By Ron Main
When I left Khe Sanh in July 68, I
threw my flak jacket into a crate that we had for damaged and
worn out 782 gear. A week later, and back on Okinawa, and on
my way home, I saw the crate in the VMGR 152 supply warehouse.
I stood over the crate looking at all those torn and red clay
stained flak jackets and web gear and the smell of Khe Sanh.
I dug through the crate, kicking up
a cloud of red dust, and found my flak jacket, and helmet. I
took the torn helmet cover, and my flak jacket, put them into
my sea bag, and they came home with me. Both sat in the rear
corner of my garage on Long Island, New York for 20 years.
When I moved to Colorado in the mid 80s, I left them with my
Aunt. She put them in her garage. When I came back to Long
Island for a visit, I wanted to take them back to Colorado.
But I learned that my chronically neat grandfather (Pop), who
I loved dearly, had thrown out my flak jacket. I asked him
why.? He said, " Why do we need that filthy old thing around.
" I pictured my flak jacket sitting in a pile of garbage on
the curb and it broke my heart. I don't think " normal people
" get it. They often mean well. But they just don't connect
with what so many things we feel. Anyway. My cousin, hid my
helmet cover so Pop couldn't get to it. He gave it to me and I
took it back to Colorado. It sat in my closet for years.
In 2003 my niece went to Vietnam as
part of a campus at sea semester in college. My sister Diane
went to meet her in Saigon. I gave Diane my helmet cover and
told her to take it back to Vietnam and bury it somewhere.
Naturally she wasn't going anywhere near Khe Sanh, but I told
her that was OK. Just bury it back in the soil of that country
where it belonged. She took the helmet cover, and when she was
somewhere in the Mekong Delta, a honey farmer buried it with a
little ceremony in his family plot. You can't make this stuff
Here's where it get interesting...
When at Khe Sanh, all my gear got torn up by incoming one day
in mid March. I couldn't find my helmet. So I went to a pile
of discarded gear near Charlie Med, and got another helmet
that had been worn by a marine who had been either wounded or
killed. He'd written on the brown side of the cover: " You
haven't really lived until you've faced death.. Khe Sanh 68. "
Knowing that he might be dead, I couldn't look at it. So, I
turned the cover over and put the green side on (didn't stay
green for long.) Well, at the last minute before my helmet
cover got buried, my sister saw the Khe Sanh inscription. She
cut that piece off, and took it back to me. All of the rest of
the cover is now back " in country."
I've been writing screenplays for
years, and in 2003 I was at the Austin Film Festival with
Kelly, a very pretty friend of mine who also writes
screenplays. We were both quarter finalists at the fest
competition. Her husband John is a movie accountant and he
works on all of the big Hollywood movies. At the fest, she
introduced me to screenwriter Bill Broyles, who she met on the
set of " Castaway " when John was working on that movie. Being
both former marines (Bill was a platoon leader with 26th
Marines in 69) Bill said he was writing a screenplay for Tom
Hanks about a chaplain at Khe Sanh. I said, " Do you mean
Chaplain Stubbe..? " His eyes lit up and he said: " You were
at Khe Sanh.. I want to talk with you.." Bill, me, and he and
Kelly's mutual writing coach were supposed to meet for lunch,
but Kelly and I went to the wrong restaurant. I never saw Bill
In 2005 I asked Kelly how Bill was
doing. She said he was very down because the studio Fox 2000
didn't want to make a depressing movie about Khe Sanh because
the younger audience wouldn't be able to relate to it. I sent
Kelly the piece of my helmet cover with the Khe Sanh
inscription to give Bill encouragement. When she opened it
Kelly said it smelled, but she would send it to Bill anyway.
When Bill received the helmet cover at his home in Wyoming, he
became very emotional. He told Tom Hanks about it, and
director Ed Zwick (Courage Under Fire, Glory, Blood Diamond,
etc) who was to direct the Khe Sanh movie. Bill told Kelly to
tell me, that little piece of the helmet cover is now their "
battle flag " to someday get their Chaplain Stubbe movie made.
Because of this, last year I made
Bill, Tom, and Ed, Associate Members of KSV. I often think of
that marine whose helmet I wore, who wrote: " You haven't
really lived until you've faced death.. Khe Sanh 68 " Wherever
he is, or whoever he was, he has not been forgotten. Should he
be alive and a KSV member, and happens to read this posting,
he'll remember writing those heart felt words on his helmet
cover, that now speak so eloquently for all of us on this
Memorial Day Weekend. I have to thank my little sister Diane
for seeing the profound message in his words, and bringing
that little piece of the helmet cover back, to continue its
journey. Perhaps it's because in July 68 when she was 17, and
I was again back at Khe Sanh, she went to visit my friend
Ronny Vivona (G 2/26) at the Philly Navy hospital 7th floor "
white lie ward " after Ronny lost his legs on hill 700. She
told me only recently how the sight of seeing so many torn and
suffering young marines her own has never left her, and how it
was something a young girl shouldn't have seen. Perhaps she
became one of us that day. Perhaps she knows the true meaning
and message of our " old junk."
Very Best to all of you on this
Memorial Day.. Good to be alive...