- Guest Stars: Tim Thomerson
- Story by: Brad Radnitz
- Directed by: Reynaldo Villalobos
Synopsis:In 1967 there were 486,000 American combat troops in Vietnam.
At Chu-lai, a jeep nearly runs down Taylor, Ruiz and Baker, who jump out of the way. The soldier driving it is drunk and a fight ensues with the MPs and a hooker. Anderson arrives, and realizes it is an old friend of his named Decker. He tells the guys they used to be hip-pocket buddies at one time in the past.
Anderson decides to bail his friend out of the stockade and has him transferred into his platoon. Myron, wearing glasses, looks over Decker’s file and is less than impressed. Anderson convinces Goldman that despite Decker’s past, the man would be a valuable asset to the platoon, and that he could control him. Although skeptical, Myron decides to take Zeke at his word and accept his judgement, and agrees to Decker being in the platoon.
The next day, after a mission briefing, the guys load up on trucks to go out to the helicopters that are waiting. Third Squad meets Decker up close now and he is all business, telling them what he expects. Baker, who fell asleep during the mission briefing, needs it explained to him why they are trying to track down and destroy a communications center/radio relay station.
The platoon is now moving through the bush. While Johnson is on point, he sees something up in the trees. Decker is right behind him and sees it too. He realizes it for the trap it is and shoves Johnson aside. As Anderson and Goldman come running up, wanting to know what is going on, Decker uncovers a deep pit filled with punji sticks. Anderson and everyone are completely impressed, Johnson just plain relieved and thankful.
During a break, the guys laugh and discuss Decker, amazed by the man and how long he’s been in the Army. While they continue to talk about him, Anderson and Goldman decide to send Decker with Johnson to scout ahead of the platoon. They give him a two minute head start.
But Decker, only a minute out, decides to stop and rest already. Johnson is confused, but Decker makes it clear he isn’t going to risk his neck for anyone. This only confuses and upsets Johnson even more, but he owes the man his life so he does as Decker tells him.
An hour later while ascending a steep ridge, Anderson and Goldman hold up the platoon and have them rest. Goldman decides he wants to scout the terrain ahead and Anderson goes with him, leaving Percell in charge of the men. They don’t get very far when they come across Decker and Johnson. Goldman is furious, wanting to know why they aren’t further forward. Anderson orders both men back down the hill before following Myron forward.
While the two men assess the situation and the climb ahead of them, Myron wants to know what is up with Decker, if it is possible he’s now a coward. Zeke continues to defend him, saying that Decker was an outstanding soldier and a man you could count on. Myron says Zeke has got to be Decker’s biggest fan and wonders if the real Decker can live up to all the hype.
As the platoon moves forward, Anderson asks Decker what is going on and tells him that when they set up a night position, he is going to put Decker on an advanced listening post (LP). Decker thinks he is being punished but Zeke assures him it is because he needs his experience and skills.
That night, Decker sits with Horn, but he is drinking. Horn is concerned, but Decker assures him that it will be fine and that whiskey doesn’t make him sleepy, it makes him nasty. He takes the watch, singing “Ring of Fire” while Horn goes to sleep. But in the morning, Horn wakes to find Decker asleep on his watch. Upset, he wakes up Decker and scrambles to get things ready. Decker tells him to relax as he takes another drink. Horn goes to set up the claymores before the platoon gets ready to move out and sees an NVA scout slipping through the underbrush. Horrified, he tries to get Decker’s attention, but Decker has his back to him and doesn’t hear Horn’s urgent whispers. Not knowing what else to do, Horn draws his knife and sets off after the NVA scout.
Decker, who is relieving himself, suddenly realizes something is wrong and that Horn is gone. Glancing around, he catches sight of the NVA scout and takes a single shot at him.
Anderson and Goldman hear the shot, Zeke announcing it is theirs and the LP. He and Johnson come running up and find Decker. Anderson realizes Horn is missing, Decker is drunk and that it is Decker who took the shot. They leave Decker and go in search of Roger and the NVA scout that Decker tells them about. They find Horn, badly wounded with a knife buried deep in his side. Johnson stays with him to keep him from going into shock while Anderson follows a blood trail apparently left by the NVA scout.
Eventually Anderson and Johnson carry Roger back to where Goldman is chewing out Decker royally. When Myron sees Horn, he is horrified and quickly joins Anderson as they lay Roger down. Anderson orders Percell to get Matsuda. Myron is visibly upset, frightened for Horn and asks about the scout, Anderson saying he got away. And with all the racket, everyone probably knows they are in the area.
Matsuda treats Horn while his buddies help to comfort him and keep him calm. They tease him gently, trying take his mind off the worst of the pain as Matsuda assures him he’s gonna be fine. But he needs to be medavaced out as soon as possible. Zeke assures Roger that he did just fine, but Roger is upset, feeling all of this is his fault and that he screwed up. But Anderson reassures him that he “done good”.
Anderson then cautiously approaches Goldman who is standing by himself away from the men. Anderson tells him they need to medavac Horn immediately and that he might make it if they do. Myron finds himself caught in a situation not of his making and having to make a tough decision. He tells Anderson that they aren’t going to scrub the mission and that Horn is going to have to wait. Upset with the hard decision he has just made, he now lashes out at Anderson about Decker, blaming him for the current situation. Anderson defends Decker and gets Myron’s complete fury now. Zeke realizes that he has lost the trust of the young lieutenant that he barely had up to that point.
Anderson tells Roger that he is going to have to wait for just a few more hours, but promises as soon as the mission is complete that they would get him on a Huey. He then pulls Decker aside and warns him that the L-T is furious and has canned him. He is no longer squad leader and he is just along for the walk now.
The rest of the men discuss the turn of events, how Decker was a hero to them yesterday, and anything but now. They watch Horn as he’s carried away, calling encouragement to him.
Later, Zeke tracks down Decker and finds him drinking yet again. He is furious with his old friend and with himself. He wants to understand why Aubrey is always drinking and tells him that he went out on a limb for him. The two end up in a fistfight, Zeke finally coming out on top and furious. He pulls away in disgust, telling Decker he is a drunk, no two ways about it. He then tells Decker he wanted to be like him once. Aubrey tries to explain, explain what had happened somewhere along the way. But Zeke is upset over Horn being badly hurt and the destroyed trust he had with his lieutenant and doesn’t want to hear Decker’s excuses any more. Anderson finally tells Decker to stay out of his way; it isn’t his war anymore.
Later, while the platoon is once again on the move, Decker startles everyone when a wild pig emerges. Myron, who is still on a slow boil, takes his weapon. He strips and tosses the clip away, telling Decker that he won’t have a drunk with a loaded weapon in his platoon.
They finally find the radio installation, but it appears the NVA indeed got the advance warning. The transmitters and generators are gone, and the place appears to be deserted. They move in cautiously, Taylor and Percell leading the way. But the installation is abandoned although it appears the NVA were there only bare hours before. They find Russian components, and Goldman notes that the antennas are blown. While the rest of the platoon is checking out the remains of the installation, they are ambushed.
Hopelessly pinned on two sides, Anderson convinces Goldman he can set up a diversion with Decker. At first Myron won’t hear of it, but they have few options, and he finally agrees to let Zeke handle it his way. Anderson scrambles over to where Ruiz, Percell and Decker are, telling Ruiz to hand over his 60 to Decker. Then Anderson and Decker set out to get behind some of the NVA and give Goldman the chance he needs to get the men out.
Anderson and Decker manage to get in behind the NVA on one side of the firefight. Splitting up, the two start to create the necessary diversion. But Decker is taken by surprise and is shot up badly.
When Goldman finally sees Anderson’s signal, he orders his men to pull back and not to stop till he tells them to. As they retreat, Myron holds up against a tree, and waits a moment before he goes back and shoulders up one of his men who was shot.
Anderson finds Decker, who is dying, and despite the older man’s protests, shoulders him up and sets off after the rest of the platoon, telling Decker he has twenty years to serve and by God, he is going to serve them.
At the LZ, Goldman and Third Squad watch as Johnson comes back in. But Anderson and Decker are nowhere to be found. Goldman is reluctant, but he knows he has to get the wounded loaded and orders Percell to get the men going. As they start to load up, Taylor spots Anderson making his way across the open field, Decker over his shoulder.
He goes to his knees when Goldman and some of the men rush up, telling Matsuda there was nothing he could do. That Decker was dead. Zeke is anguished as he tells them that Decker was a good soldier, but he was done now. It was time for him to go home. He wearily shoulders his friend back up again and carries him to the waiting Huey where he loads Decker carefully on board. He then climbs in after him and pulls Decker into his lap, eyes filling with tears.
ToD Advisor’s Episode Notes:
The “inspiration” for this show was a conversation I had with Steve Smith.
I had previously written a memo on various things going on in the Army “culture” during this period. Drinking to excess was certainly part of Army life back then, and the Vietnam-era Army had a lot of alcoholic old soldiers like Decker. The character was based on a real ex-sergeant I knew of, from another unit. He was rumored to have been a former First Sergeant, and a Korea veteran, but now alternated between the lowest enlisted grades. The “Lifer’s Association”, as we termed the Army’s non-commissioned officer corps (the career sergeants) protected him as he struggled to get enough time to retire with a decent pension. He looked 70 years old, he was maybe in his forties. Like Decker, he had been consigned to working in a fuel dump. Whatever sympathy you might have for him as a person was tempered by his being a real SOB and a mean drunk. The last I heard of him, he was awaiting court-martial for trying to kill a sergeant friend of mine as he slept.
When I discussed this with Steve Smith, it reminded him of a similar ex-sergeant he had served with, who once crawled through a minefield at night to get to a village where he might obtain, well, rental female companionship.
In discussing the episode with the writer, we considered how to introduce the character. I suggested the stolen chaplain’s jeep and we laughed about how this was to be ToD’s first “car chase.” Another question was how the arrest would be handled. Would Decker be handcuffed, for example? I worked with a Vietnam-era military policeman who explained the arrest procedure back then.
The incident with the mine happened to a friend of mine. Claymore mines were command-detonated, directional anti-personnel mines that fired most (not all) of their energy and shrapnel in one direction. They were often used for ambushes, or for perimeter defense. VC “sappers” loved to turn them around and then trick you into setting them off in your own direction. My friend had been on ambush, near a firebase, and, after an uneventful night, went out to retrieve the claymore only to discover a Viet Cong actually stealing the mine. As I recall, the two stared at each other for a moment, my friend yelled “hey” and the VC ran away, without the mine.
Worth another look:
Anderson approaches Goldman to discuss the situation and to see if they can call in a dust off for Horn. Goldman is upset, trying to gather himself, and blames Anderson’s friend, Decker. Anderson tries to defend Decker, only to realize that the trust he had been working towards with the young lieutenant is now destroyed.
- Spanish Eyes- Al Martino. As the episode opens, we see a jeep weaving down the highway carrying Decker and a Vietnamese hooker in a red dress. The song plays through the entire scene and continues as Decker drives onto the base and the MPs arrest him.
- Shape of Things to Come – The Yardbirds. Begins after Decker gets done briefing the guys in the back of the truck, through the flight out to the LZ and into the patrol.
- Ring of Fire – Eric Burdon and The Animals. While sitting on LP with Horn, Decker starts to sing this song out loud.
- Have You Ever Seen the Rain – Creedence Clearwater Revival. In the final scene as the men with Goldman wait with the wounded, hoping that Anderson and Decker will show up.