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at It’s another way you can help spread the word about the film and what it is really like to fight in a war.

Documentary Film,Other Musings,Vietnam War

April 18, 2013

Why I Fight Part 2

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Last September I wrote a blog for this site titled “Why I Fight” about, in part, an Ethiopian refugee whom Betty and I met in Washington, DC. That gentleman was in the US because he made a documentary film that angered his government. For his own safety, he was forced to leave his home.

Last month, at one of our Clovis, California, screenings I met another man who came to the US as a refugee from his country.

The gentleman I met in Clovis was originally from Cambodia. His name is Lieutenant Colonel Lay Prum, or as it would be represented in Cambodia, Prum Lay.

Lt. Colonel Prum escaped from Cambodia in 1976 and his story is one that illustrates the harrowing experiences of a lot of folks who come to the US to escape the variety of tyrannies the world has to offer.

To refresh memories, in 1975 Cambodia underwent a violent regime change that led to the Khmer Rouge—a Maoist regime with a particularly vicious way of re-educating its citizens—taking over the country. During the Khmer Rouge’s rule from 1975 to 1979, an estimated two million Cambodians died in what has since been classified as genocide. In 1979 the Vietnamese forced the Khmer Rouge out of power.

Back in the 1970’s, Cambodia was involved in fights with the Vietnamese Communists who used Cambodia’s border regions as bases from which they infiltrated into South Vietnam. American forces bombed these regions, creating chaos in the border regions between Vietnam and Cambodia. The Cambodian government, besides fighting the North Vietnamese and their Viet Cong allies, soon became involved in a civil war with Cambodian communists, or the Khmer Rouge.

Enter Mr. Prum Lay, who graduated from Phnom Penh University in 1968. He enlisted in the Cambodian Army and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in 1972.

In 1973, then 1st Lieutenant Prum was involved in rescuing four American journalists whom he found in two black Mercedes stranded on Route 3 between Phnom Penh and Takeo Province during an attack by his Cambodian forces to take back a village the Viet Cong had overrun. He and his troops carried the Americans to safety.

On April 17, 1975, the Communist Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia. By then a major in the army, Prum Lay, in danger of losing his life, convinced the Khmer Rouge that he was a taxi driver. They asked him to drive a taxi and later put him to work in rice paddies.

On May 20, 1976, Major Prum Lay escaped into Thailand. Fortunately for him, he encountered a man who had served with him in the Cambodian Army, and that man told the major that since Prum Lay did not have a passport, he would be put in jail by the Thai government. Instead of going into a refugee camp, Major Prum hid out in an abandoned schoolhouse until June 15, 1976.

On that date, he and another Cambodian friend managed to reach the United States Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand. He was interviewed by the staff at the US Embassy and was granted refugee status but remained in Thailand pending the appointment of a sponsor here in the States.

On August 15, 1976, Major Prum Lay came to Spokane, Washington, where he became Mr. Lay Prum.

To me, what follows is what is most moving about this story. In spite of the obvious cultural impediments, Mr. Lay Prum became the liaison between the residents of Spokane and the considerable Cambodian community that moved there after the fall of Cambodia. He was also, among other things, the owner of a restaurant and helped out in the local schools as a math teacher and ESL teacher. He also went back to school and learned how to be a welder and went on to work for a number of Spokane companies.

In 1986, Mr. Lay Prum moved to Sonoma County, California, before moving on to Fresno, California, in 1988. There are over 50,000 Southeast Asians living in the Fresno area. Allies of our government in the wars we fought overtly in Vietnam and clandestinely in Laos and Cambodia, they fled to the US after their governments were defeated in the various conflicts of the 1960s and 1970s.

In Fresno, Mr. Lay Prum remade himself yet again. Something we often have a lot of freedom to do in this country if we have the drive to do so. He became a drug, alcohol and mental health counselor for Fresno County until his retirement in 2010. Now he is involved in veterans organizations that recognize his (and other Southeast Asian warriors) service during the wars of the 60s and 70s. What he and his compatriots endured is not forgotten.

In 1975, the fall of Cambodia to the Khmer Rouge was viewed by a large segment of the American public with a big ho-hum. As a nation, we had grown tired of our involvements in Southeast Asia. I would even venture to say that some Americans were rooting for the Khmer Rouge to win their war against the Cambodian government. But history has since exposed the Khmer Rouge regime as being a murderous government that killed millions of Cambodian citizens.

Mr. Lay Prum, Lieutenant Colonel Lay Prum (he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel after joining United States National Defense Corp. on November 13, 2010), was lucky to get out of that hell and into a place where he was allowed to become what he wished to make of himself.

Like that Ethiopian filmmaker I mentioned earlier, Lt. Colonel Lay Prum can say what he wants to say, and he can change what he does for a calling. In spite of all our knots and warts, we Americans offer folks a lot of opportunity to create a useful existence as well as respite from the chaos of their native countries.

I have said for years that I am not sure why I went to Vietnam and fought. I don’t know if it was adventure I sought, or heroism, or if it was patriotism. I suppose the reason changes from day to day and from one experience to the next. But today I want to say that seeing men like the Washington, DC, Ethiopian and the Lt. Colonel live a life that allows them to succeed and speak their thoughts without fear of being killed or going into prisons or forced labor camps—that’s why I fight.

Documentary Film,Film Screenings,Khe Sanh,Khe Sanh Veteran's Reunion,Marines,Vietnam War

October 26, 2012

The Great Adventure Film Tour

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BRAVO! co-director and co-producer Betty Rodgers muses on the summer of 2012’s screening tour.

Ken and I have been home from our “Great Adventure Film Tour” for three weeks now, allowing us time to reflect on the experience as we settle back into our lives in Boise.

To recap, we headed south from Idaho through Utah, dipping quickly into the heat of summer as we scurried across deserts and mountains, prairies and plains toward Dallas for our first screening. There we showed BRAVO! to more than 125 attendees at the Vietnam Veterans of America Annual Leadership Conference and were introduced by our host, Michael Keating, to many of the important people who drive the organization forward. The VVA’s founding principle is, “Never again will one generation of veterans abandon another.”

From right to left, Michael Keating, Betty Rodgers, Ken Rodgers at the VVA National Leadership Conference.

From there we took the sultry road through pecan orchards and goat ranches to Brownwood, TX, where we were the guests of Mary and Roger Engle, longtime friends and fans of BRAVO! Mary put together a first-class screening at the Douglas MacArthur Academy of Freedom on the campus of Howard Payne University. One of the hosts for the evening was former Marine Gunnery Sergeant Billy Murphey, the local Veterans Service Officer, who arranged for a local Marine Corps League color guard to formally kick off the program. The auditorium was filled to capacity. The editor of the Brownwood Bulletin, Gene Deason, interviewed us and wrote an insightful article about the event and the film.

Next we ventured on to lower temperatures in Memphis where we were greeted by our host, Cobb Hammond, a historian of the Vietnam War. Cobb gave us a wonderful tour of Memphis, including the Mississippi River, Beale Street, and a drive by Sun Records. He also made sure we enjoyed the superb BBQ at the Blues City Café, and bemoaned the fact that we were not experiencing typical (sweltering) Memphis summer weather. Thank goodness! Our screening was also hosted by Khe Sanh survivor Skip Funk, and Mason Ezzell at LSI. Guests came from far and wide and included a Korean War veteran.

With Ken still behind the wheel, the galloping Honda CRV then transported us to Washington, DC, and the home and culinary sanctuary of my cousins, Chuck and Donna Dennis, who also hosted us two years ago while we did research for the film. We attended the annual reunion of the Khe Sanh Veterans and screened BRAVO! to a standing-room-only crowd. We were pleased to have three members of the “cast,” Steve Wiese, Ken Korkow and Doc Cicala, in the audience. Our friends Betty and Lee Plevney, Connie and Greg Gibbons, Mark and Elaine Kramer, and Ron Exum each contributed greatly to the success of this event.

BRAVO! screening in Washington D C

And then finally, Boston. Beautiful Boston, where we were the guests of Marie Chalmers and the family of Vincent Mottola, a Marine from Bravo Company who gave his life at Khe Sanh. Marie not only hosted the screening, but also gave us a delightful whirlwind tour of the city. BRAVO! was shown at the West Roxbury VA with the assistance of Diane Keith, and a color guard of local Marines. The appreciative audience was comprised of local folk as well as people from southern California to Rhode Island. It was also a special afternoon for families…both the Mottolas and the family of “cast” member Mike McCauley.

And then we headed north, then west, happily donning sweaters and jackets in the cooler clime.

To say the least, we are exceedingly grateful to those who invited us to their meetings and cities to screen BRAVO! And without the hospitality of friends and family along the way, the trip would not have been possible. Their belief in the film and its importance is responsible for the huge positive response we have enjoyed and will continue to enjoy as more screening requests come our way.

Now we are back home and once again searching for a corporate sponsor and/or a distributor. We are making daily contacts to find that one personal connection that will help send BRAVO! out into a national or worldwide audience.

And we do so with the glorious memories of our journey. Ken chose to drive the entire way, which concluded at about 12,900 miles. I was the navigator, ice chest and luggage manager, and scribe. Ken was the car packer, itinerary planner, tour guide and historian. To travel with Ken is to learn of people, places and events; to learn of geography, geology and the solar system.

Along the way we were able to see migrating snow geese and more than 70 species of birds, plus wildlife such as deer, elk, bighorn sheep, bear, and coyotes, but nary a moose. The “Moose-on-the-Loose” signs were posted nearly everywhere in the north like a promise, but one that was not fulfilled. They say it was because we didn’t drive at night.

A Moose on the Loose sign

A stand-out for me was the people all over the North American continent who give themselves to history and place and talk about it with great passion and eloquence. There is the person behind the counter at our national parks, the ranger who drives from monument to monument with a speech and armful of maps and photos for each stop, the archaeologist who thrills at the find of the day. There are the greeters at the information centers who welcome you to their country, state, or city. There are the servers at restaurants who talk about what it’s like to live in their towns, and the bus drivers who care about the movement of the icefields and their watersheds.

And because we drove eastward through the US, and westward through Canada, we gained a vast knowledge of the beauty of our North American Continent and its people. It was both reassuring and rewarding. And best of all, it gave us an even deeper sense of what every Marine—and every person who serves to defend and protect our continent—is committed to preserving.

Documentary Film,Film Screenings,Khe Sanh,Khe Sanh Veteran's Reunion,Marines,Vietnam War

August 28, 2012

BRAVO! Screening Update

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Here is updated information about upcoming screenings of BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Sheraton Pentagon City Hotel
900 S. Orme Street
Arlington, VA
Room: Cavalier A & B
Time: 1:00 PM

Saturday, September 8, 2012

West Roxbury Division Veterans Affairs
1400 VFW Parkway
West Roxbury, MA
Time: 3:00 PM

Room locations may be subject to change in which case we will provide further updates.

Please contact us at 208-340-8889 or for more information.