Percell and Colby

USO Down
(Episode 13)

Anderson and Long John
  • Guest Stars: Pat O’Bryan, Cynthia Bain, Marietta De Prima and Stuart Fratkin as Carlin
  • Story by: Jim Beaver
  • Directed by: Ronald Schwary
Synopsis: Although often called upon to perform in hostile battle zones, all USO entertainers worked on a voluntary basis.

An USO troop performs Wooly Bully on a stage in front of a large gathering of GIs who are all cheering the entertainers on. The band finishes the show with We Gotta Get Out Of This Place, the soldiers all standing and singing along. The troop is then hustled into a Chinook to go up to the First Cav.

Out in the bush, Taylor is complaining about being covered in fungus and that he has only 45 days and a wake up. Anderson comes over, teasing him and saying that since Taylor is so glib this morning and it has been so quiet, he can walk point.

While Taylor is on point, he stares in disbelief when he spots what appears to be a girl in leather boots. Thinking he had to be out of his mind, he simply sits down right there and strips his helmet off, bewildered. Goldman, Anderson and Johnson slip up next to him, concerned. They want to know what Taylor saw, but can’t believe it when he tells them. Anderson and Goldman decide to check it out and Taylor tries to convince Johnson he really did see a white chick. Johnson just rolls his eyes.

Taylor and AndersonAnderson and Goldman find tracks, but they are not sandal prints. Both men are a bit stunned, Zeke teasing Myron lightly about what they taught him in OCS about stuff like this. Taylor and Johnson join them, Goldman finally saying they were going to follow the prints.

What Taylor saw was April who was one of the USO dancers. She is running, lost in the jungle, until one of her band mates calls out to her. It is Long John, the bandleader, and she rushes up to him, crying and upset and quickly tells him she heard men’s voices. They join the remaining survivors. One of the girls, Christie, is badly injured and dying. Telling the remaining band members to be quiet and to keep Christie quiet, Long John decides to try and defend his friends as best he can. He finds a large branch he can use as a weapon and takes up position behind a tree to wait.

Johnson, now on point, first hears Long John, and then sees him. He points out the movement to Anderson, the two men puzzled. They silently approach the singer, not sure what they are going to find. What they find is John Vivian, who is very thankful to have run into the Army out in the middle of nowhere. He quickly tells Anderson who he is and what they are doing out in the boonies, saying their chopper went down the day before and they very much needed help.

The platoon finds Long John’s friends. He tells Anderson and Goldman what happened and that the crew and four of his band members were killed in the crash. He notes that Christie is probably going to die and Goldman regretfully tells him she’s in very bad shape. Larry Carlin, the saxophone player, demands to know what is going to happen now that they have found the Army. Carlin’s attitude immediately exasperates Goldman, and the young lieutenant leaves in disgust to speak with Matsuda.

Colby, Matsuda, April, and GoldmanMyron joins Matsuda and the surviving girls, who are gathered around their dying friend. Taylor, Ruiz and Baker all stand and watch in fascinated horror before Ruiz finally tells them to move off. Unfortunately, there isn’t anything Matsuda can do for Christie, telling Goldman the best he can do is make her comfortable. April is clearly in distress and starts to fall apart, begging Matsuda to help Christie. Christie dies and Matsuda and Goldman leave the two remaining women to comfort each other.

Goldman rejoins Anderson, Long John, and Carlin and tells them Christie is dead. Carlin is agitated and continues to harp at Goldman when Myron is unable to call in for help because the radio batteries are too weak and they lost their spare set in a river a few days back. Finally Anderson tells Carlin to calm down and Goldman orders everybody out.

They work their way down the trail, Anderson telling Long John they’d been out for three days on a recon, but that they were joining up with an ARVN platoon. With Johnson still on point, they finally find the ARVN platoon. Unfortunately, they are all dead, bodies scattered across the jungle floor. The USO troop stares in stunned horror.

After confirming that whoever had killed the ARVN were gone, Goldman tells Horn and Johnson to give their shirts over to the girls as they were walking targets. Carlin continues to come unglued until Long John tells him to knock it off and calm down. Goldman starts studying a map, deciding a direct route to the Battalion’s AO would be best. But Long John, who can read the map, points out a longer but easier route for them to take. Anderson and Goldman decide he’s right. Long John talks them into letting him have the one rifle the platoon found with the dead ARVN.

As they continue to hike on, Percell tries to talk to Colby, but she will have none of it. She gets snippy and cold and tells him she doesn’t want to talk to him. She continues to be disdainful as they all cross a stream, refusing help from Matsuda and Taylor. Unwilling to listen to Taylor or Johnson, she slips and falls into the water, Taylor grinning but offering her a hand up.

On the other side, Carlin reminds Goldman and Anderson that they are civilians and that they were tired and hungry. When Carlin walks away, Goldman mimics some of the other man’s movements, but concedes and tells Anderson they will take a break and to spread the chow around. While they eat and Anderson decides to scout ahead, Horn asks how the band members got involved with the USO. Carlin said it was strictly a job for him. Long John, however, wanted to be in Vietnam, turning down several chances to be a lead singer with groups back in the States. Horn shakes his head and tells him he’s crazy.

Roo offers to spread some bug juice on Colby, who is being eaten up by the insects. But she becomes angry and slaps Ruiz, accusing him of manhandling her. Percell rushes up, but Ruiz stomps off in a snit, saying his hand had only slipped and why was she making such a fuss anyway with the way she was dressed. Colby, frustrated, tells Percell they should cut the pretense and ship over a bargeload of whores. Danny tries to explain to her that not all men are like that and that they just want to talk to a girl from back home. She informs him she’s been in country eighteen months and she was tired of being pawed over by a bunch of nineteen-year-olds who hadn’t had a bath in three months.

Roger HornLong John and Carlin start to play around, and Horn pulls out his harmonica and joins in as April comes over and sits down with them. But Anderson appears as if out of nowhere and quickly breaks it up, telling Horn he should know better. Furious, he stomps off as Goldman comes over to him and demands to know what the hell is going on. Anderson just mutters about kids who simply don’t understand. He then tells Goldman that he and Johnson spotted several VC and they were probably meeting up with NVA regulars. Goldman is concerned and tells Anderson they have to warn Battalion or they would be walking right into it blind.

Once again on the move, Long John tells April he was born to this and he was going to try and enlist yet another time. But as they speak, they are ambushed, everyone diving for cover. It is VC, who immediately pin them down. At one point when Goldman is changing clips in his rifle, he is almost killed by a VC until Long John steps in and kills the man. Goldman looks up in complete shock at Long John. They eventually beat back the VC, who end up fleeing back into the jungle.

Myron sincerely thanks Long John for saving his life. Anderson is impressed also and Long John is all hyped up. He wants to chase down the remaining VC. Anderson tells him no and Long John informs him he is not afraid. Zeke then says that in this country you are either afraid, crazy or dead.

After again hiking for a while, they take a five-minute break. Long John is still all hyped up and proud he killed someone. Carlin wants a joint and makes the mistake of asking Anderson if he has any when the sergeant walks by. Anderson becomes furious. He is also put off by Long John, telling him that this is a war and not a game. And that Long John had lost five of his friends but he doesn’t seem to care.

In the tall elephant grass, Taylor spots about twenty VC less than 100 meters away. Goldman orders everyone down and to be quiet, hoping the VC pass them and don’t notice. The platoon and USO members lie silent as the VC walk by within mere inches from the silent and frightened Americans.

On the move once again and walking up the side of a ridge, Goldman calls a ten minute break as it starts to rain. April talks to Baker as they share a canteen. Anderson wants to get moving as Goldman checks their position with a compass. Goldman feels they can make it to the ridge he wants to get to within a few hours, but Anderson is edgy and concerned about Long John.

Carlin rushes up to Goldman after Anderson leaves, realizing he lost his sax back in the tall grass. He demands to go back and get it. Goldman puts up with this to a point, but finally loses his temper with the guy. Myron tells Carlin he is fed up with his kvetching and whining. They aren’t going back and his job is to get them all back alive. Disgusted, Goldman finally walks away from Carlin.

Carlin and Long JohnLong John and Carlin aren’t thrilled with Anderson's and Goldman’s decisions. Long John promises Carlin they will get his sax back. Colby in the meantime tries to talk to Percell, but it’s bad timing and he has to run off when Anderson tells him to saddle up.

Ruiz finally informs the L-T that Long John and Carlin are gone. Goldman is furious and tempted to leave them behind, but Anderson tells him he will go round them up. Myron is concerned Zeke won’t make it back before dark, but Anderson says he’ll be fine and promises Goldman he will be back.

Long John and Carlin are on their way back through the tall grass, but Carlin has apparently rethought his position. Long John is all gung-ho, but Carlin is terrified as they keep moving forward in search of his saxophone. Anderson is not far behind and hears Long John when the kid shoots up the jungle. Now Carlin is desperate to get back, but Long John won’t give up and drags him forward. Long John spots the instrument and Carlin rushes forward to grab it. But when he stands up, he can see several VC moving in the bushes in front of them. Long John fires at them as Anderson charges up. The VC retaliate and kill Carlin. Anderson tosses a grenade and grabs a shocked Long John, the two making a run for it.

When they finally pause, Long John tries to apologize and thank Anderson for saving his life. But Anderson is furious and won’t hear it. He tells Long John that he tried to be a hero and his friend is now dead because of him, while he is still alive. And that he hopes Long John knows where that’s a fair deal.

Meanwhile, Goldman and the rest of the platoon finally get to the top of the ridge he was aiming for. They set up a perimeter.

Long JohnAnderson and Long John hold up, Long John now out of breath. As Anderson scans the area, Long John tells him he is an epileptic and had a seizure five weeks into basic training and that he brought all the family traditions to a screeching halt. He then tells Anderson he was told you aren’t much of a man if you couldn’t fight for your country. Anderson retorts his L-T is from the same kind of family. He then adds that he thinks if parents are so anxious to get their kids killed, they should just do it themselves.

Colby again tries to talk to Danny and to apologize for her earlier behavior. She explains why she was so miserable. While in Vietnam, she had twice been engaged to marry, both times to a soldier, but that both had been killed in action. She tells Danny she simply can’t do it any more, can’t get close to anyone any more. That it was too painful.

Anderson and Long John stumble across two VC. Anderson shoots them, but when he turns to look for more, one of the dying men tosses a grenade out. Long John sees it and shoves Anderson aside before throwing himself over it to save the sergeant and is killed. Anderson climbs to his feet and stares in shocked horror before finally leaving.

Horn comes running up to Goldman and Johnson and tells Goldman he contacted Battalion and a chopper was on the way. Johnson points out that Anderson has returned and Goldman approaches his sergeant, already knowing things must have gone horribly wrong. April and Colby see Anderson as well and follow Goldman and Johnson. Anderson is clearly unhappy as he stands at the edge of the ridge, unable to even look at anyone.

Goldman approaches cautiously, realizing Anderson is extremely upset and trying to keep it together. The girls and Johnson come up, too, and Anderson finally blurts out to Goldman that Long John jumped on a grenade. April is devastated and leaves with Colby and Johnson following her.

Zeke AndersonZeke is so confused and hurt. He tells Myron that Long John got Carlin killed, then turned around and saved him. Bewildered, he then asks Myron what's the difference between being brave and being stupid. Myron replies he doesn’t really know, maybe it’s timing. In that moment a Huey rushes up over the ridge and lands.

Colby says goodbye to Danny. She tells him to be careful, and that she wants him to come out of the war well and strong and to live. She kisses him goodbye and whispers to him one more time- "live." April thanks Baker and then goes over to Goldman and Anderson. She thanks them both with honest respect for everything they had done for them. She then tells Myron and Zeke she would never forget them, but Myron is unable to look at her, ducking his head.

The girls then give back the borrowed fatigue shirts before waving goodbye and climbing aboard the waiting Huey. They wave again to the men who saved their lives as the slick takes off.

ToD Advisor's Episode Notes: The USO was most famous for the clubs it set up for servicemen in WW II, and for the shows it sent overseas to entertain them. Bob Hope was the personification of these. I got to see his 1967 Christmas show in Vietnam and it was wonderful. The USO also had other shows, traveling editions of Broadway plays, like "Hello Dolly" with Martha Ray, for example. Other celebrities also visited Vietnam under USO auspices: movie stars, singers (Nancy Sinatra was very popular), athletes, etc. Unhappily, the pop-cultural mood of "Make Love, Not War" wasn't very appropriate to the circumstances and no major rock group decided to tour Vietnam. What we got for entertainment were vagabond troupes of Asian rock bands, strippers and has-been comedians. These were booked through ordinary theatrical agencies and had nothing to do with the USO. They performed on makeshift stages outdoors on major bases and were paid out of unit funds. We were happy to have them. Just hearing a "round-eye" woman sing and talk back to you in the audience was such a treat! The women were treated like gold. I don't know what they were paid but they earned every penny. Unhappily, several of them also lost their lives in the daily hazard of being "in-country," to aircraft accidents and land mines.

When I first had a chance to comment on the "USO Down" script, I humorously suggested having a woman Viet Cong character try to figure out what some of those costumes found in the wreck were supposed to be for. The writers were not amused..... The idea of arming a civilian is rather extreme. In "Roadrunner" the patrol even takes away the pilot's .38 revolver so he can't accidentally shoot someone - standard operational procedure.
Worth another look: After Long John saves his life by jumping on a grenade, Anderson catches up to the platoon. Bewildered and confused, he waits at the edge of the ridge for Goldman, who approaches cautiously. He tells Myron what had happened, and that he couldn’t understand it. That Long John was a war-mongering fool and half the time Anderson wanted to shoot the kid himself. He gets his buddy Carlin killed but then turns around and jumps on a grenade to save Anderson. Clearly hurting, Zeke then asks Myron what the difference was between being brave and being stupid.
Music: all performed by the USO Troop.
  • Wooly Bully - Long John and the rest of his friends are performing for the troops over in Vietnam.
  • Just My Imagination - The Temptations. As Taylor rubs his eyes in disbelief after seeing a girl in leather boots and white shorts running through the jungle.
  • Mannish Boy - Muddy Waters.  Long John and April are talking, Long John insisting he will try and re-enlist again. A harmonica version of this plays as Long John and Carlin talk on the way back to get Carlin's saxophone.
  • We Gotta Get Out of this Place - The final song Long John and the others perform, getting the GIs to stand up and sing with them before they are hustled off to a Chinook that is waiting for them. Also at the very end of the episode as the Huey lifts away with April and Colby and they see the men who saved their lives watching.
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