Although she grew up in a family of veterans, lived during the Vietnam War and married a Vietnam vet, war was not vivid to Betty Rodgers until she sat through a reunion of Khe Sanh veterans.The 1968, 77-day siege at Khe Sanh, Vietnam, was the longest and biggest battle of the 10-year conflict. It led to the ill-fated Ghost Patrol and the retaliatory Payback Battle — the first Marine Corps bayonet charge since World War II.
“These guys had these incredible stories and memories and nobody knew about them. As soon as they got up and left the table, it would disappear,” says Rodgers, of Boise.
On the way home from the reunion, she talked to her husband, Ken, about wanting to make a film. Neither of them had any movie-making experience. She was a photographer; he was a poet and teacher. Nevertheless, they felt a documentary was the best opportunity for the men of Bravo Company, First Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment, to share their stories.
They’ll present their documentary “Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor” at 6:30 p.m. Friday at the Kenworthy Performing Arts Centre in Moscow.
With donors backing the project, the couple sent letters to veterans of the conflict. In addition to Ken, 14 men agreed to speak of their experiences — including what it was like to come home, and what the war means to them more than 40 years later. Interviews were filmed at the 2010 Khe Sanh veterans reunion in San Antonio, Texas. Ken interviewed each man.
“The emotion that they showed — these are tough guys, that was pretty amazing to me that they could just show that emotion like that,” he says.
The film tells the story of the battle through interviews, historic footage, photographs, music and actual recordings made during the siege to convey how the men, many barely out of their teens, withstood constant, daily bombardment and terrible living conditions while defending their base. It’s not anti-war or pro-war; instead it accurately portrays the reality of the experience, Ken says. When they showed the film at the 2011 reunion they felt other veterans agreed.
“I think the movie industry makes a lot of films that don’t portray the human costs. I think this film speaks to people in multiple conflicts,” Ken says.
Both filmmakers believe it’s a movie with a message for everyone. They are working to get it to DVD for merchandising and into theaters.
“We have an ongoing relationship with warfare in this country,” Ken says. “With an all volunteer military the general public isn’t really aware of what the costs are, the impacts on the humans who do it.”
A panel discussion with Vietnam-era and recent veterans will follow the Moscow showing to give the audience the opportunity to share reactions and discuss the Vietnam War, as well as what it means to have served in the military. The showing is sponsored by the University of Idaho English Department and UI’s Operation Education, which assists disabled combat veterans in attaining a college degree. Donations will be accepted for the program.
In addition to the film showing Ken will give a reading from 2-3 p.m. Friday at BookPeople in Moscow. He’ll talk about making art out of painful memories and read from his book “Passenger Pigeons.”
if you go
WHAT: The documentary “Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor”
WHEN: 6:30 p.m. Friday, April 19
WHERE: Kenworthy Performing Arts Centre, 508 S. Main St., Moscow
COST: Free, but donations will be accepted for Operation Education
OF NOTE: The screening will be followed by a panel discussion.