Sitting Ducks

Sitting Ducks

Sitting Ducks(Episode 5)

  • Guest Stars: Mako, Tamlyn Tomita, James Hong (Quang)
  • Story by: Steve Bello
  • Directed by: Aaron Lipstadt

Synopsis:From 1963 to 1967 more than 20 Buddhist Monks committed ritual suicide to protest political oppression in South Vietnam.

Sitting DucksWhile riding in a deuce and a half truck, Percell asks Goldman what all the secrecy is about and where they are going. Goldman and Anderson then explain to the men that they are going to the village of Ben Tuey to guard the workers of an irrigation project. In other words, Goldman tells them- they drew a “cush gig.” The men are excited with the prospect of something easy for once and start singing “Louie, Louie”.

Upon arrival at the village, Goldman explains a little about the “Redevelopment program” which Anderson calls “killing Charlie with kindness.” As the men unload from the truck, Anderson congratulates Goldman- telling him it might not be a firebase, but it was his command. He calls him “General Goldman.” Myron makes his way through the base, looking for Lt. Phillips in order to take command. Unfortunately, he finds Phillips dead, having just been killed while leading a patrol.

The platoon sergeant informs Myron that they had been taking on casualties every time they went out on patrol. And that finally Lt. Phillips decided to lead this one. Goldman and Anderson immediately realize that this is not going to be the easy assignment they were led to believe it would be. The sergeant then points out Tran, the Kit Carson scout, before he gets his men and they leave on the truck that Goldman’s men had just come in on.

Sitting DucksTran is friendly and explains to Goldman and Anderson that sending out many patrols will keep Charlie guessing. Goldman tells Anderson that they will set up two random patrols immediately, with Third Squad taking the first one. A wild shot from the surrounding jungle sends both soldiers diving for cover, Tran grinning indulgently. He tells them that Charlie’s aim is poor inside the wire.

The first patrol out later that day is ambushed. After driving back the attackers, Taylor is clearly upset and demands to know how they got so jammed up. He tells Anderson he knows a set-up when he sees one and that he feels funny about the entire situation, like their number had come up.

The next morning, the guys watch the monks come down from the nearby monastery, seeking alms from the local villagers. Horn tries to explain what it is the monks are doing to his skeptical comrades, who remain less than impressed. The morning patrol gets ready to head out and Anderson calls to Johnson, asking him if he cares about the company he keeps.

The main trail has punji sticks on it. Anderson asks about going a different way, but Tran notes it’s a swamp and would take all afternoon to make it back to the road. Anderson decides to stay with the trail, ordering Taylor to destroy the punji sticks and tells everyone to be careful. They don’t get far when they are once again ambushed. The fight is brief and they lose a man in the exchange. Taylor is frightened and angry, convinced they were set up again.

Back at the base, Goldman and Anderson talk about the situation, trying to figure out how the NVA could be ambushing the patrols so easily. Goldman finally concludes it’s got to be one of the locals inside the wire giving their positions away. Anderson has his doubts about Tran. He was VC once but had “cheiu hoi’d” over to their side. Goldman informs Anderson that Tran is loyal, and that he would be too if the VC had killed his family. Zeke remains unconvinced and decides he will go through Tran’s hootch anyway.

Anderson does go through Tran’s hootch, trying to find evidence it is the Kit Carson scout who is giving their patrols away. In his search, he comes across a photo of Tran’s family just as Tran enters his quarters. Tran is upset and Anderson makes it clear he has every right to shake down Tran’s hootch. Hurt, Tran speaks only in Vietnamese at Anderson. Anderson asks if the picture is of his wife and little girls. Tran tells him that he loved his family very much when Anderson gives him back the book and picture and apologizes.

Sitting DucksGoldman makes the decision to clear the base of all the locals except for the development team. While his men are gathering the locals and herding them out, one of the children steals Ruiz’s watch and the young man chases the kid through the camp and to the wire. The kid easily slips through, but Ruiz gets tangled up in the wire, furious. As Taylor gives him a hard time about the watch, Goldman notes they got an important lesson and wants the wire restrung once the base is completely cleared of all the locals. Meanwhile, Johnson meets a young Vietnamese woman with a baby who is black. She begs to stay, saying it is unsafe in the village for her and the baby but Goldman tells Johnson absolutely no exceptions.

As Anderson and Goldman watch the last of the villagers leave, Anderson assures him that the locals are not Myron’s concern. However, Goldman is worried that the VC could take out the development team. Another shot from the jungle and Goldman quickly orders Percell and another man to take the sniper out as he directs their fire. Satisfied that the problem is now taken care of; Goldman’s smile disappears when another shot rings out. “Damn, that sucker just won’t die!” he notes to Anderson, who is trying not to laugh but can’t help grinning.

Later, Horn is watching the villagers at the monastery, completely intrigued with the ceremony they are involved with. One of the monks spots him, and speaks to him about his curiosity. Horn explains that he is only curious, and asks if he might be able to attend the ceremony in the morning and the monk agrees to let him come.

Sitting DucksMeanwhile, Johnson, Keller and Taylor are unloading supplies from a truck when the villagers chase the young woman with the black child out of the village. Keller and Taylor chase the villagers back while Johnson grabs the frightened woman and swings her and the child up onto the back of the truck. She is sobbing that the villagers tried to kill her baby. Johnson decides he will make the L-T take her back onto the base.

Goldman comes on the next patrol. They spot a tree house above them, Tran smiling and saying it was empty, that the Montagnards who used it had moved back to the Highlands. A flock of birds erupt out of it, startling all the men for a moment. They start to move back down the trail, but Keller isn’t paying attention and continues to watch the birds as they fly. He walks right into a booby-trap and it goes off before Anderson can warn him. The entire squad is again ambushed. When the fight is over, it is discovered that Keller didn’t make it despite Matsuda’s efforts. Taylor has had enough at this point- shouting that they had been out three times and each time they have been ambushed. He said he was refusing to die for the village, and Ruiz and Baker back him up. The rest of the squad start to mutter in anger and fear, Anderson saying it appears they may have a mutiny on their hands.

Sitting DucksBack at the base, the men make it clear to Goldman they will not go out anymore. Myron tries to regain control of the situation and of his men, but Taylor is having none of it. They are frightened and angry. Anderson starts to rise and help out when Taylor gets too disrespectful of the L-T, but Goldman halts him and tells the men that they will go out on patrol or face court-martial. Goldman then leaves the men, going outside and Anderson follows him. Myron is frustrated and unhappy, telling Anderson his father would have had control of the situation and that he could always get his men to like him. Anderson said the men could like the L-T just fine, too, up until the base is overrun and then who’s to blame for that?

The next day, Horn goes to the morning ceremony at the monastery. Quang explains some of the principals of Buddhism to Roger. Roger is curious about the man’s point of view on the war and what it has meant to his people and his fellow monks. Quang hesitates, telling Roger he would support any government that would satisfy the traditional needs of his people. He then gives Roger a book to study.

At the base, Goldman walks up as the mother retrieves her child who was crawling away, apologizing to Myron. Myron notes the little boy is fast on his knees when Johnson comes up and tells him that she appreciates his letting her stay on the base. Goldman says it’s all right, but he makes it clear she can only stay a week. And that she is being relocated to the south. She is unhappy, saying Ben Tuey is their home and she does not want to leave.

Meanwhile, Taylor is furious, stomping through the camp with Ruiz and Percell in attendance. Both men are trying to calm him down, trying to get him to see reason when they spot Tran coming out of the ammo bunker. They watch as Tran checks out a few things, then leaves. Curious as to what he was looking for, the three sneak up and open a crate. Taylor finds Tran’s map case, now convinced it is the Kit Carson scout that has been selling them out. Grabbing the evidence, the three men go straight to the L-T, passing Horn and Baker on the way. Horn looks up from his reading, and asks Baker if he knows if the monastery bell has been ringing all afternoon. Baker just notes it sounds pretty.

With Tran’s map case and Taylor in full cry, Goldman makes the decision to take Tran into custody. With Taylor, Johnson and Ruiz, Anderson and Goldman go to Tran’s hootch. Goldman orders Tran out, firing a warning shot. But when the scout does not come, they go in to find that he is dead- his throat slit.

Sitting DucksAs Goldman and Anderson discuss what to do now, Horn rushes up and says he knows some of what is happening. He points out that the monastery bell has been ringing all afternoon- when it should only sound at morning and sunset. He shows Goldman and Anderson that the bell has been signaling the location of one of their listening posts. Anderson then takes Horn with him and the two men stake out the monastery that night to see how the information is getting to the monks in the first place. Both men are then surprised as late that night, the young woman with the black baby goes up to the monastery. It is now clear who is handing the information over.

The next day, Goldman, with Anderson’s help, sets up a false map in order to surprise the NVA. Later, they take a patrol out hoping the false information would give them the advantage. Taylor is with them, despite his earlier protests, telling Percell and Ruiz he wanted a chance at the guys who took out Keller. The NVA has indeed fallen for the false information and Goldman and his men are able to ambush the entire party, killing them all. As they check out the bodies, they realize the NVA were armed with American rifles. Goldman wants the girl taken into custody to see what other information she has. Horn notes she won’t be safe anywhere now except the monastery, the NVA thinking she would have betrayed them.

Anderson takes Horn and Johnson back with him and they drive up to the monastery to get the woman, Anderson noting to Horn that he never knew Buddhist monks to take sides before. When they get there, the young woman realizes she was set up and pulls out a gun hidden among her things. She takes several shots; Johnson is forced to shoot back, killing her.

Sitting DucksNone of them understanding why she did what she did, Anderson gathers her up and brings her to their jeep. The monks appear, including Quang. Roger is furious, demanding to know why- when their teachings forbid them to harm another of God’s creatures. Anguished, he shoots the temple bell down.

ToD Advisor’s Episode Notes:

This was another favorite of mine. Its inspiration was a book called “Platoon Leader,” by James R. McDonough, which was later made into a movie. It is an excellent book, but I don’t recall it had much in common with either our show, or the movie, other than being set in a Vietnamese village.

The US spent a considerable amount of time and effort encouraging the South Vietnamese government to help the peasants through agricultural projects. This was done through Revolutionary Development Teams that moved into the villages with new farming methods, public works projects, medical care, education etc. US troops provided security.

In the original plot, the villain turns out to be the Kit Carson Scout. I managed to get this changed. Kit Carsons were former Viet Cong and North Vietnamese soldiers who had not only given themselves up, but who had agreed to take up arms against their former comrades. American troops were always suspicious of them, but they were incredibly valuable assets in the field. They were under sentence of death by their former comrades and any who were recaptured were immediately executed out of hand. So far as I could determine, and the Army PAO supported me on this, there was not a single case of a Kit Carson turning out to be a VC/NVA double-agent. (The VC did have spies in the regular South Vietnamese Armed Forces, militia and police.)

Making the villain the Buddhist priest created its own headaches. A Buddhist organization in Los Angeles was outraged. One of the younger members of the production office volunteered to go down to a regional library, after work, to research period newspaper clippings. Three hours later, he found a reference to a Buddhist temple in Saigon serving as a center of VC activity during the Tet Offensive, 1968. That clipping ended the matter, but it showed the sorts of pressure the show was under, on every episode.

As far the production went, one of the problems the set people had was in re-creating that inevitable Vietnamese terrain feature, the rice paddy. There weren’t any in Hawaii, and the best that could be done was to line some small fish ponds with plastic tarps and fill them with water from tank trucks at every opportunity. No one was satisfied with the result but it was the best that could be done outside of moving production to Thailand.

Writer Steve Bello has the two NVA soldiers at the end armed with American weapons. The VC/NVA routinely collected weapons from battlefields and used them against us. This was part of their guerilla heritage, but had a side effect of increasing American paranoia and suspicion. GIs often felt this was proof of collusion between the South Vietnamese and the enemy.

Originally, the RD team was also to be depicted, but that part was cut. I did provide an example of their insignia which was copied by the costume department, but never used. Ever mindful of my fellow collectors, any Vietnamese insignia I created contained deliberate mistakes to prevent them from being taken for the genuine article, misspelling words, for example.

Worth another look:

With the men clearly refusing to go out on any further patrols, Myron has to try and regain control and order the men out or face court martial. Zeke starts to step in, but Myron halts him, knowing that if he wants to keep his authority over them, he can’t let Zeke do it for him.


  • Louie, Louie – The Kingsmen. The squad sings this as they are riding in the truck to Ben Tuey, then the soundtrack segues to the Kingsmen’s version.
  • A Whiter Shade of Pale – Procol Harum. While Anderson and the men are moving through the jungle on their first patrol after getting to the village of Ben Tuey.

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