- Guest Stars: Kristoffer Tabori- Captain Larry Heath, Bruce Gray- Colonel Dalby
- Story by: Steve Bello
- Directed by: Stephen L Posey
Synopsis:”I am absolutely certain that, whereas in 1965 the enemy was winning, today he is losing. The enemy’s hopes are bankrupt.” General William C. Westmoreland November 21st, 1967
(Note: this is the only episode that features a “time table” as the events unfold throughout the day.Also, this was the only episode of Tour of Duty that won an Emmy, for the “best sound” category. (Source: Steven Akahoshi))
06:00- Ladybird starts coming under heavy fire. In the CP bunker, Goldman demands to know what kind of gun it is and Horn tells him Forward thinks it’s some type of Russian artillery. Anderson comes in, telling Goldman they need Division Artillery to do something but Myron tells him no one knows where the gun is. Horn then tells them a chopper is heading in despite being warned not to land.
Anderson and Goldman go out to see who is insisting on coming in. The new company commander, Captain Larry Heath, jumps off and tells Goldman he is there to take over command of Bravo Company. He also notes that he saw muzzle flashes on the ride in and thinks he knows where those big guns are located, and hustles everyone to the CP bunker. At the CP bunker, Heath has Horn feed the coordinates to Division Artillery. In short order they take out the enemy guns. Goldman smiles and welcomes Heath to Ladybird.
Later, Anderson joins Goldman who is at the wire. Both men notice the civilian refugees who are fleeing the area, carrying everything they own. Goldman is concerned and tells Anderson they need to speak to the captain.
Meanwhile, Third Squad has opened up all the boxes Heath shipped in with. With music playing in the background, they find 8 track tapes, fresh fruit, and other goodies. Horn notes Heath was on General Woodman’s staff for a year. Heath then walks up and tells the men to relax. He informs them that he did come from Woodman’s staff and that he fought hard to come to Ladybird. Taylor says he’s crazy to have come. Heath ignores him and then promises great things are going to happen as Anderson and Goldman walk up. Heath tells the men that Bravo Company is going to be the meanest, toughest and most effective unit. That the risks would be great, but the rewards greater. He tells them that the squad with the most kills at the end of each month would get a weekend of R&R at Vung Tau.
Goldman and Anderson follow Heath after he leaves the men. They are concerned, feeling something is about to happen. Heath agrees, and hopes that something does happen, as he wants the fight. Anderson is uncomfortable with the situation and wants to attend to the base’s unfinished defenses. But Heath refuses to see it as a problem and tells them they will not dig in like a bunch of gophers. After Heath walks away, neither Anderson nor Goldman are impressed with their new captain. Goldman notes that Heath might be a general one day but that he was dead wrong about their defenses. Anderson then tells Goldman he would get Third Squad digging trenches and Myron adds that he’ll try to cover for him.
Later, Matsuda calls a water break for Percell and Taylor who are filling sandbags. He tells them he’s got fifteen days and a wake up, but that he has already re-enlisted for another six years. He’s going to be a doctor and let the Army pay for it. Taylor tells him it might not be so bad. He can write prescriptions for all the drugs he wants and have a slew of nurses chasing after him. All for re-upping for another six years. And then he adds with a laugh that he would NOT do that.
Heath catches Anderson and Third Squad shoring up the defenses. When he demands to know who gave Zeke the orders, Goldman steps out of the bunker and takes the blame. Heath is angry and tells Goldman to send another squad out to do the patrols he had ordered earlier. And that he wants to see Goldman in the CP bunker in an hour. Goldman then orders Santucci’s squad to go out on patrol.
At the CP, Heath addresses Goldman about Anderson. Myron stands his ground when it comes to Anderson, and tells Heath that the sergeant was on his third combat tour and that he was proud to say he had learned a great deal from him. He also tries to explain to Heath that the base’s defenses needed work, but Heath cuts him off. The captain agrees about the defenses but makes it clear his priorities are aggressive patrols and recon. Heath notes that Charlie is using the valley to get to Da Nang and Chu-lai and is not interested in Ladybird. Goldman tries to tell him the enemy would never leave an active firebase to their rear, but Heath simply refuses to listen to reason. He then tries to smooth it over with Myron as he can see how unhappy Goldman is with the situation. He tells Myron he feels they can work together, that he is on the fast track and that the opportunities are there. Myron is not impressed.
Meanwhile, Anderson spots what appears to be part of Santucci’s squad, approaching the firebase with a prisoner. But he immediately realizes something is very wrong with the situation and picks up his rifle, approaching the perimeter wire. As Anderson shouts to the returning patrol to hold up and wait, Goldman and Heath watch, puzzled. Anderson continues to call out, demanding to know where their squad leader, Santucci, is. Heath is confused and asks Goldman what is going on.
Anderson suddenly opens fire on the four men who continue to approach and Heath is stunned. But no one else questions Anderson’s actions and all join him in firing on the approaching men. Three are killed immediately but a fourth runs off into the jungle. Anderson and several of Third Squad run up to the dead men, Anderson rolling one of the bodies over. It is a Vietnamese in an American uniform.
11:00- They police up the bodies after bringing them into camp, Goldman wanting to know why they were trying to approach in the first place. Zeke pulls a wallet out and hands it to Heath after he looks at the contents and tells him it’s NVA. Heath is excited and pleased, saying Charlie is starting to make his move. The captain then orders a patrol be sent out to see what has happened to Santucci and his squad. Goldman orders Anderson and Third Squad to go out.
Out in the bush, Baker gets overheated and dehydrated from carrying too much ammo. Anderson orders him to strip some of it off before Ruiz calls him over to show him some rags he has found with something red all over them. Anderson notes it’s Cosmoline and he quickly surmises an NVA weapons platoon moved through the night before. Johnson and Percell find latrines and now Anderson is concerned that an entire company bivouacked there. Anderson is worried that they could be in over their heads but orders them to continue to look for Santucci’s squad. As Third Squad moves along a trail, Matsuda finds Santucci’s helmet lying off to the side. Anderson then orders everyone to fan out and look around.
It is Percell who makes the grisly discovery of Santucci’s squad. They have been killed and left hanging upside down in a grove of trees. The squad is horrified by what they see and wants to leave, but Anderson tells them to cut the bodies down and bring them home.
Back at Ladybird, Myron stands with his head down by the bodies of his men. Meanwhile Heath dresses down Anderson for not engaging the enemy. Anderson maintains he wasn’t going to risk his men’s lives any further. Just as Heath completely unleashes his temper on Anderson about competent leadership and aggressiveness, Charlie loudly broadcasts to the firebase, catching everyone’s attention. The voice warns the Americans that they are surrounded and they must surrender, or they will die. Tonight.
14:00- The NVA continue to broadcast taunts and threats as they shell the base. Horn rigs up a radio to a speaker and gives the receiver to Taylor. Taylor immediately starts broadcasting back, telling them this was radio Ladybird, calling names and threats back at the NVA while the men laugh nervously. The Kit Carson scout gets on and throws insults in Vietnamese. The NVA respond back in Vietnamese, which brings more laughter. But it is all cut short when a round explodes on the base, and the NVA tell them the joke is over and that they will die, tonight.
17:00- The men are drawing off the last of the water from the Water Buffalo. Then the men all gather before Heath in the middle of the base. The captain takes a sip of brandy from a bottle he has opened, and then tells them to pass it around. Heath then tries to assure the beleaguered men that they need not worry about the shortage of water and ammo as re-supply was on the way. He then proceeds to assure them that the attacks were not a prelude to an assault on the base, rather that Charlie is simply harassing them and pinning them down. He tells them they will be part of a great historical event and to keep their chins up and their heads down. Things will be okay. The base then starts to come under a heavy mortar attack, Goldman yelling for them to take cover.
The shelling remains heavy and they start to take on casualties. Goldman moves through a trench, tossing canteens to the men manning the perimeter. He tells Anderson they have about ten gallons of water left.
Horn rushes to Heath with a radio, telling him it’s Colonel Dalby. Heath tells the colonel they need support and help, but Dalby tells him to do the best he can as everything is either committed or tied up.
Percell carries a wounded Caldwell to the med tent, but Matsuda is out of morphine and there is nothing he can do.
Goldman and Heath watch as the chopper approaches with the needed supplies slung in a net below it. But the slick takes fire and is forced to cut the load loose outside the wire. Anderson grabs several men and they run out to the dropped supplies and grab as many of the ammo crates as they can. Unfortunately they come under fire and before the men can get back to the safety of the base, three men are killed. Anderson drags one of the crates over to Heath and Goldman and breaks it open, only to find they have been given the wrong size mortar shells. Disgusted, Goldman slams the lid down on the box. Baker looks at Johnson and asks what’s the name of that creek somebody said they were up. The NVA then make a direct hit on the remaining supplies still outside the wire, everyone ducking with the explosion.
18:00- The guys are in the bunker and Horn is playing his harmonica one last time. Taylor gives Randy the rosary his grandmother had given him for luck. He tells Randy that if only one of them makes it out alive, he wants it to be Matsuda. The rest of the men are putting their personal things in a bag to bury. Anderson arrives and Ruiz tells him he is trying to write his mother in English as it was too hard to explain it in Spanish. It is the air of the condemned in the bunker and Anderson quietly tells them that he wants them to take one of their dog tags and put it inside their boot.
Danny speaks up, saying they don’t have a chance, do they? Anderson says there is always a chance, and they can’t give up. But the men are clearly defeated and feel there is no hope. Ruiz looks to Anderson and tells him he isn’t ready for this. Anderson replies- “Oh man, nobody is.”
Anderson joins Goldman and Heath at the CP bunker. Heath is on the radio again, but he is still unable to get any support from Division. Bitter and scared, he blames Anderson for everything, shouting at both men. Myron shoves back, demanding to know what Heath’s orders are concerning the defense of the firebase. Heath simply caves in and says there is nothing to do, that the base is lost. Anderson leaves in disgust. Angry, Myron takes the codebook in order to burn it, and follows Anderson out.
Outside, Anderson confronts Myron and tells him they can’t just roll over and die and Myron agrees. Myron then pauses, considering, and asks if they still have the mortar shells. Anderson adds they also have the C4 block. The two men click in that moment, both realizing what needs to be done without another word.
Back at the squad’s bunker, Anderson tells the guys what he needs them to do and they rush to do what they can to help. Anderson gets them started on various projects and explains that they are going to set up three lines of defense: the perimeter, the CP bunker and something special for Charlie should he make it through the first two. With a purpose and a mission, the men are now excited and no longer feeling sorry for themselves as they eagerly set out to do what Anderson has outlined. As the men scatter to the tasks assigned them, Goldman walks up and tells Johnson he’s his new cannoneer and to get the bucket of nails and some wire.
With time running out, everyone gets to work setting up what Anderson and Goldman have laid out. As Anderson prepares the CP Bunker, Heath comes out and tells him a relief column is on the way, but they will not be there until daylight. Anderson tells him there will be nothing left by then. Heath snaps that Anderson just doesn’t understand the modern Army. Anderson retorts that he’s got that right.
21:00- Horn is passing out the last of the water along the perimeter. It is dark now, and they are all silently waiting for Charlie’s attack. Goldman slips up to Ruiz and Baker, making sure they are okay and telling them he’s counting on them. He then joins Anderson and asks if he is ready. Myron then extends his hand, calling Anderson Zeke for the first time and they shake before Myron slips off.
Then the shelling starts. After a heavy barrage, the NVA start to rush in. Anderson blows the mortar shells that Ruiz and Baker had set out earlier. Then everyone starts firing as the NVA continue to come at them. The Americans throw everything they have at them, but the NVA keep coming. Anderson yells to everyone to fall back to the CP bunker as the NVA start to break through the perimeter wire. Goldman waits by the howitzer he and Johnson rigged earlier until he has several of the enemy in front of him. Myron pulls the firing cord before he runs to join the rest of the men.
Matsuda is scrambling among the dead and wounded, trying to help. Anderson yells to him to get the hell out of there, but the boy is then killed before they can do anything to save him.
Everyone now bails into the CP bunker and gathers against the far wall. Heath is screaming for help into the radio when Anderson tells him the antenna is gone and to get down. Zeke then blows the entrance to the bunker, sealing the survivors in. After a few long moments, a few flashlights come on as everyone is coughing and choking on the dirt and dust from the explosion. They can hear the enemy and Zeke says that Charlie is now digging through. He has everyone get down as flat as they can and tells them he will see them in hell. Zeke then detonates the barrels set up all over the base, leveling what is left of Ladybird and taking Charlie with it.
The next morning the relief column arrives, along with several Hueys. Ladybird is destroyed and for the moment, no one can see any survivors. But Anderson and Goldman and those who made it to the bunker appear and now start to climb wearily up into the sunlight. They are exhausted, filthy and banged up. Some of them are on the verge of shock. Taylor pushes past a stumbling Goldman to get to Matsuda’s body. Myron can only stare in numbed shock, kneeling beside the dead medic.
Colonel Dalby walks up to Heath and asks Larry if he is okay. Heath is also on the verge of shock as he quietly recommends Matsuda for a Silver Star. Dalby is completely impressed with what had been done, delighting in the kill ratio. He tells Heath this was the kind of head on direct confrontation they needed and he was proud. Heath can only turn and look at Anderson, who stands in silent fury.
ToD Advisor’s Episode Notes:
This was “Tour’s” version of the seventy-seven day siege of Khe Sanh, a Marine Corps firebase built at the western edge of I Corps, adjacent to the Laotian border. Some explanation of the real siege may clarify events in the episode.
The siege became the focus of press reports and public attention. President Lyndon Johnson kept a model of it in his office to study, as he read intelligence reports. As the siege intensified, the North Vietnamese began to display an alarming self-confidence and tactical sophistication. On the night of Feb 7, 1968, steel-helmeted NVA infantry, led by tanks and flame-throwers, that no one knew they had, overran the adjacent US Army Special Forces camp at Lang Vei. (This attack is referred to in the episode.) After that, no one knew what the North Vietnamese were planning next, except that it would come as a surprise. They were right. The surprise turned out to be far away from Khe Sanh, in the cities of South Vietnam. It was called the Tet Offensive.
Several events of the real siege are used in this episode. NVA officers reconnoitering the base in captured US uniforms, for example. It wasn’t possible to reproduce the rain and fog that isolated the base, nor the continual shelling. Reporter Michael Herr wrote a memorable first-person account of the siege in his book “Dispatches”. Herr served as a screenwriter/adviser to the movie “Apocalypse Now” and his account is dramatized in the film. Happily, “Tour” did not try to duplicate this.
The tracks and red grease that the patrol finds was my contribution. Russian mortars came on a wheeled base so they could be moved around by hand. The North Vietnamese and Viet Cong often pre-positioned such heavy weapons before a major attack. The use of the mortar shells in the repulse of the final NVA attack on the base was probably a contribution of the Army PAO. It wasn’t mine. The improvised device Anderson rigs up at the end is called a “fougasse” (sometimes spelled, and pronounced: “Foo-gas”). As shown, it was any sort of thickened fuel, in drums, ignited by white phosphorus grenades. .
Among the first surprises the NVA had for Khe Sanh were the Russian 130 mm cannon referred to in the opening scenes. They outranged the standard US 105 mm guns, but were smaller and more mobile than our long-range 175s. The Israelis had taken a number of them off the Egyptian Army, a few months before in Sinai. That was the only reason the US knew about them at all. Prior to Khe Sanh, no one suspected that the NVA had any artillery at all in the South, never mind the latest Russian models.
The delivery of ammunition by helicopter sling-load, as shown in the show, became the standard means of resupply for Khe Sanh late in the siege. It limited the time the helicopters were exposed to enemy artillery. They didn’t have to either land or hover.
Captain Heath makes a reference in the beginning to the reason the US was at Khe Sanh at all in 1968. It was to be the linchpin of the “McNamara Line.” This was Defense Secretary Robert McNamara’s plan to seed the Laotian border with all sorts of air-dropped sensors, acoustical, thermal, even olfactory, to detect NVA units on the move. The NVA had a lot of fun with the sensors, moving them around, hanging them up in trees, next to chimes and bags of buffalo urine.
For all his (the writer’s) talk of “chain of command,” Captain Heath continually goes over his superiors’ heads to appeal to his old boss in Saigon for special favors. This was a big no-no and would seriously affect his career, even without his other bad decisions.
This was another of the episodes that was written and rewritten, for dramatic content, and just did not seem right. It underwent a final total rewrite, on the edge of shooting, and was finally accepted. This was also the end for medic Randy “Doc” Matsuda, played by Steve Akahoshi, a principal character. This was another cost-saving decision.
*Note: This was the only episode of Tour of Duty that won an Emmy, for the “best sound” category. (Source: Steve Akahoshi)
Worth another look:
1) In the CP Bunker, Heath speaks to Goldman about Anderson’s influence over the lieutenant. Myron is quick to defend Anderson, telling Heath that the sergeant was on his third combat tour and that he was proud to say he had learned a lot from him. He tries to talk to Heath about the firebase’s defenses, but Heath won’t listen to reason and tells Myron his priority is aggressive patrols and recons. He then tries to smooth things over with Myron, telling him he regrets that they got off to a bumpy start, but assures Myron that they can work together.
2) Anderson joins the men in the bunker as they put their personal belongings into a bag to bury them. Ruiz is trying to write a letter home to his mother, telling Zeke he was writing it in English as it was tough enough to try and explain it to her in Spanish. Anderson then tells them to take one of their dog tags and put it in their boot. Danny speaks up, saying they didn’t stand a chance, did they? But Anderson tells him there is always a chance. He then tells Ruiz he wants him to get his hair cut when this is all over. Ruiz looks up at Zeke and tells him he isn’t ready for this. Anderson looks around and says- “Oh man, nobody is.”
3) Heath has given up on Ladybird and both Myron and Zeke leave the CP bunker in disgust. Anderson then confronts Goldman, telling him that he doesn’t care what Heath says, they can’t simply roll over and die. Goldman agrees and then pauses, considering. He then asks Anderson if they still have the mortar shells. Anderson nods, adding they have the C4 block too. The two men both go “yeah”, finally clicking in as a team and without another word, set out to save Ladybird.
- Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag – James Brown. As Third Squad goes through all the goodies Heath has brought in with him, a radio is playing in the background.