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Posts Tagged ‘World War II’

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

October 11, 2018

Why I Fought the War

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Recently Betty and I watched a documentary film titled FIVE CAME BACK about filmmakers who served in the American military during World War II. Those men, Frank Capra, John Ford, John Huston, George Stevens, and William Wyler, produced some of the most iconic footage to come out of that conflict and in some cases placed themselves in great danger to get the shots to make the films.

One of the interesting aspects of discovering the military service of these men was how the films they made following their wartime feats changed and generally became more serious, thought-provoking pieces. Thinking about that, it comes to me that I also got a hell of a lot more serious about life after my service in Vietnam. My outlook became darker as I realized what we were capable of as human beings. Knowing it in the gut is different from knowing it in the brain.

As a filmmaker myself, I was also interested in why these men were compelled to go into harm’s way in order to document the events of WWII when they probably didn’t need to, and that led me to ponder why it is I went off to fight in Vietnam.

Over the years people have asked me if I “was drafted,” which I wasn’t, and I have found myself giving inconsistent answers when they subsequently ask me why I enlisted.

Blogger Ken Rodgers at Khe Sanh, 1967.

I don’t think what follows will be any great revelation about why a young man goes to war, but like others I served with and those before and after my time as a Leatherneck, I suspect I was moved by more than one reason.

Of course, unlike today, the draft was in effect when I enlisted in the Corps. I hadn’t received my draft notice but I wasn’t particularly interested in staying in college—they didn’t offer degrees in boozing and hell raising—so I expected the notice to arrive in my parents’ post office box as soon as the draft board got news that I wasn’t a serious student. So, maybe—and I want to stress the word “maybe” for all of the reasons that I lay out here—I decided to beat the draft notice and joined up.

How I joined is something of a story in itself that will remain for a later telling.

In World War I, II and Korea, members of my family served in the Army, the Navy, the Air Corps as it was known before Korea, and the Marines. I had five Marines in my family, one of whom was killed at Chosin Reservoir in Korea in 1950, and since my father, a top sergeant in the Army during World War II, regularly derogated Marines, and since he and I regularly banged heads over everything, of course I chose to be a Jarhead.

I could have joined the Army, the Air Force, the Navy, or I could have just waited for the draft notice to arrive and then maybe I could get a doctor to provide a bogus excuse so I could be 4F, or I could beat feet for Canada. But I didn’t.

I tell myself as I write this that the Marines were my choice, in part, because they had a reputation for being the best and toughest to get through. I knew folks, again my relatives and some family friends, some school teachers, who were Jarheads, and they all had things to say that made the Corps look like it was tough—really tough—and they all warned me off of the Corps, and I believe now that the notion I needed to find out if I was man enough to make it was one of the primary reasons I joined the USMC.

A notion kind of parallel to that was the idea that going into battle was a way to see if one could measure up. And even though I’d read some of the “anti-war” literature such as Eric Maria Remarque’s ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT, I suspect that all those messages about the horrors of war only made the specter of charging into the jaws of danger somehow attractive.

And so I went and did my duty and survived the horrors of Khe Sanh. When I came back, I subtly tried to rub it in my old man’s face since he spent all of his war time behind a desk working for generals.

A lot of folks think that patriotism was a big motivator for me and I suspect, a lot of other young men who went and fought in Vietnam, but I’m not sure it was a conscious one if it was a reason at all.

Most of us, back then, grew up around relatives who had fought the Germans and Italians, the Japanese, the Chinese Communists and the North Koreans, so service for a lot of us was something taken for granted. And there was the notion that we all had a duty to stand up and serve our country. Is that patriotism? Maybe.

Ken Rodgers. Photo courtesy of Kevin Martini-Fuller.

I had a second cousin, whom I called Uncle Bill, who was gassed while advancing through the thick woods of the Argonne Forest in the fall of 1918. There was Uncle Frank, shot in the head while serving with Brute Krulak’s Battalion of Marine Paratroopers on the island of Choiseul in WWII. I own a frosty memory of talk about my 1st cousin Reed Plumb, killed in action at Chosin Reservoir on the first day of the breakout. I imagine him stacked like a piece of cordwood in the back of a six-by with other dead Marines, frozen solid. There was a legacy attached to my being a citizen and some of it was inscribed in the blood of my family.

And so, for that reason and all the others mentioned and probably a few I haven’t even considered, I enlisted. Like those filmmakers I talked about when I began this piece, I came back with a darker view of humanity, but I went willingly into that maw of death.

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BRAVO! is now available in digital form on Amazon Prime.

This link will take you directly to BRAVO!’s Amazon Prime site where you can take a look at the options for streaming: In the US you can stream at https://amzn.to/2Hzf6In.

In the United Kingdom, you can stream at https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07BZKJXBM.

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

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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/.

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Documentary Film,Guest Blogs,Okinawa,Other Musings

May 28, 2018

The Bloody Chaos of Okinawa

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Today we want to share a guest post for Memorial Day from BRAVO! friend and supporter, Cobb Hammond. Cobb writes about military history for his home town newspaper, the MEMPHIS COMMERCIAL APPEAL.

As we commemorate Memorial Day, 2018, many may recall a battle a family member may have been wounded or killed in, or themselves a vet, may have lost a comrade in arms. It should be refreshed in our consciousness that our WW II veterans are dwindling in number, and on this weekend of remembrance it should be incumbent upon us to recognize a battle raging 73 years ago this month; The Campaign at Okinawa.

This last battle of the War was not only the bloodiest of the Pacific theater but exhibited some of the most brutal and horrific fighting and battle conditions of the war; in that this was the first allied incursion on what was considered Japanese soil. This invasion was the first step in what was the initial phase before the eventual invasion of the Japanese home islands. The island of Okinawa was only 350 miles south of mainland Japan and was 463 miles square. It was populated by nearly half a million civilians and some 155 thousand Japanese troops of the infantry, air corps, and the navy, of which 80 thousand were front-line infantry troops. The strategic planning of the Japanese leadership before battle was to concentrate troops in several sectors that offered the most efficient use of troops—as well as the idea of inflicting the highest possible damage on US troops as they advanced.

Northern Okinawa was defended by one-division, whereas the more challenging terrain of the south was defended by 3 additional divisions- as well as multiple specialized brigades. This area was turned into four heavily fortified, ‘hedgehog’ defense sectors, taking tactical advantage of the topography, and the dense emplacement of artillery and mortars made it the highest concentration of fire the enemy used in the Pacific War.

Marines in Okinawa, 1945. Photo from Department of Defense Archives.

The ideal defense employed by the Japanese commanders, were to allow all US ground troops to move well-inland, and then to defend every crag-laden hill, ridge line and ravine as our forces moved forward. This was a totally different strategy of previous island battles such as Iwo Jima and Tarawa, where the beaches themselves were heavily contested. Seemingly every ridge and hill contained natural caves and promontories; which typically had artillery encased inside steel doors and machine gun emplacements pointing down the fingers and draws of the hills.

As the battle commenced on Easter Sunday, April 1, 1945, the two Marine divisions, plus a regiment landed on the central and eastern part of the island and attacked on a northerly axis, whereas the initial two army divisions wheeled south across the narrow waist of Okinawa. The Army’s 96 Inf. Division began to encounter fierce resistance from enemy troops on those rocky ridges very soon, as it slowly moved south. The Army’s 27th division landed on 9 April and took over the right, or western-side of the push south. There were now three army divisions attacking here.

Enhancing the difficulty of the battle were the spring monsoon rains, which started in mid-April and didn’t let up until early June. The American foot soldier and marine became mired in mud and flooded roads, exacerbating the ability to supply men, evacuate wounded and navigating the steepening terrain.

As Marine Corps regiments moved forward abreast, going to the aid of the army divisions pulled off the line for a brief respite, they—as their army brethren, encountered fanatical resistance from the Japanese defenders. Later, in the largest ‘banzai’ attack of the war, some 2,500 Japanese were killed, with some of the fighting devolving into hand to hand combat. As of now, five US Divisions were fighting south by southwest—going against these formidable defenses, footnoting places embedded in the memories of the brave souls doing the fighting, and now infamous in military lore. Names such as Sugar Loaf Hill, where 1,600 marines were killed and 7,400 wounded; Hacksaw Ridge- recently immortalized on screen, telling the story of Medal of Honor recipient Desmond Doss—and the formidable Shuri Line, where the Japanese planned their last defense in a series of ridgelines and strong points, taking the better part of a month to extinguish the enemy resistance. Fighting was so prolonged and intense in this area, that casualty counts are unable to be accurate, however it safe to say, tens of thousands of Japanese and easily over ten-thousand US troops became casualties of some sort.

Guest blogger Cobb Hammond.

Not to be forgotten, was the intense combat at sea just miles offshore, as Japanese ships and kamikaze planes attacked US naval forces mercifully for weeks, with some 36 US ships sunk with another 380 damaged, as thousands of enemy pilots went down in fiery deaths. The morbid toll of he battle, which ended unceremoniously on June 22, 1945 was five-thousand naval personnel, 4,600 army and 3,200 US Marines, with total wounded exceeding forty-thousand. It should be noted that the Battle for Okinawa had more cases of combat fatigue and mental breakdown than any other battle of the entire Pacific War, as thousands were taken off the line- simply unable to continue. Japanese losses run as high as 140 thousand killed and additional one-hundred thousand civilians unfortunately perished in the crossfire of this hell. Denoting the widespread ferocity and valor exhibited in this campaign, 24 Medals of Honor were awarded; 14 posthumously, including one Tennessean. It should also be highlighted that the recent death of a friend of this writer, Memphis native William Phillips of the 7th Regiment, 1st Marine Division was a participant in this campaign.

As we contemplate this solemn weekend, shall we remember the sacrifice of so many on the bloodied rocky dirt of Okinawa.

Cobb Hammond is a financial advisor with Hammond Financial Advisory/Money Concepts, Inc. He writes on military history and composes short stories as a hobby. You can reach Cobb at chammond40@yahoo.com.

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NEWS!

BRAVO! is now available in digital form on Amazon Prime.

This link will take you directly to BRAVO!’s Amazon Prime site where you can take a look at the options for streaming: https://amzn.to/2Hzf6In.

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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,Film Screenings,Khe Sanh,Marines,Other Musings,Veterans,Veterans Courts

November 10, 2017

A PARADE!!!

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Thirty or so years ago I used to sit around with a buddy of mine and talk about Vietnam. We didn’t serve together overseas but did pull duty together at the Marine Barracks at 32nd Street Naval Station in San Diego. His combat experience was quite different than mine, but he’d seen enough that it left its imprint on him.

We used to guffaw at some of the early Vietnam veterans groups and talk about how what they were angry about was that they didn’t get their parade. He and I didn’t need veterans’ groups or parades, either, or so we thought.

Being a Marine was good for making me a stoic. Being in combat, in my mind, made me strong, too strong to show any kind of weakness associated with my war and that included veterans’ organizations and associated activities.

But times change and things change and even an old trench rat can learn how to negotiate the mazes of life in different ways. And that includes even being in a parade. And so, on November 4, 2017, I was allowed the distinct honor of being one of four parade grand marshals at the Boise Veterans Day Parade.

Right to left: Ileen Bunce and Ken Rodgers wth Ileen’s Corvette. Photo courtesy of Betty Rodgers

The other grand marshals were Mr. Clair Kilton, a World War II Army veteran who fought and was wounded in the European Theater; Mr. Harold Kwan, a Korean War Marine Corps veteran who fought in Korea, including the Inchon landing and the brutal battle at Chosin Reservoir; Colonel Tom Mahoney, a veteran of the United States Air Force, who flew in the opening mission of Operation Desert Storm in the Middle East.

Unfortunately, Mr. Kilton passed away a few days before the parade, so his three daughters, Penny, Peg and Lisa, took his place, and I imagine how heart wrenching and at the same time uplifting that had to be for them.

On the day of the big hullabaloo, Betty and I arrived earlier than necessary which is something we do often. The threat of continued rain from the night before had abated, leaving only scattered black clouds that umbrellaed over the parade route which ran east down State Street in front of the Idaho State Capitol building, then on around to head west down Jefferson Street.

The crowd of parade officials, news folk, volunteers, politicians, generals and colonels, active duty military personnel and grand marshals gathered before the parade began for donuts, bagels, coffee and juice, and to become acquainted, and to get last minute direction.

One local Treasure Valley politico, State Senator Marv Hagedorn, with whom I am acquainted came up and told me that I was a good choice for the Vietnam veteran grand marshal.

Ken Rodgers, Khe Sanh Veteran and Grand Marshall. Photo courtesy of Katherine Jones, Idaho Statesman

I was most humbled by, as I have been throughout the entire experience of finding out about—and then living out—my choice as grand marshal for this particular parade. But it also bothers me and leaves me with a sense of guilt. I told Senator Hagedorn that it bothered me in some respects to be grand marshal because it might give people the impression that I was some kind of hero. I said, “I’m no hero. The heroes didn’t get to come home from Khe Sanh.”

He smiled and said, “But as grand marshal, you are representing those men since they can’t represent themselves.”

His words worked, at least for the moment, the day, the experience of riding down the street with the sun out and people waving and shouting good things at me.

Betty and I ended up in a snazzy Corvette owned and driven by Ileen Bunce, president of Valley Corvettes. There was only room for one passenger in the seats, so I sat up top. I had to remove my boots so that Ileen’s Corvette didn’t get trashed.

Before the parade moved out, we pulled into line and were placed behind a large mechanized weapon, a tank or a self-propelled piece of artillery from the 116th Cavalry Brigade Combat Team of the Idaho Army National Guard.

As we waited, our breaths visible in the chill, the parade folks honored the late Marine, Art Jackson, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions on the island of Peleliu in 1944.

A flight of A-10 Warthogs flew over the parade route as did, later, a flight of choppers. Even I found that a bit stirring.

There were all kinds of folks in the parade: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, National Guard, first responders, boy scouts, girl scouts, school bands, floats from organizations and businesses, mayors and other politicos. The local media, including a live broadcast by KTVB Channel 7, were out in force giving detailed coverage of the parade for those who couldn’t make it.

When we finally took off, the tank in front of us roared to life and left the smell of burning fuel hanging in the air.

Right off the bat, we spotted our friends, Leland and Trisha Nelson, standing on a corner. The Nelsons have been great friends of BRAVO! over the years. We waved at each other. It felt good to me.

As we approached the state capitol, a huge American flag hung off of fire truck extension ladders. The autumn winds that are common this time of year in Boise lifted the flag and reminded me of surges on the ocean.

All the way down State Street, people greeted us. I waved back at moms and dads, children, elderly veterans, grandpas and grandmas. More than once, somebody yelled, “Semper Fi.”

A mechanized weapon in the Boise Veterans Parade. Photo courtesy of Ken Rodgers

One of the more interesting experiences I had, early on, was that of a Korean War veteran (that’s what his ball cap announced) sitting in a folding chair on the south side of the street. As we approached, he rose and saluted. I looked into his eyes and it was like he was saying something to me, something I should be proud to hear. I saluted back. As a matter of fact, I saluted a lot of people—veterans all, I suspect—as we wound around the route of the parade.

As we turned off of State Street, the parade passed below some trees, maples of some sort, whose leaves were still clinging to the branches. They were tinted between rust and gold and when the tank in front of our Corvette roared beneath, the exhaust blew the leaves off of a lot of the limbs. As the leaves fell, they were momentarily captured by a gentle breeze and sailed one way, and then another.

As we went on, I thought about me, sitting up there, being honored for something I am not sure I have earned or ever will. But those leaves gently falling to the street made me think of the men I served with who didn’t make it home: Furlong and Kent, Aldrich and Rash, McRae and a lot of others whose names I don’t remember or didn’t know.

And I decided that those leaves were the souls of those men falling down around me, saying that it was okay for me to be up there on the back of that Corvette, representing them.

Thanks to General Walt Smith, Vicki Lindgren and all the other folks who made the 2017 parade a big success.

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In other news about BRAVO!, Betty and I attended a screening of BRAVO! at Idaho’s Nampa Public Library on November 1, 2017, hosted by librarian David Johnson. A great group of folks came to see the film. Often, as the intensity of the narrative thickens the air with a palpable tension, a few folks will get up and go out of the theater for a respite, but not that night. The audience was engaged. Glad to see young veterans and older ones, too, among the group. Thanks to David Johnson and the Nampa Public Library for all their efforts to make this event happen.

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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,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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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.

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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.

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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/.

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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/.

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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/.

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