Soldiers
(Episode 15)

  • Guest Stars: Robert Fuller as Jack Percell, Robyn Bernard, Robert Ito, Olivia D’abo, David Alan Grier and Michael Carmine as Rudy Morales
  • Story by: Rick Husky
  • Directed by: Bill L Norton
Synopsis: More than 134,000 military personnel were severely wounded or disabled during the Vietnam War.

Third squad is pinned down when the Hueys come in and extract them. When they get back to Ladybird, Anderson wants to know how Percell, Ruiz and Taylor all drew R and R together in Bangkok. Percell notes it’s a dirty job, but someone’s gotta do it.

Goldman appears and calls Percell over, telling him that his father is in the hospital in Honolulu after having had a heart attack. The Red Cross has arranged for emergency leave but he has to hurry if he is going to catch a chopper ride back to the rear. Percell politely thanks Goldman.

Danny arrives in Honolulu and goes to the hospital. The duty nurse starts to misdirect him to the floor where guys from Vietnam are being treated until he explains he is looking for Jack Percell, his father.

Back at Ladybird, Ruiz and Taylor corner Anderson and try to convince him to pull strings to send them to Honolulu instead of Bangkok so they can "support" Danny. Anderson rolls his eyes, muttering "Give me a break."

Percell arrives at his father’s room and, when a nurse enters, asks her politely if she knows where his mom might be and if his father is going to be okay. The nurse tells him the young lady who is with his father didn’t look quite old enough to be Danny’s mother, leaving a stunned Percell behind.

Taylor and Ruiz leave to catch a waiting Huey at Ladybird, Goldman and Anderson telling them to have a good time. Goldman tells Anderson that turning those two loose with all those "round-eyed" women is just asking for trouble. Anderson notes it's like turning a couple of coyotes loose in a rabbit hutch.

Danny sits with his unconscious father until the doctor enters and explains what happened. Apparently Jack had been thrown from a horse and broke a couple of ribs which led to the heart attack. Behind them, silent, stands a young woman. The doctor tells Danny it is too soon to know if his father will pull through and leaves. The young woman then comes all the way into the room, and introduces herself to Percell as Jessie Garrett, but Danny demands to know where his mother is. Jessie explains to him that his mother is in Montana and that his parents have been separated for the last eight months. And that was how long Jessie and Jack have been together. Danny is defensive, demanding to know why his father didn’t write him. Jessie explains that Jack didn’t want to hurt him. Danny loses his temper, saying his father didn’t care about hurting him, and that Jack lived his whole life for himself. He then storms from the room.

Taylor and Ruiz arrive in Honolulu, Taylor complaining about going to orientation. The two get an eyeful of a couple of young ladies wearing mini-skirts, and they stare open-mouthed.

Jessie tells Danny his father will be very happy to see him. She asks if it was hard for him to get over from Vietnam, and that he must be glad to be out of there. Danny is nothing but angry and sarcastic.  He says he loves it over there, wasting people and seeing his buddies die by the dozens. Jessie gets upset, telling him she knows soldiers are dying and that it was wrong. Danny realizes he is wrong, and apologizes for snapping at her. Jessie nods, understanding, and tells him to get some air and she would find him should his father wake up.

Danny hesitates at the door to the room and then tells her that Jack almost bought the farm in Korea. And that his father was in more barroom fights than anyone had a right to. That he was still living his life like he was 19. Jessie smiles and says that’s just Jack living his life the only way he knows how. Danny says quietly that when he was growing up, Jack wasn’t around much. And if he were to die now, Danny’s not sure how he would feel.

Taylor and Ruiz arrive at the hotel, still smiling and thrilled. Taylor tries to talk to a couple of bikini-clad girls. The two men start to go into the hotel, but then throw themselves down on the ground instinctively when a truck backfires. They get up sheepishly, trying not to look too embarrassed.

Danny tries to get a cup of coffee when a man in a wheelchair rolls past him, telling Danny not to waste his time, and Danny finds himself following the other man onto the elevator. Danny tries to talk to the fellow, asking if he’d been "in-country" and what outfit he’d been with. But the other man won’t speak to him.

Ruiz and Danny get their room at the hotel. The TV is on, showing the fighting outside of Chu-lai and the two men watch, mesmerized. The porter who led them up shakes his head and says he believes in peace himself, before he leaves the room.

Danny follows Rudy, the man in the wheelchair, off the elevator. Rudy continues on past a door into a ward while Danny stands at the coffee machine. After getting his coffee, Danny decides to follow Rudy inside. Percell finds himself in a ward filled with wounded and dying soldiers, all from Vietnam. He wanders through stunned until he finds himself at the bedside of one horribly burned man who slowly reaches up to Danny. Bewildered by all of this, Danny gently takes the man’s hand in his own. He sits with him, and the man tells him what had happened, how the "Zoomies" dropped napalm on them. Half of his unit was killed, the rest badly burned. And that he got a Purple Heart for all his trouble. Danny is shocked and horrified. He doesn’t know what to say, only that he is so sorry. The other man starts to break down, crying that his mother is flying in from Georgia and he didn’t want her to see him like this.

Rudy comes around telling Danny that Harold doesn’t need Danny’s sympathy. And Rudy doesn’t want to hear it from Danny either. Danny only wants to extend his understanding and possibly some friendship but Rudy will have none of it. Rudy’s understandably bitter about being in a wheelchair and tells Danny it happened when he made the stupidest mistake of his life- he enlisted.

Danny returns to his father’s room and finds Jack is awake. His father asks him if he’s a killing machine and Danny says no, just a grunt trying to get the job done. Jack said he was once lean and mean and hungry to kill, and too dumb to be afraid of anything else. He then tells Danny the only glory in war is surviving. Danny explains Vietnam is complicated. Jack notes Korea was, too. Jack then gets angry when Danny pushes him about acting like a kid and asks why Jack didn’t tell him what was going on.

Outside the room in the corridor, Jessie tries to talk to Danny, explain that she loves Jack. Danny asks her if Jack told her how many times he had left Danny and his mother. She says Jack has a lot of good in him and he’s a war hero and Danny replies that Jack won’t ever let him forget it. Danny is angry and hurt when Jessie says they can just keep beating the past to death. That Jack talks of nothing else but Danny. Danny snaps, saying maybe Jack should have talked to him instead. Danny says he doesn’t know who that man is in there, that he can’t get through to Jack, and that Jack can’t get through to him. Danny says he has had enough and he is going back to the war.

When Danny goes to the elevator, he runs into Ruiz and Taylor who are all dressed up in loud Hawaiian shirts. They greet him warmly and say they came there instead of Bangkok to support him. And they ask about his father. Danny is so confused by all the events of the last few days, he simply walks away from his friends, bewildered.

The guys try to talk to Danny in the back of a taxi that night, Taylor saying Danny should think about trying to make it right with his father. Danny says he’d rather sandpaper a bobcat’s butt in a phone booth after what Jack did to his mother. They go to a tattoo parlor and Ruiz ends up with a tattoo on his left arm that says "Born to kill." The taxi driver, Joe, likes the three young men and takes them to a nearby bar where the guys can party.

At the bar, Taylor tells Danny his grandmother raised him. Both Taylor and Ruiz say that Danny needs to go back to his father. Ruiz notes that no one there at the bar seemed worried about the war. Danny tells them there is a hospital ward full of guys from the Nam, all messed up. Taylor spots the girls they had seen earlier from the hotel. They decide to go over and introduce themselves.

Very proud to be soldiers from Vietnam, they introduce themselves to the girls. But the young ladies are not so enthusiastic. Leslie finally tells the men they are from Stanford University and that she was doing a thesis on Vietnam. On American Imperialism and how our men were killing innocent men, women and children. She then asks Taylor about what it’s like to have the blood of little babies on his hands. Ruiz and Percell are furious, but Taylor tells them to let the lady finish what she has started.

Leslie wants to leave, but now Taylor wants his say, grabbing her arm. He tells her what it’s like to kill, and if it’s women and children then you have nightmares. But what gets him the most is people like her who think they are baby killers when they are over there dying for their country. A young man tells Taylor to let her go. Disgusted, Taylor snipes they are all such a bunch of smart asses that they could sit on ice cream and say what flavor it is. It ends up in a bar fight when one of the college boys takes a swing at Taylor. The three all run and bail into Joe’s waiting taxi, laughing.

It’s now late at night and the three guys are wading in the ocean as they drink beer. Danny wants to know how Marcus played it so cool when the college girls were hassling them. Joe the taxi driver walks with them. Danny wants to understand about the peace marches and anti-war attitude being thrown at them. Joe says most people just want peace, not war. Taylor asks Joe’s opinion, as Joe is Japanese-American and they are over in Vietnam killing Orientals. Joe tells them how he and his brother fought in WWII while his family was in an internment camp back in California. His brother died six days before he was to come home. He notes that at his age, there are no easy answers about war. Joe then tells them they all served proudly.

Danny says he serves proudly too, that he hates the killing but loves his country and wants to preserve what all the other wars were fought for. But he can’t get past the truth, that he is a baby killer. Ruiz and Taylor tell him he is a damn good soldier and he has nothing to be ashamed of. But Danny knows better.

Completely bombed, the three friends return to the hotel in the wee hours of the morning, singing and laughing, and crash into their room. The TV was left on and the local station is now signing off for the night. The station is playing the National Anthem and displaying an American flag.  The guys all pause, standing before the TV, staring. Danny is the first to salute in respect, with Taylor and then Ruiz following.

The next morning, Taylor and Ruiz are down at the pool, drinking and enjoying themselves. Danny shows up and tells them he is going back to the hospital to try to make amends with his father.

At the hospital, Danny and Jack talk. Jack warns him about the Army, and that one day he will wake up and see that it’s a whore. That it will suck him dry. He tries to explain that whatever Danny’s mother and he had was gone years ago when he signed on for his second tour in Korea. They were simply friends now, and that he didn’t want Danny to think he was such a bastard. He then tells Danny to come home safe. If not for him, then for his mother. To do his tour, and his duty, and to please come home.

The next morning Rudy comes into the ward to find an orderly packing up Harold’s bed. Horrified, Rudy realizes Harold has committed suicide. The orderly confirms it, telling Rudy Harold pulled out his IVs and it was too late by the time they realized what he had done. Rudy is devastated.

The guys are eating breakfast. Ruiz keeps going on about the eggs and Taylor keeps busting his chops over it. Percell tells them he spent the entire night with his father and they simply talked. Talked about a future, and maybe a horse breeding farm. Taylor is less than impressed. Ruiz continues on about the eggs, saying he wants more as his buddies just stare at him.

On the elevator, Taylor and Ruiz tease Danny about meeting some girls when an orderly pushes on in a near panic. They all get off on the floor where Rudy and the others are kept, the PA system calling for Security and the hospital staff all scrambling.

Rudy has barricaded himself in a room, anguished and furious as he holds a gun on one of the hospital’s security officers. Percell, Ruiz and Taylor run up and decide they can help. Rudy is shouting and demanding his meds and waving the revolver around, keeping the security officer pinned.

Taylor and Ruiz speak to the enraged young man, somehow convincing him to let the security officer go. But Rudy still has the gun and he holds it on Taylor and Ruiz, demanding to know what it is they want. Ruiz says they are simply grunts on R and R, and then Percell steps up between his two friends, asking Rudy if he remembers him.

Rudy is anguished, saying they couldn’t put Harold back together. And who was going to give him back his life. His bitterness spills onto the three men as he demands to know if they hear what he is saying. Danny wants to come into the room, and tells Rudy he wants the gun. Rudy tells him no. All he wants to know is why. Why was he sent where he was sent? Why was he sent to Vietnam? Rudy then tells them to desert, to go AWOL. Not to end up like him.

Percell edges closer, saying he hears what Rudy is saying. That he understands. He tells Rudy that Harold would be upset with him if he knew what was going on. Rudy, shaking with bitterness and grief, yells at Percell that Harold is dead, a suicide. Danny continues to inch closer, telling Rudy, whose eyes are filling with tears, to think of his family. Of his mother. Danny then tells him he is coming closer and he still wants the gun. He then asks Rudy to please not shoot him. That if he has to die, he wants it to be out in the bush, not there and not by a brother. Rudy then turns the gun on himself. Danny begs him not to do that. He manages finally, gently, to take the gun from Rudy who then breaks down as Danny comforts him.

The guys are at the airport, returning to Vietnam when they see several flag draped coffins being moved past them on the tarmac. Taylor sadly utters: "Join the Army. Travel to exotic distant lands. Meet exciting and unusual people. And then kill them."

"Before they kill you," Ruiz then adds softly. Taylor says he’s been thinking about what Rudy had said, about going AWOL. Percell says their buddies are dying in some stinking mud hole. He wouldn’t want them to do it to him. He sure as hell isn't going to do it to them. The three of them start to board the plane, among the images and sounds of what it is to be in Vietnam.

 

ToD Advisor's Episode Notes: This was another "reduced cost" show, but it turned out to be one of our best, I think. It was my personal favorite. Everyone assigned to Vietnam was eligible for a Rest and Recreation (R&R) leave once during their Vietnam tour. This was a five to seven day (depending on the destination) trip to any of half a dozen Asian countries, or to Honolulu, Hawaii. The military flew you there and back. Hotel accommodations were arranged, but paying for your stay was your responsibility. Each destination had its own attraction. The choice of an R&R was one of the most carefully considered decisions you got to make. Returnees from each R&R were debriefed for details and alternatives were discussed. Going with a friend was better than going alone. Eventually you made your choice, thirty days ahead of time, as I recall, and then, one day, the moment would come. You'd be taken from your unit and flown back to base camp (Chu Lai for our guys) get your Class B khakis fixed up and then fly on a chartered Boeing 707 to, well, Paradise.

In this episode, Ruiz and Taylor, having carefully considered their options, have chosen an R&R to Bangkok, Thailand, famous for low cost partying and female companionship. As they prepare to depart, their friend Percell is sent on emergency leave to Hawaii where his hell-raising dad has suffered a near-fatal heart attack. They decide to go with him instead. Honolulu was generally the choice of married men, whose wives would fly out to join them.Hawaii was also one of two seven-day R&R's (the other was Sydney, Australia) which meant two days less "in-country." It was also the only R&R destination where you could drive a car, which was very important to some people. Changing your R&R destination at the last minute was an administrative nuisance, but was possible. Zeke has to call in favors for this one.

What happens to Percell is largely based on the experience of one of my friends, after a similar event. He was pulled out of a serious Tet Offensive battle and flown to his dying father's side in a southern European country. His father died before he got there, and he was authorized to stay on for the funeral. To the annoyance of his relatives, my friend displayed little grief or emotion. He had seen so many friends suffer and die. He basically went out and had a good time. Really, what else could he do?

One of the things that people were uneasy about were the rumors about "back home." Being in the military, and especially being in Vietnam, cut us off from the swiftly changing pop culture of the '60s. We had no direct contact with people our own age. The new replacements told stories about how the mood of the country was changing. It was turning against the war, and even those fighting it. No one knew what to expect. The girl our guys meet at the bar gives them a chilling update, especially Percell.

The character of the bitter veteran, Rudy Morales, a paraplegic now consigned to a VA hospital, was based on an incident in Dr. Ronald J. Glasser's book,"365 Days." So was the death of "Sweet Harold," a soldier so badly burned his race could not be determined. (The soldier's name was Harold Sweet, so the placard by his bed read: "Sweet, Harold".) A Roger Henry Sweet, an Air Force enlisted man, did die in Vietnam but this wasn't him. Glasser had changed the name. The research people who were supposed to check on stuff like this missed this reference.

What our guys do on R&R was based on my own experiences and some of my friends, such as systematically ordering all the fancy drinks on the menu, singing Army cadence calls in hotel corridors and waking up "regular" hotel guests. In the script, but cut for time, is a scene where our guys splash through surf, singing an irreverent antiwar cadence call: "Lyndon, Lyndon, heed my plea, I don't want to die in the Infantry....") There is a poignant scene where our guys return to their hotel room to see the routine television station sign-off. One of the letters the show got was from a group of Vietnam vets who used to gather in a bar to watch the show. When our guys stop and salute the national anthem, everyone in the bar stood up and did so too.

Morales' final advice, that our guys should desert rather than go back to Vietnam, was based on my friend's experience. When he returned from emergency leave, his friends were outraged that he had not taken the opportunity to desert. It had occurred to him, of course, but there was never any question of him NOT going back.

Costuming notes. This was the first time we had to decide who gotten what medals by this stage of their tour. We had to do this VERY quickly and everyone got involved, the costumers, the Army Public Affairs Office, myself and even the actors. The ribbons are also worn in a certain order, too, and it is a nuisance to add one or remove one. Percell's uniform was the least trouble. He is wearing the one he flew to Vietnam in months before. Taylor had been wounded in "Notes from Underground," so he gets a Purple Heart, but how about Ruiz? Even the actor couldn't remember. The result was kind of a compromise, but we got no viewer complaints. The small colored pins worn on the Class A service cap denote the unit. As the 3/44th Infantry was fictional, there was no "correct" device. I could have designed one, but there was no time to do so. Our guys wear the insignia of the real 3/21st Infantry, a part of the real 196th Infantry Brigade.

The cab driver jokingly refers to Ruiz and Taylor's "civilian clothes," the khaki trousers from their Class B uniforms, and their black military shoes and socks. They also wear their Army issue web belts-all trademarks of low paid soldiers off-duty. This was one of my contributions. The cab driver also refers to his own military service in WW II, with the Japanese-American 442nd Regimental Combat Team. His account is correct. Even after their families were interned in relocation camps, many thousands of Japanese-Americans volunteered to fight for the United States. The 442nd RCT, which fought in Italy and France, was among the most highly decorated units of WW II. Unlike other WW II veterans, Japanese-American veterans often returned to face prejudice at home.

Worth another look: Excited at a chance to re-introduce themselves to the pretty young ladies they had seen earlier at the hotel, Taylor, Ruiz and Percell go over to the college girls’ table. They are proud of themselves, proud to be soldiers on R and R. But the young ladies are not pleasant, and Leslie informs them that she is from Stanford and she was doing a thesis on Vietnam. On American imperialism and how American soldiers were killing innocent men, women and children. Ruiz and Percell become angry, but Taylor holds them off, never taking his eyes off the arrogant young woman, who then asks Taylor what it's like to have the blood of babies on his hands. Grabbing her arm, Taylor tells her what it's like to kill. What it means if it is women and children. That he's disgusted by people like her because the soldiers are over there serving their country and they didn’t ask to do it or to go over there.
Music:
  • Pipeline - The Venturas. At the beginning when the men are pinned down by enemy fire until the first chopper touches down.
  • Pretty Woman - Roy Orbison. Right after Percell says "I’d rather sandpaper a bobcat’s butt in a telephone booth" until they come out and show Joe Ruiz’s new tattoo.
  • Dancin’ in the Streets - Martha and the Vandellas. When the guys are back in the cab, and in the bar they are drinking at.
  • The Star Spangled Banner - plays on the TV in the hotel room when the guys get back that night from partying.

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