On Veterans Day, we honor all Americans who served in the military. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the 77-day siege at Khe Sanh, where Marines in Vietnam endured constant rocket and artillery bombardment from the North Vietnamese day and night. One of those Marines was Peter Weiss of Suffern.
Second Lieutenant Peter William Weiss served as a Platoon Commander with Company B, First Battalion, Twenty-Sixth Marines, Third Marine Division. His story is one of those told in the award-winning documentary Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor by Ken and Betty Rodgers. The film is about U.S.M.C. Lance Corporal Ken Rodgers and Weiss’ unit, Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines, during the siege at Khe Sanh and about the effects of that experience on the men involved.
“I was a 23-year-old lieutenant leading 17- and 18-year-old Marines into combat for their first time, and they proved their mettle.”
“I left Khe Sanh for good in early April 1968,” recalls Rodgers. “When I deplaned, I looked back to the west, at the mountains where Khe Sanh sat, and I said to myself, ‘That’s a hell of a story.’ I’ve been wanting to tell that story ever since.”
During one of the annual reunions of the Khe Sanh Veterans Association, Rodgers’ wife, Betty, was listening to the men telling their stories. “We needed to preserve this, their history, their story,” shares Betty.
BRAVO! poster Courtesy of Kingfisher Arts, LLC; headshot by Betty Rodgers
Though Bravo! offers a glimpse into some of the bloodiest fighting of the Vietnam War, most memorable are the stories of the men of Bravo Company like Peter Weiss. Weiss’ father served in the Navy; Peter inquired about enlisting with the Naval Officer Program, but the recruitment officer referred him to the Marines because there were a lot of applicants to that program. Plus, “The Marines use bayonets,” explains Weiss, who wore glasses, “and you didn’t need perfect vision to get you in close.” Weiss was 23 when he arrived in Vietnam in 1967; he became the weapons platoon commander, and later commander First Platoon. He was an intelligence officer during his last three months in Vietnam.
In Bravo! Khe Sanh veterans relate the events of the siege, including March 30, 1968, when they advanced at daybreak after a massive artillery barrage on the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) positions.
Mike McCauley, the squad leader, received an order over the radio from Weiss instructing the squad to “fix bayonets,” which meant the Marines would be fighting at close quarters with the NVA. The Marines suffered fewer than 40 casualties on that one day of battle, while an estimated 150 NVA soldiers were killed, including the battalion commander and his entire staff. Says Weiss, “I was a 23-year-old lieutenant leading 17- and 18-year-old Marines into combat for their first time, and they proved their mettle in hand-to-hand combat. I was proud of them.” Weiss also proved his mettle, but he says, “I did nothing more than lead an exceptional group of Marines in a fierce battle.”
Ken and Betty Rodgers, of Idaho, travel the United States screening their film at universities, theaters, museums, and prisons. Ken Rodgers concludes, “This is part of the history of the United States. We are excited about how we can help folks learn more about the Vietnam War, the personal stories of the people who served, and its long-term costs in human terms.”
For more, go to www.bravotheproject.com.