- Guest Stars: Everett McGill- Kithem/Master Sergeant Carter, Keone Young- Major Tung, Arsenio Trinidad- Village Chief Krnoon, Bruce Gray- Colonel Dalby.
- Story by: Robert Burns Clark
- Directed by: James L. Conway
Synopsis:More than 45 thousand Montagnards were trained by the US Army Special Forces from 1961-1971.
With Johnson on point, the platoon moves through the tall grass until Johnson holds everyone up. When Myron and Zeke join him, Johnson notes it looks like a fresh trail. Anderson advises they take it real slow and easy, Goldman agreeing before nodding to Johnson to continue.
But not far down the trail, they are ambushed by VC. Everyone takes cover but they are effectively pinned down. Anderson makes his way over to Goldman, everyone trying to maintain their position. Then, as suddenly as the firefight had started, it ends. A few strangled cries and now the jungle fills with an odd clicking sound.
Confused, Goldman wants to know what the hell it is. The entire platoon is spooked as they listen. After a few minutes the odd noise disappears and leaves the jungle wrapped in silence. Myron notes Charlie is pulling back, but Zeke can’t understand why, as they were pinned down and at their mercy. He decides to check it out and carefully moves forward to see what has happened. He comes across a VC, dead and bristling with several arrows. He silently signals the rest of the men to join him.
Nervous and confused, Myron checks out the body. “What is this, Indians?” Anderson tells him no, not exactly- but sort of. He then pulls a c-rat can from his pocket and holds it up, calling into the jungle. He yells they are Americans, and they have food and salt. Myron thinks Zeke is crazy, but Anderson continues to call out, wandering several yards away from the squad. There are more VC bodies, all shot up with arrows.
When Zeke gets no answer, he starts to turn back and join the nervous squad when a man jumps out. He is painted with colors, wearing necklaces of beads and holds a bow with an arrow notched and ready- aimed at Zeke. The rest of the squad is quickly surrounded by similar natives, both groups freezing and aiming at each other. Myron tells everyone to stay real cool, while staring down the barrel of his rifle at the arrow aimed at him. Zeke now realizes the entire squad is surrounded.
The native that has Zeke covered motions to the sergeant to lower his rifle. Zeke tells him they didn’t come there to fight them. But the native, speaking in a language they do not understand, again motions with the bow for Zeke to lower his rifle. Zeke carefully lowers his weapon. Myron tells the men to very carefully lower their weapons as well. The natives then indicate for the GIs to come with them and, seeing few options, the squad hesitantly goes with them.
As they walk through the jungle, Ruiz wants to know who the warriors are. Baker sarcastically remarks that they aren’t Apaches. Horn notes that they are likely Montagnards. They come over a rise and find themselves walking into a busy village. Laughing children come running up, touching and smiling.
The soldiers come to stand beside a very large cauldron. Taylor glances in before noting that he thinks they are all about to become the main attraction at a BBQ. Percell is nervous, asking Anderson if he foresees a problem. Zeke tells him they do have the weapons. Danny reminds him that the now dead VC did, too.
From one of the huts emerge a very tall white man dressed as the rest of the natives and a shorter, much older native. They are speaking, clearly not agreeing. Danny notes the taller one looks like an American. Both the men now approach Goldman’s men.
The taller man introduces the village chief, Krnoon, and then asks why Myron’s men are there. Myron introduces himself and tells them they are Bravo Company. And he would like to know whom he is speaking with. He is told simply, Kithem. Myron is curious and asks if it’s just Kithem. He is informed bluntly it is a Katu name and that these are Katu people. Kithem wants to know what Goldman and his men are doing in the area.
Myron reports they are patrolling, and that Intelligence has reports of VC trails through this area. And that they did indeed find VC. Kithem asks if they were attacked. Myron tells him, yes, and that they would have been wiped out if not for the Katu. For that, Goldman says thanks. Kithem coldly tells him he would have just watched. Myron is annoyed and asks what kind of soldier he was. Kithem tells him, he was in, now he is out.
But at Myron’s request, Kithem tells Krnoon that the soldiers are thankful. Krnoon smiles and tells them through Kithem that the VC were sons of pigs and he is always glad to slaughter a fat pig. Kithem adds the chief feels the same about government troops as well. Myron then asks Krnoon’s opinion of the Americans. Disgustedly, Kithem informs Myron it is the chief’s one great failing- that he likes them. They are then told they are guests of the village and can stay. But Kithem warns them to not take advantage of the hospitality.
After Kithem walks away, Zeke steps up next to Goldman. Myron asks Zeke, who does Kithem think he really is? Anderson shakes his head and notes that Kithem had to have been in a world of hurt to run this far.
After contacting Command, Goldman tells Anderson they are to stay. Supplies and weapons are being sent to the village for a Civil Action Project. They are to set up a strategic hamlet and teach the Katu how to cut off the VC supply trails. Zeke wants to know about Kithem. Myron says Command is checking him out on that end, and they would here as well.
Slicks arrive with supplies and guns. As they run up to help unload, Danny asks Roger what the hell was going on. Horn tells him that Command wants the villagers armed and fighting. Danny is a bit stunned.
Myron and Kithem face off over a crate of M-16s. Kithem is upset and angry, telling Goldman to send the guns back. Myron explains they are for the Katu to defend themselves with. Kithem tells him it will only make the Katu a target to real enemies. Goldman is not deterred, informing Kithem he has his orders. Kithem tells him they are handing the Katu a death warrant.
As Kithem tells the village chief of the gift of the weapons and supplies, Zeke steps up next to Myron, acknowledging that maybe Kithem has a point. Myron doesn’t see it that way, but rather as a real chance to help the Katu into the 20th century. No matter what anyone thinks, Krnoon is pleased with the guns.
Myron’s men start teaching the warriors how to use the various weapons. Zeke shows a group of young men the M-16, but finds himself teaching them as much English as about the use of the rifle. Johnson is showing another group how to set up and use mortars. But again, the language barrier just leaves him with several young men just watching him. Ruiz starts with another man, showing the stocky warrior the M-60. But things get out of control and Kithem has to run up and grab the weapon, admonishing Ruiz. Kithem informs him not to use a full belt of rounds when training a new man. As time passes, the villagers adapt to the weapons.
That’s when the Government troops decide to pay a visit to the village.
A Major Tung introduces himself to Goldman as the villagers and his men gather behind the young lieutenant. Major Tung informs Goldman he is the District Chief of the province. He sits on a stool and a paper umbrella is unfolded over his head by a child in a Government issue uniform. He then arrogantly demands to know why the Americans are there.
Goldman introduces himself and tells Tung they are there to sweep the area. Tung notes he heard the sound of gunfire and asks if Goldman had given the villagers weapons. Goldman, not deterred by Tung’s superior attitude, tells him yes, that Brigade approved of a Civil Action Program for the village. Tung informs Goldman he had not approved of any such program and orders Goldman to disarm the villagers immediately. Myron calmly refuses.
Tung is not amused and then spots Kithem, demanding to know if he was behind this. Kithem simply tells him no. Tung, still angry, informs Goldman that he will speak to Myron’s superiors. Then warns the younger man that it is a dangerous place. Goldman says nothing, but stands beside Zeke with a quiet smile.
After Tung and his men leave, Anderson asks Kithem about the major. Kithem tells Anderson and Goldman that Tung comes around a couple times a year, bullies the young men, collects taxes and steals some chickens. Goldman wants to know why the Katu let it happen. Kithem says that as long as they co-operate, they have an uneasy peace. But now that was changed because of Goldman and his men.
Myron is not put off, telling Kithem they couldn’t leave the villagers to defend themselves with rocks and sticks. Kithem tells him they are just using the Katu and teaching them to kill. If they care about the village, then teach them to live. Or had the war so destroyed Myron’s regard for life?
With the men gathered together, Goldman informs them they can’t keep sending back to the CO for supplies. They have to help these people to be on their own. Johnson speaks up and informs Myron that the soil is rich and that the Katu can certainly grow what they need. Percell adds, they can build pens for livestock such as chickens and pigs. Myron is pleased and asks for more ideas.
Ruiz and Taylor announce they know nothing of farmers and farming. Taylor adds he’s a “concrete and asphalt man” himself. Zeke notes that they ain’t gonna be much help then with the farming, and both young men agree in unison. Zeke then says, fine- they can dig the latrines as he knows they are both experts on that.
Everyone chips in, helping the Katu. Johnson is out in a field with some of the villagers as they dig it up. Percell and Baker help to build pens and chicken coops. Ruiz helps one of the elders with fishing. But when the net isn’t working, Ru tosses a grenade into the river. The resulting explosion brings about a dozen stunned fish to the surface and the kids run in to get them, laughing.
Anderson walks through the village to join a very silent Kithem, who is carving on a stool. Zeke asks how he ended up here, and what was his real name? Zeke tells Kithem he figures him for a Special Forces type. That back in the early days the Green Berets worked with the Montagnards. Kithem gets up and warns Anderson. He tells Zeke there is an old Appalachian saying- don’t step in anything you can’t wipe off.
Later, Anderson, Horn and Goldman are all working on a frame and palm covered roof while a sweet little village girl hands Horn some nails. He calls her a good little helper and goes back to work. Myron, hammering away, manages to bash his thumb. Going down on one knee, he bites back a curse when he finds himself face to face with the little girl. He mutters he’s going to work on his reports and bolts, Horn and Anderson grinning. The two men then sit down in the shade and Zeke shows Roger his hands. They are covered with blisters. He tells Roger it’s been three years since he held a hammer. He loves it, but it’s killing him. Roger is just happy. He notes this is the first time he’s felt good since coming to Vietnam. That he likes building things up, not tearing them down.
A couple of the villagers come running into the village then, and Horn and Zeke grab their gear and join the gathering crowd. Kithem tells Myron a VC supply train is coming down the trail.
Slipping up through the tall grass, Goldman, his men, and the Katu warriors spot the supply train. Goldman tells Anderson to call the ambush and Zeke quickly explains what they are going to do. He then breaks them up into small teams and sends them into position.
Everyone gets into position as the VC continue to move down the trail, unaware of the impending ambush. When Zeke determines everything is set, he signals Johnson who starts the firefight with a mortar round. It’s over in a matter of a few short minutes. When the smoke and noise clears, the Montagnards and Goldman’s men start to shout in celebration. But Kithem, who had stood and watched the entire show, is saddened by the display.
Goldman and his men start to check out the bodies. But instead of finding dead VC, they begin to realize they had killed some of Major Tung’s men. Johnson calls Goldman and Anderson over, handing Zeke a waxed paper covered brick. Zeke opens it and smells it, then tells Goldman and Kithem it is “Corsican Gold”- pure raw opium.
At a nearby camp and Command Post, Lt. Colonel Dalby confronts a confident and arrogant Major Tung. He accuses Tung, telling him that his men were smuggling opium. Goldman sits besides Dalby while his own men stand a respectful distance back behind Tung and his soldiers. Tung denies his soldiers are involved, but Dalby takes a folded uniform of one of the dead soldiers from Goldman and puts it on the table between them. Tung shrugs it off, saying it was likely a deserter and that opium had been smuggled down the trails for years.
Tung then tells Dalby he is to turn the drugs over to his office for investigation. Dalby is not impressed by Tung and asks if Tung’s efforts to keep the trails open have to do with the opium traffic. The major becomes indignant, saying he does not have to take Dalby’s attitude.
But Dalby is not cowed or afraid of Tung and minces no words with the other man. He informs Tung he has been nothing but trouble for MAC-V from day one. Dalby then makes it clear they could win the war, but not with people like Tung getting in the way. When Major Tung jumps to his feet to leave, Dalby snaps at him to sit back down as he is not finished yet.
Tung threatens to get Dalby transferred out of the district. Dalby tells the major to make sure he gets it right in his report- that Dalby treated an officer of the South Vietnamese Army with complete contempt and disrespect. And that Dalby considers Tung nothing more than a pirate. He then dismisses Tung, who jumps to his feet in a rage, throwing back the chair he had been sitting on. He and his men start to push past the Americans, one of Tung’s soldiers shoving Ruiz hard.
Zeke reacts immediately, spinning the soldier around and putting him into a choke hold. Everyone freezes, Dalby and Goldman rising quickly to their feet. Anderson is furious, carefully controlling his anger as he quietly warns Tung’s man to not ever touch one of his men again. He throws the man off and then warns him further- telling him if he ever saw the man out in the bush, he would cut off his fingers and toes and make a necklace of them. That he might even cut out his tongue. Anderson then shoots a warning glare at Major Tung. As Tung and his men finally leave, Dalby nods and tells Anderson, well done.
Back at the village, the men boast about making the major look so bad and how Anderson handled the one soldier. They are all in high spirits.
Anderson is trying to put together a small bench made from a split log when Kithem stops and offers to help. Zeke tells him he has blisters on his hands so bad, he can’t pick up the ax. Kithem easily swings and splits the large log with one hand. He tells Zeke that where he came from, every kid knew how to split wood.
Zeke notes that Kithem is a long way from the Smokey Mountains. Kithem replies, it really isn’t all that different. He notes that it’s rural and mountainous and people like to be left alone. Zeke agrees. He smiles and tells Kithem that when they first arrived and saw the long-legged white boy, they thought Kithem was crazy. Kithem notes, every time he sees a man in uniform, he knows they are crazy.
The sweet little girl who had been helping Roger earlier now comes across the village and up to Percell and Horn. The two men are taking a break on the steps of a hootch and Roger lifts her up between the two of them, kissing her on the forehead as Danny smiles. She gives them each a length of cloth. Danny thanks her, but is puzzled about what it is. Roger explains that it’s a sarong and it’s like a dress- for the party. Danny wants to know what party.
The village throws a celebration and Goldman’s men get to join in the festivities. Dressed in Army boots and sarongs and painted up in bright colors, they are treated to a show of Katu music and dancing. Most of them are even wearing native necklaces and beads. Even Myron is wearing a sarong as he sits and genuinely enjoys the festivities with his men. Everyone is smiling and relaxing, enjoying the entertainment.
When the dance is complete, Goldman and his men are informed that, by Katu custom, they are now to entertain the villagers.
Using an 8-track tape player, most of Third Squad decide to entertain by lip synching to James Brown’s Please, Please, Please. With Taylor “singing” lead, the guys put on a hilarious display. At first the Katu are a bit puzzled, but after a few minutes can’t help but warm up to the soldiers’ antics. Taylor certainly knows how to ham it up. Even Myron joins in, draping a blanket over Taylor’s shoulders and playfully dragging Marcus off the “stage”, causing no small amount of laughter. Even Kithem enjoys the show.
The rest of the men now move among the villagers as the song continues to play, dancing with the women and some of the children. There is a rare moment of Myron watching his men enjoying themselves and he’s smiling- just a young man enjoying himself as much as his men are without the weight of the war on his shoulders.
But the fun is shattered when a mortar shell explodes in the village compound and everyone is forced to take cover. More shells rain down, destroying the village and killing and wounding several people.
When it’s all over, the devastation is heartbreaking. Zeke wanders through the village, watching his men treat the wounded. He’s still in the sarong, carrying his rifle. He approaches Horn, who is holding the little girl- now dead. He’s in shock and won’t give her to her father. Zeke tells Roger, who is in tears, that he has to give her up. Roger finally kisses her on the forehead and tenderly hands her over.
Myron is on the radio, being informed it was a mistake and an accident. His voice catches as he asks what his orders are, Zeke coming and standing behind him. Myron’s told the CAP is cancelled and he is to get his people out of there. Myron is devastated, clearly feeling responsible when Kithem brings Krnoon up behind him.
Zeke prompts Myron, who is still kneeling and holding the headset. The younger man’s voice is ragged as he explains that Command claims it was a mistake- that the South Vietnamese mistook the village as VC.
Kithem notes it had to be Tung and that everyone knows that. Myron finally climbs to his feet and turns to face Kithem and Krnoon and tells them that Colonel Dalby got the order to cancel the mission. That they are moving out. It is clear Myron is devastated.
Kithem says he is not surprised and translates it to Krnoon that Goldman and his men are leaving. When Myron asks what Kithem said, Kithem tells him that Americans are like big children. They come in, break things, create problems, then they leave the mess for others to clean up. Myron can only stare at him, unable to dispute what Kithem has said.
As the village chief performs funeral rites over the dead, Goldman’s men gather and prepare to leave. Everyone is wrapped in defeat and sorrow. They watch the funeral for a bit before Goldman finally orders them to saddle up. Zeke walks over to Kithem. He tells Kithem that he could come with them, but Kithem’s silence says it all. Zeke nods and adds that he had to ask.
Goldman’s men are now back on the trail and moving away from the village with Taylor on point when they run into Tung’s men. They face off on the trail, Tung arrogant and sure of himself. He taunts Goldman, who does not rise to the bait.
Myron and Zeke want to know what Tung plans to do with the villagers. Tung notes that they plan to continue the good work that Goldman had started, but the sarcasm is not lost on Myron or Zeke. Anderson starts to snipe at Tung, but Goldman, still coldly watching Tung, cuts Anderson off with a level voice and tells him to move the men through. Tung smiles in triumph as Anderson and Goldman lead the men past Tung’s soldiers.
At the village, the call goes out. Tung and his men have arrived.
Goldman and his men are moving on, now crossing a ridge and trying to convince themselves that the Katu will be fine. Gunshots split the air and they all stop, everyone turning around in the direction of the village. Silence follows, everyone unsure. Myron notes maybe it isn’t gunfire, but more echoes sound and everyone flinches.
Zeke says the hell with it, he’s going back and starts to leave. Myron yells at him, giving him pause, before Goldman says they are all going.
Tung’s men are terrorizing the villagers as they search for the American weapons they were given. Krnoon is dead, and Kithem is bound and kneeling on the dirt in front of Tung. The major is demanding to know where the rest of the weapons are. Kithem, showing a split lip, refuses to say where. Tung rises, getting ready to strike Kithem when Goldman, Anderson and his men arrive.
Major Tung is furious and demands to know why they are back. Anderson smiles and calls it a garbage detail. Tung reminds Goldman he has his orders. Myron tells him his orders are to protect and aid the people of the village.
Anderson then tells Tung he has thirty seconds to get on out of there. Zeke then starts to count off and Goldman and the rest of the men start to shift, getting ready for a fight. Tung shouts that he has many friends in Saigon. Zeke gets to four and then says to hell with it, jumping ahead to twenty-seven.
Goldman’s men take up defensive firing positions as Anderson continues to count and Tung continues to shout at Goldman. Behind Tung, one of the Montagnards pulls out a rifle and shoots one of the South Vietnamese soldiers. Everything comes apart in that moment, everyone now firing and ducking for cover. During the firefight, Kithem manages to get free. But Tung, with a rifle, flees the village. Anderson see him and takes off in pursuit, following the major into the tall grass.
Anderson carefully works down the trail, looking for Tung. But unbeknownst to Zeke, Tung has gotten behind him and takes aim at his back. With the sound of a rifle shot, Zeke ducks and rolls, coming up in time to see Tung collapse dead and Kithem lowering a rifle after it is clear he had shot the major. The two men stand looking at each other.
The villagers are packing and leaving. Kithem and Myron talk as they walk, Myron noting that Thailand was a long haul. Kithem thanks him for the contacts with the missionaries. They walk up to a smiling Anderson and Kithem and Zeke shake hands. Kithem says he never really liked Zeke. Zeke grins and says he isn’t especially romantic about Kithem, either.
Kithem then gives Zeke some dog tags and tells him there are a few people back home wondering about him. To please give them the dog tags and tell them he was okay. Zeke says he will, calling him Sergeant Carter. Kithem is startled.
Myron says Brigade told them two days ago. Master Sergeant Carter- Special Forces with two Silver Stars. Zeke adds, and honorably discharged, which makes Zeke especially happy as the man who saved him is not a deserter. Myron extends his hand to Carter and tells him to take care of these people. Carter promises to do so, then leads the villagers on their way.
As they watch the Katu leave, Myron tells Zeke that Carter must have gotten tired of killing people and just wanted to help them instead. Zeke notes, ain’t that a subversive idea.
“Ain’t it though?” Myron smiles.
ToD Advisor’s Episode Notes:
The aboriginal Montagnards were the original inhabitants of Vietnam. They bore EXACTLY the same relationship to the Vietnamese as the American Indians did to the Western settlers in 19th century America. Over the years, their tribal groups had been driven to the country’s remote western mountains. Montagnard” is the French word for “mountaineer.” The Vietnamese, both North and South, despised them. Their word for them was “moi” which means “savages.” During the Indochina War, the French had organized many of the tribes to fight the Viet Minh. After their victory, the Viet Minh exterminated those that had opposed them in North Vietnam. In the South, where they were not even citizens, the Montagnards retreated to their mountains and tried to stay neutral. Unhappily the Ho Chi Minh Trail ran though the same mountains and neutrality was no longer possible. Against the wishes of the South Vietnamese government, the US Army Special Forces began arming and training the Montagnards in the late 1950s. As they had done before, with the French, the tribesmen welcomed the US advisors. The Green Berets became honorary members of their tribes. They learned the languages, participated in ceremonies, ate local food and wore tribal dress, such as the brass friendship bracelets, with their military uniforms. Kithem is apparently from this period. The Viet Cong, of course, were doing the same with THEIR tribes.
The Army PAO did not like this script, not because of the scenario (in reality a contact with a “new” tribe would be turned over to the Special Forces) but because of the depiction of the South Vietnamese troops. Tour of Duty generally depicted the South Vietnamese armed forces in a good light. This show would be an exception. The Army of the Republic of Viet Nam (ARVN) had their own Special Forces, patterned on the US Green Berets, who were supposed to work with the Montagnards. They weren’t very effective. Their hearts weren’t in it. (Hanging out with the “moi”? No way!) Sarcastic Americans said their unit abbreviation, LLDB, stood for “Look Long, Duck Back.” The Army PAO objected to this characterization in the script but it was correct for the period and stood. Besides their regular troops, the Saigon government had several types of local militias and paramilitary forces. The ones we show in the episode are the personal troops of the local District Chief, called “Popular Forces.” In US terms, think of them as the sheriff’s posse of a US county. Some of these forces were quite efficient, others less so. It all depended on the District Chief. This chief is corrupt and overbearing and his PF unit reflects this. The Popular Forces made do with bits and pieces of regular uniforms and civilian clothes. They looked a lot like the Viet Cong, and were distinguished from them by their unit patches worn on their shirts. The designs could be complicated or simple. I designed the patch for the episode. It features an ordinary house cat! This is not as silly as it sounds. The superstitious Vietnamese regarded animals that hunted at night (like bats and owls) as possible “familiars” for ghosts and evil spirits. A cat might also be regarded as a harbinger of death, in the Vietnamese mythos.
I was also thinning out my collection of “tiger stripe” camouflage uniforms and the show’s costumers, Hollywood Raggs, bought my extras, most of which appear in this episode.
Worth another look:
After the successful ambush of the VC supply train, the Katu decide to hold a celebration and Goldman and his men are invited. Dressed in traditional sarongs (and Army boots) and painted in bright colors, Goldman and his men enjoy the festivities. But after watching some of the Katu dancing, they are told it is the custom for them to entertain the villagers in return. Using an 8-track tape player, the men lip synch to James Brown’s Please, Please, Please with hilarious results. Taylor leads the show and steals it, and even Myron has to join in, draping a blanket over Marcus’s shoulders and playfully dragging him off the “stage”. Eventually, with the song still playing, the soldiers get the villagers to join them in dancing and simply having fun.
- Shotgun – Junior Walker and the All Stars. As the platoon shows the Montagnard villagers how to use the weapons supplied as part of the civic action program.
- Please, Please, Please – James Brown. As Third Squad entertains the Montagnard villagers.