Ken Rodgers at Khe Sanh
It's not pro-war. It's not anti-war. It's just a story about what happened.
It could have been me saying that about the Grady Myers memoir that I co-authored, Boocoo Dinky Dow: My short, crazy Vietnam War. But the words were coming from Ken Rodgers. He was in my living room, talking about the documentary Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor. The book and the film have a lot in common.
"Boocoo Dinky Dow" got started decades ago when I asked Grady, then my co-worker and later my husband, if I could write down his intense but sometimes comic stories about his Army training and the combat experiences that almost cost him his life. "Bravo!" emerged from annual reunions of Ken and his fellow Marines who survived the battle of Khe Sanh. Hundreds of Marines and thousands of North Vietnamese died in the 77-day siege. It began in January 1968, nearly a year before Grady's boots hit the red soil of Southeast Asia.
Betty Rodgers attends those Khe Sanh reunions with her husband. After hearing the veterans' stories year after year, she asked if anyone had recorded those dramatic first-person accounts. Not really, she was told. So the couple plunged into the world of film production. After a tremendous amount of interviewing, writing, research, travel and fund raising, the documentary emerged.
Now, Betty says, she can rest easy because "the history of the men of Bravo Company at Khe Sanh will be preserved forever, no longer evaporating into thin air after each telling."
Ken and Betty Rodgers
Ken is a right-brain, left-brain kinda guy, with degrees in accounting and fine arts. His varied career has ranged from sheep herding to selling real estate. He has a penchant for writing poetry and taking eye-popping pictures. Betty is also a lifelong photographer, a "Jill of all trades" and, clearly, a force of nature. "Bravo!" was their first video project.
They live in Boise, Idaho. That's where Grady lived when he was drafted, where he and I met after the war, and where he died in 2011.
Ken and Betty have been traveling the country, showing "Bravo!" in town halls, campus auditoriums, conference rooms ... even a prison. They get much the same response from audiences that I get at "Boocoo Dinky Dow" book readings. Veterans open up with their own stories, or sit quietly in the back and nod. Baby boomers from all walks of life come forward to share their own stories from the '60s and '70s. Younger folks are polite, curious. Veterans of more recent wars compare their experiences to those of their elders.
Veterans sometimes share their political views as well. As Ken notes, their perspective of politics, past and present, doesn't always match his. Nor mine. It doesn't matter. What matters is shared memories, mutual respect, and a story that is true.
Just how true? Ken and I talked about our struggles to confirm the details of battles when even the men who fought side-by-side disagree about what happened. When the public records are vague or incorrect. But he and Betty and I believe the stories we preserved are true in their essence and scope. We've honored the sacrifices of Grady and the other men in his Charlie Company, and those who suffered and died at Khe Sanh. All these years later, some of them still suffer -- as the emotional interviews in "Bravo!" attest.
The high-quality documentary is now available on DVD. It is deeply moving and sad. Watch it. Then, if you need a chuckle or two, you might want to pick up a copy of "Boocoo Dinky Dow."
Julie Titone is co-author of the Grady Myers memoir "Boocoo Dinky Dow: My short, crazy Vietnam War." Grady was an M-60 machine gunner in The U.S. Army's Company C’s 2nd Platoon, 1st Battalion, 8th Regiment, 4th Infantry Division in late 1968 and early 1969. His Charlie Company comrades knew him as Hoss. Thoughts, comments? Send Julie an email.