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Posts Tagged ‘World War II’

Documentary Film,Marines,Other Musings,Veterans

July 5, 2017

Stouthearted and Indomitable

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Idaho recently honored Medal of Honor recipient Arthur J. Jackson in a memorial ceremony held at the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery in Boise. Art passed away on June 14, 2017.

Art’s Medal of Honor was for his actions as a Marine PFC with the Seventh Marine Regiment on the island of Peleliu in 1944. You can read the citation here.

A young Art Jackson with his Medal of Honor.

The United States Marine Corps was involved in Art’s memorial and they brought Marines from Washington’s 8th and I Barracks as well as Marine Corps Band members who serve in the President’s own band.

The weather was warm, but not hot, and a breeze out of the west set the flags to fluttering.

Art and Sally Jackson at a celebration of Art in 2016 in Boise Idaho. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

A good sized crowd arrived in time to see Art honored with a 21 gun salute, a flyover by Marine Corps F-18s, a service delivered by the Boise Rescue Mission’s Reverend Bill Roscoe, and a solemn presentation of the American flag to Art’s wife, Sally.

I got acquainted with Art last year while we interviewed Sally Jackson for our upcoming film I MARRIED THE WAR about the wives of combat veterans. I was lucky enough, while Sally was being interviewed about her art work or going through old photos of family and friends, to chat with Art at some length.

Marines from 8th & I honoring Art with a 21 Gun Salute. Photo courtesy of Ken Rodgers.

At the time, Art was ninety-one, so his memory was a little worn and I doubt he remembered me the few times we met, but he did tell me some things about his service in the Marine Corps. He talked about the miserable weather at Cape Gloucester and the horrible ordeal of Peleliu and the brutal and grueling grind of Okinawa.

When Art told me these stories he’d stop midsentence and stare off at the other side of the living room, and I knew he was back there, reliving those moments, whatever they might be at that instant.

I don’t know, he may have been thinking about what he was telling me, or it could be something else: the face of a Marine who stood beside him in one of the firefights, or it could have been a recollection of the dead volcanic terrain of Peleliu, or the shattered families, the frightened children and other locals on Okinawa.

The rest of Art’s biography is interesting and you can read about it here.

On Peleliu, Art’s actions came to be referred to as “the one-man assault.” He was responsible for killing fifty Japanese soldiers—solo, no help.

Members of the President’s Own Marine Corps Band performing at Art’s memorial. Photo courtesy of Ken Rodgers.

When I think about what that means, killing all those men, leads me to think about my own combat experiences. For the most part, my time at Khe Sanh was spent dodging incoming—everything from 152 MM artillery rounds roaring in from Laos to 7.62 rounds from SVD sniper rifles. But in one instance I was involved in an assault into an entrenched position of an NVA battalion.

On that day, after an hours-long often hand-to-hand struggle, the men of my outfit, Bravo Company, decimated that battalion of NVA. Some of my comrades were honored with Navy Crosses and Silver Stars and Bronze Stars, but as far as I can recall no one did anything to match what Art Jackson did on Peleliu.

People talk a lot about courage when they talk about Art Jackson.

What is the nature of courage?

Dictionary.com defines courage as follows:

The quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear; bravery.

I don’t hold with the notion that what Art did or what others do in times of intense pressure is done without fear. I suspect courage comes forth in spite of fear.

Sally receiving the American Flag from Art’s coffin. Photo courtesy of Ken Rodgers.

A couple of quotes I found on the Internet seem to match what my experiences have led me to surmise:

“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear.” ~ Mark Twain

“Courage is feeling fear, not getting rid of fear, and taking action in the face of fear.” ~ Roy T Bennett

Most of what I did in my stint during the war—and I was under fire a lot—was to do what was required of me and sometimes that placed me in extreme danger. And although I was scared, whether I did anything or not made no difference. I was still scared.

And also, after all the forty-nine-plus years since I left the war, I’ve come to believe that a lot of what I did that led me to eschew my own safety on the battlefield was due to peer pressure. I thought then and I believe now that next to death and maiming, and maybe, in some instances even before those horrible results of combat, behaving so that I was not thought of as a coward by the men with whom I served was the prime motivator for my taking actions that were life endangering.

Fear is a powerful motivator and left unchecked it can eat a man or woman up, drive them to inaction in a situation demanding action, can force them to hide when those they love die. To overcome that requires courage.

Lastly, besides peer pressure and duty, a man or woman engaged in combat will go above and beyond to help their comrades. Some people call it love. I don’t know what to call it other than regard for those with whom you share a bunker, those who make you laugh, who walk through the valley of death with you, who will pull you to safety when you get shot. As a Marine, we all felt we owed it to our brothers to help them if they were in extreme danger. A creed, I guess, that seems to be overdone these days, but more than a creed, something, on second thought, that is akin to love. And somewhere in there, I’m sure courage is involved.

I don’t know what Art Jackson’s reasons were for doing what he did. Maybe it was all of the above.

I am glad I got acquainted with Art Jackson. He was a national hero. The citation for Art’s Medal of Honor states that he was “stouthearted and indomitable.” I think that’s something all of us would, in some fashion, like to be.

Rest in peace, Art, and Semper Fi.

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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,Veterans,Vietnam War,Warhawk Air Museum

June 14, 2017

On the Warhawk Air Museum and Journeys Through the Trenches of My Memory

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Last week I had the privilege of speaking before 150 folks at Nampa, Idaho’s Warhawk Air Museum. I talked about the making of BRAVO! and my experience at the Siege of Khe Sanh.

Most of the attendees were veterans, many of them men who fought in World War II and Korea. There were also a good number of Vietnam War veterans as well as men and women who fought in the wars of the Middle East. We even had active duty United States Air Force officers, a front seater (pilot) and a back seater (weapons officer), who fly F-15E Strike Eagles out of Mountain Home Air Force Base in Mountain Home, Idaho.

Guest speaker Ken Rodgers and Barry Hill of the Warhawk Air Museum discussing the display screen prior to the event. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers.

The Warhawk Air Museum is a local marvel as far as military museums go. Lots of old planes and choppers, but the most amazing thing to me is the personal testimonials and memorabilia available to view. As one of the men who attended the screening said, “It’s a very personal museum.”

The Warhawk also records video interviews of veterans talking about their combat experiences, sponsors field trips for school children and has educational classes so students in the area’s schools can learn about the military and wars directly from veterans, the folks who know the emotional aspects of combat.

Visitors who travel through Idaho go to see the museum as they pass through, and for some, a trip to the Warhawk is a destination in itself.

Thanks to Sue Paul and Barry Hill and the staff and volunteers at the museum for their support on my presentation as well as all they do for veterans and the memory of those who have served our country. If you are interested in finding out more about the Warhawk you can find their webpage at http://warhawkairmuseum.org/.

Some of the folks who attended the event at the Warhawk Air Museum. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers

Several weeks back I blogged about June 1, 1967. Today I want to write about June 14, 1967 at Khe Sanh. On today’s date in 1967 Bravo Company was dug in on Hill 881 South and still staggering from the events of June 7 when a patrol ran into an NVA ambush and we lost 19 good men.

Besides living with our collective grief and agony, at 16:15 on June 14, 3rd Platoon Bravo received an incoming sniper round and responded by calling in an 81 MM mortar mission that evidently silenced the sniper. Whether the sniper was actually nullified or if he moved to another location was not known.

Elsewhere in 1/26’s area of responsibility in the Khe Sanh region, Charlie Company discovered an enemy bunker and destroyed it with five pounds of C-4.

A look at Route 9 outside Khe Sanh. Notice the rough terrain.

The battalion’s command chronologies for 6/14 made the area sound relatively quiet for a war zone.

It was about this time that Bravo went out on patrol to Hill 881 North and beyond, and in the process of digging around in the old battle sites of the Hill Fights which happened in March and April of 1967, found the scattered remains of human bodies partially sticking out of the mud where a fresh torrent of rainwater had eroded what looked like a burial site.

Someone spotted a ragged uniform remnant and that led to someone else digging around in the red-mud mess and then a femur appeared out of the muck with swatches of what we assumed was an NVA uniform still attached. The bone was yanked out of the ground and the femur soon hung off the jungle dungaree trousers of some Marine whose name I cannot recall.

In my memory, I cannot see the Marine’s face but I can see that leg bone dangling off the left side of his dirty dungarees. I don’t think that lasted long. I suspect the platoon sergeant or some officer spotted the bone on the belt and delivered an order that the bone was to be disposed of. You hear stories over the course of your life about a Marine who cut off and collected the ears of his enemy or Marines who pulled the gold teeth out of the mouths of enemy corpses. I never saw any of that, but I did see the bone dangling off the leg.

I usually have a good memory for names and faces of the men I served with in Vietnam, but during this time frame, subsequent to the ambush of 6/7, the faces that haunt my memory are like a maze of eyes and mouths and skin colors. We were an ethnically diverse group, I believe, because that’s how it was back in the 60s before the draft was killed.

What became 2nd Platoon of Bravo 1/26 was a mix of men from both 2nd and 1st Platoons, which had taken the bulk of casualties from the event of 6/7/67. We had, for a short time, a new platoon commander, Ben Long, who went on to command 1st Platoon and then became Bravo Company’s XO during the Siege in early 1968.

A look at the mountains around Khe Sanh.

I often think how difficult it must have been to run an efficient platoon filled with a number of men who had no familiarity with each other. I know the Marine Corps prides itself on the ability of the NCOs to run the ship, but when you don’t know the man who’s got your back, it’s hard to trust him and if you don’t trust him, he knows it and if he knows it, he won’t trust you as much as he might need.

Fortunately we had a strong set of NCOs: Staff Sergeant Ward and Sergeant Blankenship and Sergeant Martinez, Corporal Dede, Corporal Poorman, Corporal Fideli and others whose names I can’t remember.

The Marines of 2nd Platoon were a dirty, ragged bunch, but Lieutenant Long and the NCOs held us together. We became a unit of Marines. We learned to trust each other and to work with each other despite a number of obstacles in leadership that kept coming to the fore after Lieutenant Long went to on to command the newly reconstituted 1st Platoon.

As the summer wore on, we moved from Hill 881 South to the combat base and then some of us went out on Route 9 for over a week after 1st Platoon busted up an NVA ambush intended to fry bigger fish, traffic of heavy guns going up to Khe Sanh. Then we moved on to Hill 861 and then back to the combat base and rivers of rain.

It was a summer of long patrols and nights spent out in the mist and rain waiting for an enemy that would not show up. Occasionally we took sniper rounds or someone got a glimpse of the enemy, but there was little action and when there is not action, Marines turn to work to keep themselves out of trouble.

So we dug and dug and filled sandbags and installed culverts made from 55 gallon drums with both ends cut out so the trenches would drain and we wouldn’t have to stand knee deep in the water that accumulated from the incessant precipitation.

We were damp and dirty and often soaked. But we persevered.

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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,Veterans,Vietnam War

July 27, 2016

On Savagery

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“War produces many euphemisms, downplaying or giving verbal respectability to savagery and slaughter.”
― Patrick Cockburn

On a recent airplane flight that Betty and I made to screen BRAVO!, I busied myself by reading an article by George Packer in THE NEW YORKER that introduced an interesting notion about violence and warriors. The article got my attention and has me still thinking.

I interpreted that notion as follows: The world offers a variety of narratives in which one can choose to participate. Some narratives are peaceful, some career minded, some offer adventure. Sometimes the adventurous narratives proffer us the opportunity to experience our own inner savagery.

As I pondered the latter idea, I thought that it was ugly. But then I thought about it some more and decided that yes, the idea that we can take the opportunity to experience our own inner savagery is ugly, but maybe not that uncommon.

Photo of author, historian and Marine William Manchester. Photo from Veterans Today.

Photo of author, historian and Marine William Manchester. Photo from Veterans Today.

I recall reading William Manchester’s book titled GOODBYE DARKNESS about his service in the Marine Corps during World War II. What stuck with me more than any other ideas and incidents he wrote about were his comments about the battles with the Japanese. Marines quite often did not take prisoners. Neither did the Japanese. In many ways, the battles in the Pacific theater were no-quarter-given affairs. Manchester intimated that even when an enemy soldier tried to surrender, you killed him.

I know there were a lot of reasons why prisoners were not taken, but as I think about it, there is an element of savagery here that would shock the folks at home who have no knowledge of war.

Various definitions of savagery speak of barbarity and violence and brutality. And of course war is all of those things, and savagery may be necessary for the warrior when locked in battle.

I was involved in a nasty battle in Vietnam in which we assaulted a trench line held by a battalion of North Vietnamese soldiers. We got them on the run and moved through their fortifications, killing every enemy soldier we came upon.

At one point in the fight, as another Marine and I advanced through the maze of trenches, I noticed a group of Marines in a deep bomb crater nearby. Among them was what looked like a North Vietnamese soldier who must have surrendered. As I watched, in just the minute it takes for you to start to breathe, a barrage of enemy mortar rounds landed in and around the bomb crater, decimating the Marines and Navy Corpsmen inside the crater. As the smoke and dust cleared, I saw a Marine take a .45 caliber pistol and shoot that NVA prisoner in the head.

For years I doubted I had really seen this event take place. Not that I couldn’t believe it happened, but on that day, so much chaos and mayhem ruled the moment that I’ve wondered if the event was a figment of my imagination or a memory based on something someone else had told me.

Several years ago, I finally did some checking around and I am now convinced that what I saw did actually happen.

I am not saying that when the Marine popped a pistol round into the prisoner’s head that it was wrong, or right for that matter. I think each of us has to decide these things for ourselves. And I would like to throw into the thinking mix the notion that the question of whether it was right or wrong wasn’t even relevant to the moment. I don’t believe any of us were pondering the finer points of morality while this battle raged.

Would I have done the same thing? Even though I was a witness, I can’t really say since I wasn’t in that exact situation and that very particular place.

I wonder what was going through that Marine’s mind as he pulled the trigger and killed his prisoner. I know he was racked with fear—we all were—and he may have been cognizant that what happened when the barrage of mortar rounds landed was a catastrophe for everyone in the bomb crater and that the NVA prisoner looking at him was an enemy combatant who, if given the opportunity, would most likely do anything he could to help kill Marines.

Houses burned by American soldiers during the My Lai massacre on March 16, 1968 in My Lai, South Vietnam.  (Photo by Ronald S. Haeberle)

Houses burned by American soldiers during the My Lai massacre on March 16, 1968 in My Lai, South Vietnam. (Photo by Ronald S. Haeberle)

What I witnessed at that moment was a lot of things, including savagery.

Earlier in my tour of duty, some Marines arrived in Bravo Company from another regiment. They had been in-country for a while and were seasoned warriors. I got to know a few of them and more than once I asked how and why they ended up getting transferred to Bravo Company.

The Marines would blow me off or they’d look at each other and shrug, but finally, two of them told me they’d been involved in an operation in the mountains south of Khe Sanh. The operation, among other things, involved sweeping through a lot of rough country and a few of the local villes.

According to what these Marines told me, every time they went through one of the villes on search and destroy missions, one or more Marines would get shot, always after the Marines had left the ville. Evidently it happened so many times that one day, after several Marines were shot and killed after the company left a particular ville, the company got on line and swept back through the ville and killed everything: men, women, children, dogs, pigs.

I served with these men, some of them for quite a long time, and they were good men, so it makes me wonder if captured in a particular time and place, most of us aren’t susceptible to such momentary fits of aggression, rage or savagery.

As I compose this, I think of the incident at My Lai in 1968 where American troops slaughtered hundreds of Vietnamese people in a horror where savagery evidently got the best of a good number of the United States Army participants. I can’t imagine that all those men who were involved in that massacre are monsters now if they are still alive. They may have been monsters in that short time but then came home to not be like that at all, and when I think that, I wonder if most of us don’t have that person living inside us, that monster.

Is this kind of savagery a result of fear or is it a result of what we become in order to survive when faced with the possibility of imminent death; or is it that there is some kind of communal blood lust that happens in combat; or is it even more complicated than that? Is revenge considered savagery? A lot of questions, I think, and not a lot of answers.

Another photo of the action at My Lai on March 16, 1968. (Photo by Ronald Haeberle)

Another photo of the action at My Lai on March 16, 1968. (Photo by Ronald Haeberle)

Many people who read this will, without a moment’s hesitation, say, “No, people who act this way are monsters without exception.” But some of us who have been in combat won’t be so sure. We’ll think about what we saw and what it felt like to be confronted by another human intent on killing you and the person next to you, and who has the means to do so.

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

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. Please consider gifting copies to a veteran, a history buff, a library, a friend or family member. For more information, go to https://bravotheproject.com/store/.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject?ref=hl.

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 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.

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

January 27, 2016

On War Poetry

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In 1968, on today’s date, January 27, the Marines in the trenches at Khe Sanh were beginning to realize that what began on January 20-21, 1968, would turn into a period of horror and death and destruction which would become seared into the memories and psyches of all those who survived.

The 19th Century German philosopher and poet, Friedrich Nietzsche said: We have art in order not to die of the truth.

The truth of what happened at Khe Sanh often seems like a dose of reality so heinous that it is hard to swallow. We want to reject it as fantasy, as false memory, as fiction. But what happened there is truth with a bitter bouquet.

Down inside our minds, we try to figure a way to deal with that nasty truth and so, as Nietzsche probably would suggest, we often turn the truth into art. Over the last 2700 years and more, warriors have been memorializing their war experiences with poetry, which is certainly art.

Somewhere around the Eighth Century, BC, the Greek warrior poet, Archilochus wrote: “I long for a fight with you, just as a thirsty man longs for drink.”*

And in the intervening centuries, warriors have tried to reduce to poetry the profound impacts of combat through imagery be it sight, sound, smell, or the way the mist of a morning before battle gathers on the skin.

In the last one hundred years or so, war poets have been strong voices in articulating what they have witnessed as man has attacked and massacred his fellow man. A list of 20th and 21st Century war poets might include Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen from World War I, János Pilinszky and Randall Jarrell from World War II, Rolando Hinojosa and William Childress from the Korean War, Yusef Komunyakaa and Bruce Weigl from Vietnam, and Brian Turner and Jason Shelton from the wars in the middle east.

Although these poets have gained some fame, the efforts of trying to convert our wartime experiences into something we can look at on a page is a pretty common phenomena.

Skipper and poet, Ken Pipes, at Khe Sanh

Skipper and poet, Ken Pipes, at Khe Sanh

Fear, horror and pain; what we’ve witnessed and endured in war sometimes acts as a muse and invites us, the warriors, to create, even those of us who aren’t professional poets.

In today’s rendition of the blog, we turn to one of our own, Lieutenant Colonel Ken Pipes, USMC Retired, who served as the company commander of Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines during the siege. Skipper Pipes is also featured in the documentary, BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR.

Skipper Pipes’ poem is written in classic form, rhyme and meter, and is published here with his permission. Please respect his copyright.

Tribute and Tribulation
Khe Sanh Remembered

To the men who scaled their mountains
and Seized that far flung plateau,
To the men who held the arena
Against the best the enemy could throw.

Who walked the jungle covered valleys
And waded the leach laden streams;
Who moved through the green shrouded alleys,
Till their muscles cramped and screamed.

To those who fell wounded and bleeding,
Yet arose to fight on ’til the end.
To those who fell wounded and bleeding,
Never to rise up again.

To our comrades who carried the rifle;
Who fired both cannon and gun.
To those who supplied and fought with us
We knew that they’d never run.

To the pilots who flew the fast movers,
And herded choppers all over the sky.
Who calmly watched the green tracers
As they went arching and howling by.

To Gentleman Jim, our commander,
And Jaques, Claire, Morris and Chief.
To Snake, Mike, Korkow and Rash,
And other heroes we respect and keep.

To Stubbe, our brave navy chaplain,
Who interceded for us as our link.
And to DeMaggd, our battalion surgeon,
Whose skilled hand drew us back from the brink.

To Blanchfield, and our navy corpsmen,
The finest and most courageous of all;
Who daily and nightly fought to reach us,
Refusing to succumb to the law.

So now as we move far from the valley,
And the years march away to the fore,
We and our families remember,
All those who made it happen; and more.

© Ken Pipes

Oorah for the Skipper! Ooorah! for poetry. Ooorah! for art.

If you have further interest in war poetry, you can find examples here from those mentioned earlier: Siegfried Sassoon contemplates a letter home to a mother here: Wilfred Owen muses on a gas attack here: ; János Pilinszky ponders prisoners of war here:
Randall Jarrell writes about the men who crew bombers here: Rolando Hinojosa contemplates friendly fire here: William Childress remembers the Korean War here: Yusef Komunyakaa at The Wall here: Bruce Weigl muses about the world between war and home here: Brian Turner on the bullet here: and Jason Shelton on Iraq here.

*From William Harris, Prof. Emeritus Classics, Middlebury College. (http://community.middlebury.edu/~harris/Archilochus.pdf).

Ken Pipes, The Skipper and poet

Ken Pipes, The Skipper and poet

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 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

January 20, 2016

On Warriors, Professional Athletes, the Super Bowl and the Siege of Khe Sanh

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During the winter season the National Football League playoffs are juxtaposed with the anniversary of the Siege of Khe Sanh. Teams from the NFL bang heads in the tournament push to the Super Bowl and I attempt to employ my anticipation for the big game to balance the Khe Sanh Siege depression that often presents its ugly face.

I have watched most of the Super Bowls and in my younger years, Super Bowl Sunday may have been the most important day of the year to me.

Now it’s lost a lot of its sheen, but when I see news reports about the Steelers and the Cowboys and the Packers and the Chiefs, my memories riffle back through the years to the first Super Bowl.

I was not a Green Bay Packer fan back in the 1960s, mostly because I tend to favor underdogs and I was tired of them winning again and again and again.

And so when one of my fellow Marines suggested we figure out where to watch the Super Bowl, I wasn’t particularly interested. Not being a fan of the Packers and not giving the Kansas City Chiefs much of a chance to beat them, I probably said something like, “Who cares?”

I was in Infantry Training Regiment, getting whipped into shape for combat in Vietnam. Stationed at Camp San Onofre at Camp Pendleton in Southern California, we were near the end of our training and he—his name, I think, was Rick Schaan—wanted to get away from the Quonset huts and the grinder and find something else to do. He was a diehard Packer fan, to boot.

Anyway, having nothing better to do and loving football, I said, “Okay. Sure.”

We hitched a ride down to an enlisted man’s club sitting just south of San Clemente Beach, and we sat in a bar and watched Green Bay whip Kansas City.

View of the Pacific Ocean from the old Enlisted Men's Club at the beach on Camp Pendleton. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers

View of the Pacific Ocean from the old Enlisted Men’s Club at the beach on Camp Pendleton where Rick Schaan and Ken Rodgers watched Super Bowl I. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers

Not long after, we were off to Vietnam, Schaan to his billet and me to the 26th Marines and eventually to Khe Sanh, the Siege.

Super Bowl II was played on January 14, 1968, between the Packers and the Oakland Raiders. Two months later I found out that the Packers won that game, too. I was sitting in Khe Sanh in the platoon commander’s hooch on radio watch, going through a pile of old Stars and Stripes.

I recall seeing the notice about the game and as I remember it now, contrary to all the blare and hoopla surrounding the professional sports these days, the report on Super Bowl II was short and somewhat buried beneath news about Korea, Germany, the war in Vietnam and the lists of who died in combat prior to the week of that particular issue.

That Stars and Stripes was months old, but that shouldn’t be surprising, given the delays getting mail in to us during the Siege. Sometimes we went days, even weeks, without seeing mail.

I can remember reading the newspaper report on the game, thinking about it, and consciously making a decision to put that piece of info back somewhere where it wouldn’t hinder my attempts to stay alive. When you are surrounded by thirty or forty thousand enemy determined to kill you, who wins the Super Bowl isn’t a particularly big deal.

Back then, football fans had their heroes—Jim Brown and Bart Starr and Johnny Unitas and Deacon Jones, to name a few—but in those days, athletes weren’t as well paid as they are now and they weren’t worshiped like they are now, as I remember it.
In the late 1960s a game was only a game and not a life-and-death event, contrary, it seems, to all the hype we get twenty-four/seven from the sports promoters and sports reporters who make a living convincing us these games are the most important things in the world.

Back when I was young a lot of the great athletes were veterans of either (or both) World War II and Korea, and had given up some of their playing careers to serve the country. Now, I rarely see the name of any veteran of Iraq or Afghanistan up in the sports’ heroes shining light hoopla.

Blog author, Ken Rodgers, while serving at Khe Sanh, 1968. Photo courtesy of Michael E. O'Hara.

Blog author, Ken Rodgers, while serving at Khe Sanh, 1968. Photo courtesy of Michael E. O’Hara.

It’s sad to me, that while we have thousands of our youth going out, losing legs, arms, suffering Traumatic Brain Injury and PTSD or being killed, these sporting icons are getting paid all the money they make. I don’t blame these young stars for taking the money. It’s there and we, the American public, are willing to pay for all the hype.

And therein lies the irony. We have met the enemy and he is us, as I think the Walt Kelly cartoon character Pogo said. It’s us. We glorify these young athletes because they can run and jump and throw and think fast. I think we should be glorifying our returning service people, too. Imagine if they got paid like the sports stars of today. I don’t think it would take long for the public to send up a savage ballyhoo about the high cost of war.

I know I may be dreaming, but what if we increased the pay of these kids going off to war and gave them some real recognition instead of a “thank you for your service” as we head out the door to work, to work out, to go to a concert.

So, I may not watch the Super Bowl this year, because I’ve gotten kind of sick of all the fanfare about super jocks making super money for nothing more than a game. But I am certain I will wrestle with my Khe Sanh Siege depression and I will also lift my glass to all the younger warriors who are willing to use their arms and legs for something more important than scoring touchdowns.

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

America's Middle East Conflicts,Documentary Film,Film Screenings,Khe Sanh,Marines,Veterans,Vietnam War

June 26, 2015

On Reverence for the Old Breed

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I recently had a conversation with a veteran of the Middle East conflicts about the status of veterans in our country today. This young man is someone for whom I hold a ton of respect, someone who owns the permanent wounds, both physical and mental, as a result of his tours of combat duty.

In effect—and I am paraphrasing here—he told me that today’s veterans have it easy compared to what happened to Vietnam vets, especially when we, Vietnam vets, came home from our war. I am not sure that we had it any more difficult in Vietnam than the troops who have been battling in Iraq and Afghanistan, but I didn’t disagree or agree with him.

Several days later, as I left the house to go on a walk, I considered the idea that we had it worse than the current vets. In terms of our acceptance by the public back home and the recognition that PTSD and TBI are legitimate issues, he is probably right. But that is all ancient history, so to speak.

As I strode beneath the ash trees and the maples and the crabapples and heard the warning cries of the black-capped chickadees, I thought about war and veterans. That led me to consider the wars of the last one-hundred years: World War I, the Banana Wars as Marine Lieutenant General Smedley Butler called them, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Gulf War I and II, Afghanistan and all the other scrapes and skirmishes that have involved the United States’ military.

That led me to think about how I felt, when I was in the Marine Corps, about the veterans of previous conflicts.

Before pursuing those thoughts, though, I admit to having spent a childhood surrounded by relatives, family friends and school teachers who were Marines. In 1950 one of my first cousins was killed at Chosin Reservoir in Korea. So I already held the idea of Marines in high regards.

Then in boot camp we were inundated with nightly doses of Marine Corps history: Presley O’Bannon, Dan Daly, Smedley Butler, John Basilone, Chesty Puller and other famous Marines. We heard about Belleau Wood and Guadalcanal. Our drill instructors uttered paeans to the Marines of Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines and their gripping heroic battle to stave off annihilation at the hands of the Chinese Army at Chosin Reservoir during the early days of the Korean War.

As I strode on down the walking trail ignoring the barks of neurotic Irish setters and aged Akitas, I recalled, in May of 1968, going to a special training session for riot control–yes we were training to control riots back in 1968. One of the trainers, a Master Gunnery Sergeant served with the 4th Marine Regiment—the China Marines—before World War II began for the United States. At the time he was old and I marveled that he was still in the Marines and I wondered what it was like to have been in China back then and supposed maybe he was with the units of the 4th Marines who were at Corregidor and the pursuant Bataan Death March. Thinking about those things gave me a sense of awe, that I was in the same location with a warrior who had been in places and combat that had reached almost mythological planes. Yes, I was at Khe Sanh, but Corregidor, Bataan?

Smedley Butler

Smedley Butler

Regardless of your feelings about war—hate it, love it—it happens to humans and as such, the total array of human emotion comes into play: love, hate, rage, cowardice, callousness, disdain, on and on and on. People go through horrible experiences and some act above and beyond and others dismally fail or fall short one day and triumph the next, and as they soar and/or fail, the environment that compels them is monstrous in ways that those who have not fought in battle cannot imagine. And I revered that Master Gunnery Sergeant for what I supposed he went through.

Similarly, later, when I was stationed at 36th Street Naval Station in San Diego, working in the Brig, one of our brig wardens was a Chief Warrant Officer, a weapons specialist known as a Gunner. I don’t recall his name but I can see him in my mind’s eye. Old, to me back then at the ripe old age of 23. The Gunner was quiet, not like I thought he ought to be, loud and commanding. If I recollect correctly, he had been with Chesty Puller at both Guadalcanal and Chosin Reservoir. I believe he was Chesty’s Sergeant Major at Chosin.

There I was, working with a man who’d been with Chesty, at two of the Marine Corps’ salient history-making battles. And I revered him so much that I didn’t ask him about all that history. I was reluctant to approach him. He may have felt about his experiences in those places like I felt about Khe Sanh and at that time I really didn’t want to talk about what happened at Khe Sanh.

I suspect that one of the reasons we were indoctrinated during boot camp on the heroics of past Marines was to perpetuate the mythology of the Corps, but it also was intended, in my opinion, as a possible way to stiffen our backbones should we, as Marines, and later as men, encounter the kind of horrible events that precipitated the actions that made Basilone and Butler and Chesty, and all the other Marines who are enshrined in the Corps’ pantheon of heroes, heroes.

Years after I left the Marine Corps, I ran into Marines who served after I did, and they told me that the Siege of Khe Sanh had already become memorialized in Marine Corps lore. They told me that when the Drill Instructors held their nightly historical indoctrination of recruits, Khe Sanh was spoken of with reverence and the men who fought there were heroes, too.

And as time goes on, I suppose, the men and women who served in Vietnam will be viewed in an even more heroic light as our stories continue to be told. Bravo Marines like the men in our film will be viewed as icons of heroism instead of the losers we were thought to be by so many of our fellow citizens back in the late 60s through the early 90s.

Newer waves of Marine veterans have emerged from combat in places like Beirut in 1982 and the Gulf War in the early 90s and of course, the Middle East wars of this century, and as the century rolls on, there will, unfortunately, be more wars in which we will undoubtedly fight, and as the years go on, those new Marines will hold the old ones in awe. And the mythology will be enriched and the list of heroes will grow. It won’t make any difference whether the wars are good or bad as judged later, the men who fight them will go on to endure nightmarish events that will automatically log them in the small brotherhood called Warrior.

Make no mistake, there will be wars. More wars in the Middle East as we deal with a resurgence of Islamic culture and there will be battles in Asia as those countries flex their muscles and who knows, Africa and South America and Europe. People say the Europeans are cured of the centuries of conflict that racked the continent, but folks die and the collective memory of World War I and World War II also loses the intimacy of horror that dies with the individuals who lived through those conflagrations. There will be war in Europe.

Chesty Puller

Chesty Puller

And we will be involved. Good war or bad war, we will have our young people involved, and as each generation of warrior grows older, they will become the new generation of the revered veterans.

My young friend and his fellow warriors in Iraq and Afghanistan will be known for fights in Fallujah and Ramadi and Sangin and Dehaneh. They will be revered. They will be called heroes. They won’t see themselves as such, but they will be remembered as heroes.

On July 2, 2015, at 7:00 PM, BRAVO! will be screened as a fundraiser for the Eagle Field of Honor in Eagle, Idaho. The screening will be at Northgate Reel Theater at 6950 West State Street in Boise. Tickets are $10.00 with all proceeds going to the Eagle Field of Honor. Sponsored by Lithia Ford of Boise. For more information contact Heather Paredes at dhpare@yahoo.com or Betty Rodgers at bettykrodgers@gmail.com. Telephone: 208-861-7309 or 208-340-8324.

If you or your organization would like to host a screening of BRAVO! in your town this coming summer, fall, or 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 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,Guest Blogs,Khe Sanh,Vietnam War

April 1, 2015

Composing for Khe Sanh

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It began about two years ago, when I sat down with Ken and Betty Rodgers over coffee to talk music. The Rodgers had completed a documentary film, a legacy project, honoring the heroic men of Bravo Company, First Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment. They were in need of a composer to finalize an almost-complete soundtrack, teeming with an impressive list of musicians that had eagerly contributed their talents.

I felt a growing connection to the Rodgers as I learned about their project: an authentic documentary honoring war heroes and their families, preserving priceless historic and emotional accounts of the brave Khe Sanh Marines both living and passed on. I wanted to learn more, and was honored by the possibility that my music might be part of something so universally important. I also started to realize that it could be important to me on a personal level as well . . .

My grandfather served in World War II as a Marine during the battle of Iwo Jima, and he had been an elusive mystery to my family ever since his return after the war ended. Growing up, I never had much of a relationship with my grandfather; he made it quite clear to the family that he preferred isolation—a need that was ever-increasing toward the end. When I found out he took his life, there were so many questions unanswered, and my family was left in emotional confusion.

Robin Zimmermann's grandfather in the USMC. Photo courtesy of Robin Zimmermann.

Robin Zimmermann’s grandfather in the USMC. Photo courtesy of Robin Zimmermann.

Briefly hearing Ken’s accounts, I started to think about the opportunity to learn about war, about the toll it takes on soldiers, from the men who have the most important stories to tell. For many reasons, I missed the opportunity to learn about war from my grandfather. Now I had the opportunity to do so, exploring a world foreign to me through something so personal—creating music.

Leaving the meeting with a DVD, I went home and watched Bravo! for the first time. It emotionally overwhelmed me, it challenged my thoughts, it changed everything I ever knew about war. The endless complexity of emotions, ranging anywhere from rage, fear, devastation, and emptiness, to youth, hope, family, love. It opened my eyes to the ravages of Khe Sanh, and to the horrors of battle that veterans such as my grandfather had seen.

I started to think how it could at all be possible to reflect war and its compound emotions by eight simple notes. I was more driven than ever to compose these pieces of music—but now the question was . . . how?

Accepting the challenge, and accompanied with the fear that I wouldn’t—even couldn’t—get it right, I got to work. I began by interviewing Betty and Ken, asking for words, colors, emotions, thoughts that they wanted to portray. A ritual with every filmmaker I work with, I’ve learned throughout the years that the emotions and thoughts I take away from watching a film may not be exactly the emotions the filmmaker wants to portray to the viewer. Emotions are different than messages, and messages are the bridge between the film and audience.

A young Robin Zimmermann with her grandfather. Photo courtesy of Robin Zimmermann.

A young Robin Zimmermann with her grandfather. Photo courtesy of Robin Zimmermann.

A lengthy back-and-forth ensued as I wrote, presented, Ken and Betty listened, and I altered as requested. Because there was so much complexity, there were lots of experiments with different approaches—sometimes from a female, motherly voice, sometimes brooding and dark, sometimes lilting and requiem-reminiscent.

Leaving my emotion aside and focusing entirely on the film in front of me was tough. Initially, I believe my thoughts got in the way and contributed to some cluttered and confused musical compositions. What instruments to employ was a topic highly discussed. Strings such as violin and viola sometimes seemed right, sometimes not at all. There was a delicate balance between an orchestral feel vs. too heavy-handed and hymn-like. One prominent color that Ken felt represented the film’s Ghost Patrol scene was gray—feeling cold, stunned, numb, isolated.

Repeatedly composing to scenes of devastation did take a toll on me. The more I watched the heroic men on screen, the more familiar they became to me, although we hadn’t met. Spending hours in a studio with no-one but your film protagonists, you develop a sense of familiarity with those you repeatedly observe, and their pain and tears become increasingly more personal. That familiarity, combined with a clear understanding of my grandfather’s pain, made for a highly challenging yet enormously rewarding journey.

Ken and Betty were wonderfully supportive in the creative process, and equally as supportive in helping me to understand my grandfather’s actions as a result of war. Their musical suggestions and edits pushed me and challenged me; I am a better composer because of it, and I feel a greater understanding and sense of catharsis about my grandfather. A heartfelt thanks to Ken and Betty for the life-changing experience, and to our war heroes who fought (and continue to fight) for our safety and freedom.

-Robin Zimmermann, 2015

Robin Zimmermann is a Los Angeles-based composer, performer and sound creator for independent film and multimedia. A musician for over 20 years with classical training in piano, flute and voice, her works span genres and fields, creating unique and eclectic soundscapes designed to heighten space and simulate environments. In 2010, Robin was honored as one of four internationally selected composer fellows for the Sundance Institute Composer and Documentary Lab.

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

December 10, 2014

On Scuttlebutt

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In last week’s blog I wrote about the letters I sent home to my parents while I was in-country in 1967-68. In preparation for that article, I read each of the letters. I am glad I did because it clarified some events for me (I really did see elephants and coffee trees) and it cleared up some haziness in my memory about the timeline of my tour there.

I also noticed some recurring subjects one of which was “scuttlebutt.”

Scuttlebutt originally was a British nautical term that named a water cask kept on deck for sailors to get a drink of water. Over time, the scuttlebutt became a place for sailors to gather and share rumors or gossip. The term is quite old and was purloined sometime around the turn of the 20th Century to refer to gossip. In the Marines of the 1960s, the term scuttlebutt referred directly to rumors.

In my letters I refer to scuttlebutt in a number of instances and now, with the actual history of events available for comparison, what I thought was going to occur in any given period of time most often turned out to not happen.

Envelope sent from Vietnam by the blogger to his parents. © Ken Rodgers 2014

Envelope sent from Vietnam by the blogger to his parents.
© Ken Rodgers 2014

A few examples of the scuttlebutt going around in 1967-68 with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines follows, as recorded in my letters written at the time. I had not been in the field south of Hill 55 very long when I wrote this on 4/27/1967:

Rumor has it that the first of July or August, we will rotate to Okinawa for a month of training and then we will be sent afloat as an SLF (Special Landing Force) where we will make landings at trouble spots in Vietnam. We will be based out of Olongapo, the Philippines.

Bravo Company was located just south of Hue on May 8, 1967 when I sent this:

The engineers are building a 20 mile road to a hill southeast of Phu Bai. We will act as security. The country is “virgin.” The only Marines in there have been reconnaissance Marines. When we get to the hill, we will secure it and set up there.

On June 22, 1967, nowhere near the “virgin” country (we never went on that road-building operation), I wrote this from Hill 881 South west of the Khe Sanh Combat Base:

Rumor also has it that we shall be rotating to Phu Bai and then Okinawa in the next couple of months. I also hope that that is one rumor that comes true.

On September 1, 1967 I wrote:

By the 15th the battalion is supposed to be in Phu Bai. From there who knows? Maybe to Okinawa.

Ken Rodgers, photo courtesy of Kevin Martini-Fuller

I never made it to Okinawa until I rotated back to the States when my tour of duty was up. I never made it to Olongapo either.

The thing that gets my attention now is how the scuttlebutt usually had us going somewhere away from the war, to a place with women and food and beer. I am not sure if that’s the result of my own wishes—how I interpreted the rumors—or if it was a unit-wide desire. I suspect that my comments in the letters are a result of both my own optimism and the hopefulness of the unit in general.

I do know that one of the things that kept me going over there—that might have helped me stay alive—was my optimism, my hopefulness. The Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire said: “Optimism is the madness of insisting that all is well when we are miserable.”

During the siege, the world we inhabited was miserable, more than miserable, yet we laughed, we hoped, we dreamed of home.

I think all those references to being someplace other than where I happened to be, the misery of days of rain, the attacks by legions of leeches, the constant work and little sleep, the horror of the Siege of Khe Sanh, were nothing more than attempts to be optimistic.

I say “nothing more,” but as I think about it, that staying optimistic was a key thing in me staying alive. Since I had something to hope for, it made me work harder to stay alive.

My old buddy Joe Skinner who was a Marine Corps officer at the end of World War II once told me, “Hope is one step from despair.” When he told me that, I laughed hard. It’s true. When the jaws of despair are gnawing on you, whispering in your ear that all is folly, hope and optimism are the things that help keep you going, help keep you alive.

The 19th Century poet Emily Dickinson said it well:

# 254

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

On the screening front, mark your calendars for a fundraising screening in Casa Grande, Arizona on February 15, 2015 at the historic Paramount Theater. Doors open at noon, lunch served at 1:00 PM, screening of BRAVO! to follow. We will give you more details about this screening as they become available.

We are also pleased to announce that BRAVO! will be shown at Idaho’s historic Egyptian Theater in Boise on March 30, 2015. We will post updates to this event here as they become available.

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

DVDs of BRAVO! are available. For more information, go to https://bravotheproject.com/buy-the-dvd/.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject/. It’s another way to stay up on our news and help raise more public awareness of this film.

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

August 6, 2014

The War Was In My Throat

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The war was in my throat; the need to shout it out. I thought I’d bust wide open. (1)

In the late 1960s I was asked not to talk about it. It bummed people out. People couldn’t look me in the eye when I tried to explain what happened to me at Khe Sanh.

In the 1970s I got told by veterans of previous wars that we (the men and women who served and fought in Vietnam) were the worst Americans who ever went to combat. My first wife informed me that I hadn’t undergone anything worse than anyone else had. I shut my mouth.

In the 1980s I worked with people who had no inkling that I had been a Marine, that I had survived the Siege of Khe Sanh. I didn’t talk about it, and neither did a lot of my fellow Vietnam vets.

Not that keeping your trap shut is just a phenomenon exclusive to Vietnam Veterans. I think silence about battle is common with all combat vets, no matter what the war.

Regardless, in the 1990s we started to talk about it: our war, our horrors. For me it came out through art. I wrote poems and stories, some fiction, some not; mostly autobiographical at the roots.

I was a witness to what happened at Khe Sanh. Not everything, of course. That would be impossible. Nevertheless, I was a witness and so I have been telling the story of my experience. Story is how humans pass on what we learn about life from one generation to the next. Does that mean that anybody learns from our story? Probably not. If they did, we wouldn’t be fighting war after war after war.

Notwithstanding the fact that we don’t seem to learn any of the human stuff passed from one generation to the next, it is still incumbent on us to tell the story.

Some of the incredible architectural detail inside the Pritzker. © Betty Rodgers 2014

Some of the incredible architectural detail inside the Pritzker. © Betty Rodgers 2014

While Betty and I were in Chicago screening BRAVO!, we went to visit the Pritzker Military Museum and Library. Several people familiar with the city had told us it would be worth our time to go there, and since the Pritzker co-sponsored our screening there, we were eager to show up and view the photography, the art, the architecture, the library.

The Pritzker has a steady stream of visitors arriving at their doors all through the day and researchers are in the library researching on the computer terminals, watching DVDs, sorting through stacks of books on library tables.

While at the museum, we met the coordinator of the veteran’s oral history project, Mr. Thomas Webb, who convinced me to give an interview, and we scheduled it for the following day. I asked how long it would take, and he said they liked to get a couple of hour’s worth of material.

Preparing for an oral interview at the Pritzker. © Betty Rodgers 2014

Preparing for an oral interview at the Pritzker.
© Betty Rodgers 2014

Since I was busy with Chicago, I said I’d give them an hour. I gave them three and one-half hours of war and horror and Marines and life. I could have gone on talking to my interviewer, Mr. Jerrod Howe, but I had things to do. My interview will show up as a podcast on their website later this year.

Mine was interview ninety-six. The previous ninety-five have been veterans of World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the First Gulf War, and the Middle East Wars of this century as well Bosnia, Somalia, and other foreign conflicts.

I am particularly thoughtful about those World War II vets. When I was a young veteran, I got told that all the men who fought in that war, that worst of all wars, didn’t need to talk about their war. And of course that was humbug. Guadalcanal Diary, From Here to Eternity, The Bridge on the River Kwai, The Thin Red Line, Randall Jarrell’s poems about the Eighth Air Force, the photography that was available to all of us, and Ernie Pyle’s wonderful books about the troops are just a few of the stories that were told about this war. Those examples were mostly veterans telling their stories. And the ones who didn’t talk in 1946 or 1956 and who are still living are giving their histories to the Pritzker’s Holt Oral History Program and hundreds of other regional organizations intent on preserving memories of war.

Let’s face it, war is horrible and in the long run seems pretty senseless, but it’s one of the things that we humans do best, so it is incumbent on us as a species to understand this effort—this social effort—we get involved in quite regularly.

Here in Boise, Idaho, we have several organizations recording oral histories. I’ll bet, if you are a veteran, you can contact such an organization either in your area or elsewhere, and tell your story.

As a matter of fact, Thomas Webb at the Pritzker would like to hear from you because they want you to tell them your story. You don’t have to be in Chicago to get that done. They have multiple ways of chronicling oral history.

The interview. Left to Right, Jerrod Howe, Thomas Webb and Ken Rodgers, seated. © Betty Rodgers 2014

The interview. Left to Right, Jerrod Howe, Thomas Webb and Ken Rodgers, seated. © Betty Rodgers 2014

The Pritzker Military Museum and Library’s website is at http://www.pritzkermilitary.org/. You can find out more about the Pritzker’s Holt Oral History Program at http://www.pritzkermilitary.org/whats_on/holt-oral-history-program/stories-service/.

The mission statement for the Holt Oral History Program states:

“… the Holt Oral History Program is dedicated to conserving the unique Stories of Service of the Citizen Soldier—not just high ranking officers, recognizable faces from history, or soldiers who have had their stories told already—but every man and woman, from all walks of life, who has served and sacrificed for our country.”

We are all witnesses to our time. Share what you have seen and learned.

The war was in my mouth, right behind my teeth. It wanted out. (2)

(1) From the short story, “Party,” from the collection of short stories, The Gods of Angkor Wat, Ken Rodgers, BK Publications, 2014, p 137

(2) From the short story, “Party,” from the collection of short stories, The Gods of Angkor Wat, Ken Rodgers, BK Publications, 2014, p 138

On the screening front, BRAVO! will be screened in Nampa, Idaho on September 25, 2014 at the Elks Club. Doors will open at 6:00 PM with the screening of the film at 6:30. Screening will be followed by a Q & A session. Suggested donation, $10.00 to benefit Wyakin Warrior Foundation.

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 https://bravotheproject.com/buy-the-dvd/.

BRAVO! has a page on Facebook. Please “like” us and “share” the page at https://www.facebook.com/Bravotheproject/. It’s another way you can help spread the word about the film.