The Short Timer

The Short Timer

The Short Timer(Episode #18)

  • Guest Stars: Marshall Bell, Glenn Plummer
  • Story by: Bruce Reisman and Peter Lubliner
  • Directed by: Bill Duke

Synopsis:40% of the soldiers killed in Vietnam died during the first three months of their tours of duty.

Two Hueys come over the treeline and ease down into a meadow. Goldman and Third Squad jump down, and once the helicopters are clear, he waves the men forward.

The Short TimerA new man, Stone, is on point as they work their way silently through the jungle, following a blood trail. They take extra care to be quiet, but Taylor is grinning and glancing around him until Anderson stops him and warns him to pay attention and stop daydreaming of being home.

After Taylor moves on, Percell and Baker make their way down the trail, Danny trying not to sneeze. Baker covers his nose and mouth with his hand, letting Percell sneeze in silence. Danny smiles in thanks, but when they turn to move on, Anderson is there, grinning, and blows them a kiss.

Stone sees something and signals to Taylor and the others to wait. He then goes on ahead down the trail. Myron and Horn join Taylor, waiting to see what happens next while Stone carefully follows the blood trail. He doesn’t see the boobytrap just ahead. Just as Myron asks where Stone is, there’s an explosion and scream.

The Short TimerTelling Taylor to come with him, Myron and Taylor race down the trail to get to Stone. At the bottom of the hill, they pull up with shocked expressions on their faces. Taylor has a hard time looking at the destroyed body as Myron sucks it up and kneels by the dead boy, retrieving his dogtags. He tells Taylor it looks like a “Bouncing Betty” and that it had blown everything off from the waist down. That the blood trail had probably led them right to it. Taylor shakes his head, still watching the jungle and tells Myron the poor kid had only been out here about two months. And that maybe it’s better he’s dead.

Taylor is first up the trail to join Anderson, Horn and the others. Anderson asks if it was Stone and Taylor tells him a Bouncing Betty nailed him. Another kid is gone. Anderson tells him to keep his head and stay alert or he might be going home in a paper sack. Myron trudges up the trail behind them.

As Anderson joins him, Myron tells him that they’ve lost whatever advantage they had. Zeke asks if they should quit, but Myron just looks at him and says, no, that they wouldn’t be doing their job. Zeke tells him he’ll check it out and leaves to scout ahead.

As most of Third Squad gathers and settles on the side of the hill, watchful, Myron informs them that they just lost their point man and asks who’s next. Taylor quickly acknowledges that it’s his turn. Immediately, all his buddies start to volunteer do it instead. Taylor wants to know why he can’t take point and Horn replies that he only has two days and a wake-up. Myron, fishing in his pocket for cigarettes, tells Taylor that short timers don’t take point and that he’d be messing with tradition.

Taylor says he still wants to take point. Ruiz tells him he’s crazy and that he’d be a sitting target for Charlie. Myron tells Marcus it’s up to him. Taylor says that if something happened to any of them on point, he couldn’t live with it, and so takes the position. Myron orders everyone else up and on the move.

As they again start moving through the jungle with Marcus now on point, he mutters to himself that he’s got a death wish and what’s he trying to prove anyway? As they continue on down the trail, they are watched from behind some netting by a handful of NVA who are heavily armed with a machine gun. They open fire, driving Goldman’s unit to the ground. After a few moments, Taylor dumps his pack and carefully rushes ahead, trying to get a better position on the machine gun bunker.

The Short TimerAs he works into a better position, he chastises himself, wanting to know what the hell he thinks he’s doing with two days and a wake-up call. He finally gets in behind a tree and, using a grenade launcher, blows up the bunker, killing everyone inside. Even as the dirt and debris settle, Marcus is questioning God and wanting to know what he’s doing to him. God does want him to make it out of there alive, right? He then comes out from behind the tree and checks the bunker, making sure everyone is dead.

When it’s confirmed, he turns and shouts triumphantly to his buddies below and they all come out from cover to shout back at him. Taylor is jubilant, raising his arms in the air and laughing at his victory.

Later as they walk Percell thanks Taylor for bailing them out. Taylor says he was saving himself, too. And that he is going home. He shouts “Goodbye, Vietnam! Goodbye, gooks!” Grinning, he strips his helmet off and says, “And goodbye dirt.” He then kisses the ground and climbs to his feet. Percell grins at him and tells him, “I hear that!”

Later, Third Squad is shown crowded onto one of several Hueys as they leave Ladybird. Baker tells Marcus that will be the last time he will ever see the firebase.* Taylor is delighted, saying he wants them all to get to Chu-lai so he can out-process and go home. He starts to sing “We Gotta Get Out of this Place” and the rest of his buddies join him. Horn plays on his harmonica as the guys sing a few verses and then Taylor shouts “Goodbye!” He pulls out a picture and kisses it, saying that he’s “coming home, Louise!”

The Short TimerShouting over Zeke’s shoulder, Taylor tells him that he’s been thinking of that GI Bill. That he thinks he’ll enroll in school, take the cash and live fat on Easy Street. He’s full of himself as he brags how he’s gonna be down there with a fine looking woman on his arm. Zeke tells him he ain’t gonna be grinning nearly as much once he starts out-processing, and Johnson agrees. But Taylor is far too happy and says he won’t be getting shot at. That’s he’s smiling so big and bright that you could show home movies on his teeth.

The three Hueys bringing Goldman’s men in from Ladybird land at Chu-lai. Anderson tells Taylor they should be there just in time for a hot meal and everyone’s excited. But also unloaded are the dead, and as Taylor walks by, it’s a sobering moment as he looks at the bodies.

As Anderson walks up, gear over his shoulder, he’s greeted by Sergeant Carlton, who tells Zeke he hears that he’s got a short timer named Taylor. Zeke tells him that Taylor is more interested in hot food rather than Carlton’s hot air. Carlton isn’t so easily put off and tells Anderson to let the boy decide for himself, but Anderson walks away, saying Carlton’s barking up the wrong tree.

Carlton greets Taylor, telling him he’s Sergeant Carlton, his re-enlistment NCO and that Zeke tells him that Taylor is one of his best. Taylor says that he is but wants to know what Carlton’s selling. Carlton is smooth and tells Taylor he’s interested in his future. That after a guy gets out of the Army, it can be a very confusing and frightening time. And that he was there to help Taylor through it.

Taylor pauses and faces Carlton and asks if he looks like a “lifer” to him. Carlton tells him he looks like a good soldier, and that a good soldier has a future in the Army. Taylor tells him that he’d rather French kiss Ho Chi Minh than re-enlist and walks away. Carlton calls after him that at least he knows where Taylor stands as Zeke walks back up. And that he wants Taylor to stop by the office sometime as he’s got some papers he wants him to fill out.

Zeke shakes his head, saying “What I tell ya?” Carlton remains optimistic and says that Taylor may still come around. That the Army gives a home to a lot of people, and that it’s just not stylish to admit it. That it’s been okay to him and Zeke. Zeke replies “Hah!” and walks away.

The guys all race up to the mess hall, dumping their gear and rifles as quickly as possible right outside the doors and push their way in. Seeing them enter and realizing they’re just in from the bush, the servers tell the regulars to step back so Taylor and the others can quickly get their first hot meal in a very long time. The guys don’t stand on manners or ceremony and shove past everyone to get to the food. With trays loaded, they all grab a table together. Baker tells Johnson it looks almost too good to eat and Johnson agrees, saying it sure beats C-rats.

Baker then admires the peas and Ruiz tells him that peas are peas. Baker tells him that they are not and that there are a hundred different varieties. He then starts listing them just to prove it. Ruiz wants to know how Baker knows so much about peas, and Baker tells him that he’s into peas, and doesn’t Ruiz remember he’s a vegetarian? Ruiz asks, after all they’ve been through? And Baker tells him that in his heart he’s still a vegetarian, but that his stomach has a more practical attitude. Taylor chimes up and says that Vietnam had taught him something, and Baker agrees, saying it taught him that you have to do what you have to do in order to survive. He then adds that when that big green pea of your dreams comes by, you’d better grab that sucker and chow it down.

The Short TimerHorn decides to fling some of his peas at Baker and the table erupts in laughter. Baker, not to be outdone, heaves mashed potatoes at Horn. It all degenerates into a full-fledged food fight with the guys laughing hysterically. They pause when Ruiz finally gets them to stop, pointing out that the rest of the room is just staring at them. It’s more than they can stand and they burst out laughing again and Percell slips, collapsing the table behind him.

Later, the guys are drinking, but Taylor stays apart from them, drinking alone. After a prompt from Anderson, Johnson goes up to sit with Marcus and tells him that they’ll miss him. Taylor says that Marvin won’t, as he has the other guys. Johnson tells him that he’s been a good friend, and the two men look at each other, but Taylor, who was so excited and happy before, is far from that now.

Anderson calls Taylor over then, saying he’s got something for him. That it was a tradition. To which Taylor remarks that he’d better pay attention to this one. He messed with the short timer on point tradition and almost got smoked. Anderson unwraps something and as the others watch and smile, tells Taylor it’s his own “short timer stick.” That it has his initials on it and it’s like a good luck charm- to guarantee that he gets out of ‘Nam alive.

Taylor tells Anderson he’s only got one day left. And Anderson asks, what, he doesn’t NEED it? After all, one day there is like forever. He then gives it to Taylor and tells him to keep it with him. Johnson adds that it wasn’t only for good luck, but to remind Taylor of where he’s been and who his friends are. Everybody nods and agrees before Baker says it’s a goodbye party and let’s drink. Taylor just seems sad as the guys start to cheer and ask him to play a game. He walks out, holding the gift, saying nothing as he goes.

Outside, Taylor starts to walk away, still looking at the stick. The camp is dark and he can hear the men laughing and drinking behind him. He pauses, looking at the gift, when suddenly a nearby building explodes. As the warning sirens start to blare, Taylor finds himself staring with huge eyes at the now destroyed building.

In the morning, Third Squad is looking at the damage with Anderson and they’re uneasy. It’s supposed to be safe in the rear, but Anderson says it’s the second time it’s happened, and they were putting the base on Red Alert. Percell notes that it’s times like that that make you wish you were back at Ladybird. Anderson looks at him and tells him don’t- that it might come true.

Taylor starts to out-process and turns in his rifle. But it’s like giving up a part of himself and he leaves it behind reluctantly. As he wanders off, a friend of his hails him, saying he’d heard that Marcus was leaving. Taylor greets Duke Jackson, surprised to see him and told him that he’d heard that Jackson had already left. What was he doing back? Jackson tells him that this time it’s for business. That when he went home, he brought some “Thai weed” and sold it for more money than he could make in six months at a regular job. Now he’s back so he could do it from Vietnam. Taylor wants to know how the neighborhood is and Jackson tells him it’s going to hell, that everyone there’s into something. That a friend was running a stable of prostitutes and another got shot for robbing a liquor store. Jackson wants to know when Taylor is leaving- and Marcus tells him, tomorrow.

Jackson wants Taylor to take a package back for him and to handle it back in the States. But Taylor shakes his head and says he doesn’t handle that kind of stuff and turns him down. Jackson tells him that he’ll have to learn because that’s all they have waiting for them back there. But Taylor still refuses despite Jackson’s offer to split the profits 50/50. Taylor tells him he’s gonna get busted, but Jackson says he’d rather take his chances than work in a car wash. Taylor walks away as Jackson tells him there isn’t anything else waiting for him back in the States.

The Short TimerTaylor goes to turn in his paperwork but runs into Carlton at the office. Carlton apparently is waiting for Taylor, as he’s reading Taylor’s file. He tells Taylor that he’s gonna get some nice shiny medals, and that he’s a good soldier. Taylor agrees and Carlton says to join the Army and see the world. Or get away from it. Taylor tells him to save his breath. Carlton pours him a drink, asking if Taylor has anything against bourbon, and Taylor tells him, not that he can think of. Carlton offers him the glass, saying it was good bourbon and that it was a gesture of good will. But Taylor tells him he’s not interested in re-upping.

Carlton tells him that’s fine, that they could still have a drink. For Marcus to sit down and they could talk about home. Carlton asks him if it’s Detroit, 4th Street and Billings? Taylor wants to know what he knows about it. Carlton tells him that most of the buildings there have been torn down for urban renewal. And wants to know if Taylor had talked to home lately, if there even still is one. Taylor tells him that he sends home money orders, and since they aren’t coming back someone must be getting them. Carlton tells him that’s no way to plan a future, and that there really wasn’t home back there for people like him and Taylor.

Carlton tells him he got a kid back last week, that the boy got home and his family had split up and gone all over the place. That he had nothing left. Bitter, Taylor wants to know if the guy came back to Vietnam and Carlton tells him no, Paris. That he was on leave with pay and having the time of his life. And that for the first time it was his life. That he has three hots and a cot, a big fat re-enlistment bonus and some training that will make it all worthwhile.

Taylor replies that he’s got his own life, and his own family and friends. Carlton says he’s looked at Taylor’s record. That after he stole a car, the judge had given him two choices- the service or the joint – and that he’d made the right choice. Carlton then asks who was at the bus when Taylor said goodbye. Taylor proudly tells him his girl, Louise, was. Carlton asks if he’s heard from Louise lately and Taylor tells him that she doesn’t write- literally- but that she’s there. Then Taylor gets to his feet, annoyed, and tells Carlton that he’s got a home, and people that do care about him. That he doesn’t have to sit there and listen to this. Carlton just keeps a lazy smile on his face. Taylor adds that his grandmother had always warned him never to take candy from a person like Carlton.

As Taylor starts to walk away, Carlton holds up the half empty bottle of bourbon and tell Marcus that his grandmother had very good instincts. Taylor angrily takes the bottle, and leaves without another word.

The Short TimerExcited, Taylor calls home and speaks with Louise. Smiling and happy, he tells her that he’s coming home to her. He tells her that it will be a couple, three days as he has to collect his medals first. She apparently doesn’t understand him as he repeats it, the smile dropping from his face as he reminds her that he’s been over here fighting. Another soldier, Wills, listens to the conversation as Taylor finds out from Louise that she hasn’t been faithful, that it’s been hard while he’s been away. Wills, not even looking at Taylor, hands over a nearly full bottle of whiskey. Louise apparently has taken up with someone in the laundry business. Taylor, upset, tells her that God and LBJ will get her for this and she hangs up on him. Defeated, Taylor starts drinking the whiskey and asks Wills what kind of guy goes into the laundry business.

Several VC slip into the camp in broad daylight, strangling one of the sentries. As they get further into base, they surprise a soldier coming out of a building and shoot him. That alerts the entire base as a siren sounds a warning and men scramble. Taylor, no longer having a weapon, is forced to take cover. The VC keep coming, shooting as they go. Zeke and Third Squad come out, getting behind a line of barrels and sandbags, firing at the VC.

A satchel charge is thrown in their direction and Zeke yells for them to get down. It explodes, giving three VC enough time to get behind a jeep. It’s directly in front of Zeke and his men and the VC open fire on them. Taylor comes out of his hiding place, still holding the whiskey bottle, and peers around the corner with huge eyes, watching the firefight.

One of the VC, a woman, ducks and runs off. One of Third Squad’s men tosses a grenade which takes out the jeep and the remaining VC. Zeke chases after the woman and shoots her as she tries to throw a satchel charge at another building. But it falls short and explodes harmlessly on the grass.

Zeke goes up to the body of the woman and rolls her over as the rest of the squad joins him. Johnson wants to know where the hell they came from and Zeke tells him they are sappers- anytime, anyplace and in all kinds of weather. Several other soldiers start to gather, Taylor with them. They cheer, calling Zeke’s name as Taylor looks on. After a few minutes, he walks away.

It’s after dark now and Taylor enters one of the empty barracks, still carrying a bottle of whiskey. A radio plays as a Vietnamese woman mops the floor. She tells Taylor she’ll be out soon but he replies that he has a good reason to get bombed. She smiles and points at Taylor, saying, “GI dinky-dao,” and goes back to her mopping as Taylor drinks. After a few minutes of silence, Taylor comes up to the woman, gently asking if he can take the mop. He starts singing softly with the song that’s on the radio. He turns away from her, still holding the mop, and says “Seems like a mighty long time, Mamasan.” She asks, “Not happy?” He shakes his head sadly and says, no, he’s not happy.

He says he’s gotta stop pretending. That he has no real place to go. And that home is where a man wants to be and it ain’t there. Mamasan gently tells him to go home, no more fight. After a moment, he turns back to her, handing her the mop and tells her, maybe. He walks away, drinking, picking up the radio as he leaves. The Mamason goes back to mopping and singing her own song.

Taylor wanders the base, looking for Sergeant Carlton. He’s drunk and muttering and the radio is still playing. He says he wants to re-up, that he has nothing to go home to.

The next morning the guys, along with Zeke, are sitting outside of the barracks when Taylor walks up to them. Agitated, Taylor announces that Zeke’s buddy, Carlton, tricked him. That he got him blitzed and tricked him into signing the re-enlistment papers. The guys all stare at him. Zeke, a bit bemused, asks if it was Ralph Carlton, but Taylor says he doesn’t know, he was drunk. That he even took the oath.

The Short TimerPercell asks if it’s legal, can they make it stick. Taylor says of course they can, that they got his name and they got him back. He tells Anderson that he’s supposed to be going home, that he’s got people waiting on him. That he wants to go home. Frustrated, he walks away and Zeke shakes his head. Ruiz says they have to do something but there isn’t anything that can be done.

Johnson pipes up that Taylor was tricked, and Zeke agrees. That’s how Carlton does these things, he tricks people. He has the best re-up figures in ‘Nam and if he fills his quota he gets perks like extra R and R. Johnson says they have to do something, but Zeke says there’s nothing they can do and they’d better get used to it. The guys are very unhappy, but Zeke reminds them that no one twisted their arms to join. That it stinks, and the smell is coming downhill from old man Carlton.

Zeke walks over to Carlton’s office and tells Carlton he wants the papers. Carlton says he has no idea what Zeke’s talking about, but Zeke tells him to go back to his air conditioned office and to pull the papers on his man, Taylor. Carlton asks if the men are Zeke’s possessions and Zeke replies no, but they are his responsibility. Carlton tells him that one of his “responsibilities” just signed on for six more years and got a big fat re-enlistment bonus that he’s gonna send back to his mama and then he’d buy a car.

Zeke tells Carlton that Taylor’s already done his duty and then some. That Taylor’s seen enough blood and death to last him a lifetime. That it’s time for him to go on back home where he belongs. Carlton just grins at him and Zeke accuses him of tricking Taylor.

Carlton tells Zeke that he’s way out of line, and the Army treats all these morons the same. And what about Zeke? Didn’t the Army offer him some nice cushy assignment? Zeke says they aren’t talking about him, but Carlton tells him they’re all the same- just figures on a ledger, dead stats. And that the way he looks at it, it’s your own damn fault.

Zeke replies that two weeks ago Taylor was holding one of his buddies who died, and he was crying and all mixed up. That he was still mixed up and Carlton took advantage of it. Carlton tells Zeke that he didn’t take advantage of anyone and Taylor signed up because he wanted to. “Well then, he changed his mind,” Zeke replies. He wants Carlton to get the papers and Carlton tells him no way. Zeke then says that he’ll get them himself. But as he walks by Carlton, the other man grabs his arm. Zeke rips free, the two starting to face off when an officer walks up, wanting to know what’s going on. Both sergeants immediately salute. Carlton says it’s just a little disagreement and Zeke agrees, saying that he’s leaving.

Zeke returns to the guys, who are still bummed out over what happened to Taylor. Zeke tells them to listen up and that it ain’t gonna work. That Carlton has Taylor’s papers locked up and that he took the oath- so that’s the end of it. The guys want to know who this guy is, and Zeke says that he’s a scuzball, always has been.

Zeke leaves but the men aren’t happy and talk about what they can do. They decide that they can steal the papers. Johnson grins and says, “Search and destroy, my man. Search and destroy.”

Outside of Carlton’s office, Baker, Percell, Ruiz and Johnson spot the filing cabinets where they believe Taylor’s papers are. Ruiz suggests a grenade launcher. While the guys roll their eyes, Johnson notes that doesn’t Ruiz think that’s a little heavy on the overkill? Ruiz still thinks it’s a great idea and Percell says that while they’re at it, why don’t they just reserve a couple of master suites at the stockade.

Johnson says he has a better idea. That he can get Carlton out of the office while Baker and Ruiz slip in and get the papers. Ruiz wants to know how he’s gonna get Carlton out when Percell comes up with the idea of a fight- him and Johnson. Johnson laughs and says, that’s no contest, man. Percell laughs back and says, “So fake it” and promptly slugs Johnson. The two get into it right on the path in front of Carlton’s office as people start yelling “FIGHT!” Carlton comes out to find out what the hell is going on and Ruiz and Baker slip in and immediately start going through the filing cabinets.

The Short TimerJohnson and Percell start calling each other names and get back into it, rolling in the mud. Baker watches while Ruiz tries to find the file. Carlton, meanwhile, not wanting to get dirty, threatens to call the MPs if Johnson and Percell don’t break it up. Ruiz finally locates the file and Baker tucks it under his jacket as the two slip back out of the office. They then rush over and pull Johnson and Percell apart, saying it’s done and hustle them off. Carlton just shakes his head, muttering how strange that was, and goes back to his office.

Taylor shows up at the armory to get his rifle back. He’s all excited and starts singing, “I’m getting my gun back.” The clerk pulls his rifle and gives it to him, Taylor all grins and delighted. He walks back to the barracks, rifle slung over his shoulder.

At the barracks, the guys are all admiring the file they’d stolen, pleased with themselves. They can’t wait to surprise Taylor and hope he’ll appreciate it. At that moment, Marcus walks in and they all spin around to face him, Johnson hiding the file behind his back. The guys are smiling and looking at him, and Taylor wants to know when they’re moving out. The guys tell Johnson to give it to him, and Johnson produces the papers and gives them to Taylor as the guys laugh at the victory. They tell him he’s going home as they cheer and whistle and then rip up the papers in front of Taylor. But Taylor is anything but happy as his buddies continue to cheer for his good fortune.

Third Squad walks with Taylor out to a waiting Huey so they can say their goodbyes. Zeke says he’ll make it easy on him and tells Taylor he’s a damn good soldier. And an even better man. Zeke wishes him luck and tells him he’ll be hard to replace. Taylor adds that he was a real pain in the butt, and Anderson replies, he was that, too. They shake hands and Zeke tells him to take care of himself. And that the guys need to make it short and sweet.

The guys all come up to him one at a time, shake his hand, and then they hug. Baker lifts him off his feet with a growl. Johnson is the last one to say goodbye and tells Taylor that if he makes it back, that he wants Marcus to come down to Jackson to see him. Taylor climbs on board the Huey and as it lifts away, he watches his buddies for the last time. He then sits back as he sadly watches the base slip past beneath the skids.

Back at the barracks the guys are all geared up. Zeke tells them to get it going as he wants to be back at Ladybird before dark. But as they get ready to load onto a truck, Carlton comes up and he’s not happy. Zeke, on the other hand, is delighted and he greets the other man with a big smile. He tells his men that this was Sergeant Carlton and to say hello. In unison, like a bunch of school kids, the guys all chime in, “Hi, Sergeant Carlton.” Zeke then asks what Carlton wants and Carlton, furious, tells Zeke he wants a piece of him.

Zeke is being sarcastic and loving it as he asks if it was something he said? Carlton accuses Zeke of stealing Taylor’s re-enlistment papers, but Zeke says he knows nothing about it and Taylor is gone. Carlton snaps at Zeke that someone got into his file cabinets and took the papers, and that Zeke is the prime suspect. Zeke informs him that he’s gonna have to prove that. And that after he proves it, he’s gonna have to go and catch Taylor. Zeke then adds that maybe he could help Carlton out, that maybe it was Taylor who took them. That he woke up and sobered up and realized that Carlton had suckered him in.

Carlton tells Zeke that if anyone around here got suckered, it’s him. Zeke says he’ll give Carlton a little personal advice. To let go and it’s over. Carlton, fuming, tells Zeke it’s not over, and that he got Taylor to re-up fair and square, that he has the best re-up record in Vietnam. That he didn’t have to trick nobody to get it. Zeke laughs as they all start to get into the truck. He tells Carlton that he probably believes these people want to come back over here and Carlton agrees that they do.

Zeke sobers up for a moment and replies that not all of them do. Zeke then prepares to get on the truck as Carlton calls him a liar and a thief. Zeke turns back around and informs Carlton that he’s the sorriest excuse for a sergeant he’s ever seen in his life. That these are people, they’re just kids, and then accuses Carlton of manipulating them into thinking that the only way they can live a full and meaningful life is to fight this war for him. He then calls Carlton a pimp, but corrects himself, saying that Carlton is worse than that. At least a whore stays home and will die in her own bed. Zeke turns to get back on the truck but Carlton grabs him and yanks him around before he slugs Anderson, knocking him off his feet. The guys immediately start to go after Carlton but Zeke tells them, no, that Carlton is his.

The Short TimerZeke climbs to his feet and tells Carlton that he made a big mistake. But Carlton immediately kicks him in the gut and rolls Anderson back to the ground. The guys jump out of the truck, yelling at Zeke to get up. It’s not really even a fight as Carlton proceeds to pummel Anderson, who can’t get his feet under him. The guys continue to yell at him to fight back. Zeke finally manages to crawl over to a post and sits back against it. Carlton informs him that he’s always known Zeke is too cocky. Zeke snaps back that Carlton doesn’t know him at all. That Carlton is one of those unfortunate acquaintances you hook up with as a kid and can’t shake loose. Carlton wants to know why Zeke has always had it in for him. Zeke informs him that he doesn’t like what Carlton does for a living.

Carlton tells Zeke that at least he doesn’t lay low in the weeds and let the kids do the fighting for him. That he has his scam and Zeke has his. Zeke wants to know what Carlton knows about it, that he’s watched the whole war from the safety of the rear. He then makes another lunge at Carlton but misses. Again Carlton starts to beat the hell out of Zeke.

It takes Zeke a bit but he finally gets an opening and turns the tables. He gets Carlton down and starts to punch him over and over- the guys yelling and cheering him on. Then Taylor shows up, pushing through the men, and yanks Anderson off of Carlton, telling him to stop. Anderson wants to know what the hell Taylor is doing there. Taylor doesn’t reply as the guys all look at him. He instead helps Carlton to his feet, saying that the sergeant hadn’t tricked him. That he’d lied and wanted to come back. He took the oath on his own and he was sober when he did it.

Percell speaks up, saying he thought that Taylor wanted to get out of this place, and Taylor said he thought so, too. But what was he gonna go back to? The Army will get him an education and besides, he liked being around them. Zeke is a bit baffled and asks if Taylor came halfway around the world to get fulfilled over here? Taylor agrees. Carlton just says, “I told you so.”

Zeke scoffs and replies, that coming from him and then from Taylor are two completely different things. Carlton pushes past them all, noting that he doesn’t hurt nobody and that these kids are exactly where they want to be. Zeke asks how Carlton could know where anybody would want to be. And to tell him if he’s wrong, that he can’t be wrong.

The Short TimerSadly, Taylor looks at him and says that Carlton knows. That he just takes advantage of it. Zeke just looks at him, dumbfounded and then walks away to the truck without another word. Taylor then tells the guys that he knows they must think he’s a fool, but they’re his family and he’s not ready to leave that yet. It’s Percell who extends a hand and welcomes him back.

With everyone now in the truck and on the way to Ladybird, Anderson looks at one of his cut-up hands and grins at Horn. The rest of the guys ride in silent companionship, Taylor smiling in relief that he’s where he wants to be.

*Special note: this is the last time Firebase Ladybird is shown or used in the series.

ToD Advisor’s Episode Notes:

In Vietnam, it was usual to try to get a “short timer” out of the field and back to a safe rear area job for his last thirty days in-country. Sometimes this didn’t happen, of course. There were a lot of rituals associated with going home, which, for many, assumed a superstitious importance. The crossing off of days on a calendar, for example, at the same time each day. Many platoons had a “Short Timer’s Stick,” an elaborate carved swagger stick carried by the “shortest” man in the platoon. It wasn’t your personal property. When your DEROS (Date Eligible to Return from Overseas Service) came, you turned it over to the next “shortest” man. If two men had the same date, they might take turns carrying the stick.

Among the things you had to do when out-processing was, if you were getting out of the Army, see the Reenlistment Counselor. This was a part-time job held by one of the rear-area sergeants. Hardly anyone wanted to “re-up” (reenlist, from the period Army reenlistment slogan) except the “lifers,” the career NCOs. They were staying in anyway, and Vietnam was a good place to do this. You wouldn’t have to pay taxes on your reenlistment bonus, for example.

The information SSG Carlton provides is pretty much correct, Taylor would indeed get a free thirty day leave anywhere in the world for agreeing to stay in Vietnam for another six months. He could also sign up for any Army Training School he qualified for. He would undoubtedly be offered a promotion and several thousand dollars bonus, depending on how long he signed up for. This was fairly attractive to some. (My unit’s supply clerk/armorer, for example, had reenlisted after six months in the Infantry and two battle wounds, for a rear-area job.) I did meet one soldier who decided to reenlist as he was outprocessing. (He was drunk at the time, too, but did it without the assistance of the reenlistment NCO.) They had to sober him up to take the oath. However, when he discovered that he would have to spend a few more days in Vietnam to process the paperwork, he decided to get out instead. My part in this, aside from providing the above information to the writer, was in providing the period reenlistment sign, a red, white and blue triangle with RE-UP ARMY on it, which appears on Carlton’s door. It was too late to send a drawing by Fed Ex, so I described it over the phone for the prop people.

This episode is also unusual because it is set almost entirely at the Americal Division’s Chu Lai rear base. This is the real “home” of the unit, but as infantry, they spend little time there. The cleaning woman (“hooch maid,” a “hooch” was slang for your barracks or room) would not be there at night. With all the other Vietnamese workers, “Mama-San” would be brought out at dawn and taken back to her village late in the afternoon, by truck. The set is an excellent representation of a rear-area barracks, including the gray Navy-style bunks common in bases taken over by the Army from the Marines, such as Chu Lai.

We also see Taylor making a phone call home from the Chu Lai USO. This was usually done in the evening from the local Army communications radio station. (Called a MARS station-Military Affiliated Radio Station.) After hours, the Army radio operators would try to hook you up to a ham operator in the ‘States, who would call your number collect from his own phone and patch you through.

The Viet Cong didn’t try to walk around “in uniform” on US bases. Usually dressed as civilian workers, they would note the location of supply dumps or other targets, even pace off distances, for later attack. Sometimes, they would leave a booby trap or two.

Worth another look:

Excited, Taylor calls home to talk with his girlfriend, Louise. As he finally speaks to her, another soldier, Wills, is sitting nearby writing a letter. He can’t help but overhear Taylor’s conversation as Marcus goes from joy to let-down in a matter of a minute or so. It’s as if Wills has heard it all before- a thousand times. As Marcus gets more upset with the fact that apparently Louise is NOT waiting for him, Wills picks up an nearly full bottle of whiskey and holds it out to Taylor without even turning around to look at him. Louise eventually hangs up on Marcus, who is completely disgusted. Taking a gulp of the whiskey, he asks Wills, what kind of guy gets into the laundry business, and then walks away. Wills just shakes his head and continues writing his letter.


  • We Gotta Get Out of This Place – sung by the squad as they return to Ladybird after the mission.
  • Detroit City – Bobby Bare. Plays in the background during Taylor’s going-away party at the EM club.
  • Fightin’ Side of Me – Merle Haggard. While Taylor is in Carlton’s office as Carlton tries to convince him to re-enlist.
  • Hello, Stranger – Barbara Lewis. Playing on the radio while Taylor drinks and talks with the hootchmaid, then continues as he heads over to Carlton’s office to re-enlist.
  • Long as I Can See the Light – Creedence Clearwater Revival. During Taylor’s return to the squad.

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