- Guest Stars: William Russ (Sgt. Earl Ray Michaels), Zaid Farid
- Story by: Rick Husky
- Directed by: Jim Johnston
Synopsis:A soldier in Vietnam had a one chance in 55 of being killed during his first tour of duty.
While cautiously moving through the tall grass of a meadow, Anderson spots what appears to be an NVA bunker. Goldman starts to call in for artillery when a Huey, on the way to Ladybird, flies overhead. All hell breaks loose when the sergeant aboard recklessly decides he wants to try and take out the bunker below. He nearly gets Anderson, Goldman and their men killed before the chopper then leaves. But Goldman’s men are now under fire. Anderson is forced to sneak up on the bunker under the cover fire of his men, and finally tosses in a grenade, killing the occupants.
Later, back at Ladybird, Anderson is still fuming over the reckless incident. He spots the slick that had flown overhead and, with his men, angrily demands to know where the pilot is and who was aboard. One of the men, Spec 4 Leroy James, explains that everything was classified and that it was Sgt. Earl Ray Michaels who had come in. Taylor and Percell are impressed, Percell saying he had heard of Michaels and that he was a bit of a legend. Taylor notes he’s got a reputation for being a stone cold killer.
Anderson goes to the CP bunker to find Wallace, Goldman and Michaels discussing a new mission that involves blowing up a bridge. Michaels wants a small squad of men to accompany him. Anderson is still angry about the way things were handled earlier and lays into Michaels about the incident. Wallace breaks up the argument, telling the two men to sort out their personal differences here and now. With Anderson now in check, Wallace then informs Goldman that Michaels is in charge of the mission and that they have 48 hours to take out the bridge.
Later, in Third Squad’s quarters, Baker and Percell sit on a bunk across from Michaels, asking how many men he had killed. Percell is all hyped up, saying there is no way they are going to lose this war. Horn joins the conversation, voicing his opinion and questions what it is all about. When Michaels asks about Horn, who he is, Anderson informs him that Roger is a new breed of soldier- a thinker.
The next day, most of Third Squad is given det cord and c-four to carry on the hike to the bridge. Later, while loading up on the slicks, Anderson and Michaels get into it again. Michaels, still arrogant, snipes at Zeke, “Do you know why I scare you? Because when you look at me you see yourself.”
After being dropped off, and while making their way through the dense grass, Leroy informs Taylor he has 18 days and a wake up. And that he is going to open up a recording studio when he gets back to the States. Taylor is appalled, wanting to know why he wasn’t in the rear with the gear. And says that Leroy is so short he has to reach up to tie his shoe laces.
Later, during a break, Percell asks about the third man who makes up Michael’s team, Chan. Leroy informs Danny that Chan is a Nung, an ethnic Chinese, and that the Vietnamese hate him. But that he is a good soldier. Horn is more interested in Michaels, wanting to know what his story is and considers him a walking contradiction in terms. Meanwhile, Anderson points out a nearby ville on the map the men are studying, suggesting they could rest up the men there. Michaels becomes annoyed with the suggestion, asking if they are on a mission or not and Goldman tells him to back off. Michaels gets into it with Goldman about being a good officer before leaving in disgust.
Back on the trail, Michaels catches Horn keeping a journal and tells him to make sure he gets his name right. Shortly afterwards, Goldman ends up snagged on a trip wire, front and back. While Goldman keeps his temper and his fear in check, Earl Ray carefully disarms the bomb. Finally clear, Myron is able to step away but when Horn steps up to join him, Chan lunges and knocks him clear when the bomb on the other end of the trip wire goes off. Chan is killed and the element of surprise is now lost to them.
While crossing a stream, Goldman, angry about a skull mounted on a pole on the other side, orders it taken down. But Anderson warns no, saying it could be booby-trapped. As the men continue on by, Goldman, completely annoyed with Michaels at this point, asks Anderson what the story is between the two men. Anderson sarcastically says that Michaels would probably die humming “God Bless America.” And that he was writing an article about him for the Stars and Stripes.
Further along the trail, the entire unit is ambushed. Michaels tries to run the show, but Goldman orders him to stay put till they have assessed the situation. Myron then takes Anderson and Johnson and moves out. Michaels calls Percell and Horn to him, telling them to come with him. Both men hesitate, saying the lieutenant told them to wait, but Michaels orders them forward anyway. Unfortunately, Danny is wounded, a bullet slicing across his forehead. Horn pulls him to safety, Michaels not even looking back after he shoots the gook that had shot Danny. However, the NVA soldier wasn’t killed and, although badly wounded, shakily raises a rifle at Horn and Danny. Both men see the NVA raise the rifle as Danny starts to shout at Horn to shoot him, Horn staring in horror before he is finally able to pull the trigger and kill the NVA soldier.
Hearing the gunshots, Goldman demands to know who the hell that was. Anderson, in disgust, replies, “John Wayne.” Earl Ray kills one of the enemy soldiers with his knife and shoots two others, with Anderson getting the last one. When Anderson finds out that Percell was hurt on the way up, he tells Michaels that being around him is like being a hitchhiker in a hailstorm.
They come upon a recently destroyed ville, still smoldering from the attack. While Goldman’s men move carefully through, Anderson discovers a little girl who is still with her dead mother. As Anderson tries to speak to the child, Michaels becomes agitated and starts giving Anderson a hard time. Goldman arrives, demanding to know what the problem is. Anderson warns Michaels to shut up but when Michaels persists, Anderson finally loses his temper and lunges at Michaels. It takes most of the squad to pull the two men apart, Goldman finally getting between them. He is furious and fed up with the entire situation and storms off.
They bury the mother and Leroy begins to recite Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (“Turn, Turn, Turn”) in prayer, but can’t remember all the words and finally gives up, walking away. Anderson then tells Goldman that the girl said there were more NVA in the area and that they should take the girl with them. Michaels is furious, wanting to leave her behind. Goldman is torn; not sure what to do but clearly fed up with Michaels and his arrogance. Myron finally tells Anderson to bring the girl and they set out once again for the bridge.
It pours rain that night as the men camp out in ponchos, shouldered up against each other or trees. The little girl sleeps between Goldman and Anderson, Zeke noting she picked a lousy time to be born. He then checks on Percell before Michaels finds him and asks to speak to him. The two men get into it about the past- about a mistake that Michaels made during Zeke’s last tour. Zeke tells Michaels that he is high on war, whereas Zeke is just trying to survive with a little dignity. Anderson then tells him he still has nightmares and that the entire firefight had no meaning. Except maybe to the boys who had been killed.
They eventually make it to the bridge late the next day, the little girl still with them. After dark settles in, Michaels, Leroy and Anderson take the c-four and swim silently out to the bridge to wire it with the explosives. Goldman watches through a night scope. Johnson goes to get the men into position only to find out that Baker has lost the little girl. The bridge now wired, Michaels, Anderson and Leroy start to make their way back but the little girl is now running across the bridge, warning the NVA stationed there.
The NVA open fire on the three men, Goldman able to cleanly kill one of the enemy soldiers while his men lay down a cover fire. Michaels, Anderson and Leroy make it back, but Leroy is shot. Anderson takes care of Leroy while Michaels blows up the bridge. He then returns to Leroy’s side, telling him he is going home, only to realize his friend is dead. Anguished, he holds his friend as Anderson watches in sorrow- Michaels chanting over and over, “Damn this war!”
The next day at the LZ, Anderson tries to tell Michaels that maybe it is time for him to go home. That he has earned the right and that he could teach what he knows at Fort Bragg. Michaels is devastated, though, and tells Anderson he doesn’t want to teach what he knows. That Leroy was his friend, and that it don’t mean nothin’.
ToD Advisor’s Episode Notes:
This episode was one of my favorites, with its depiction of burned-out Special Forces sergeant Ray Michaels. The Green Berets were a fairly small force and had been operating in Vietnam since the late 1950s. Their people had all served multiple high-risk combat tours. The original script was much less sympathetic to the character, but a lot of changes were made. (The title of the episode gives you an idea what the original concept was like.)
The Army PAO objected to Michaels smoking the Montagnard pipe in the beginning of the episode: “We know what is in the pipe!” they laughed. But they relented. I supplied both the pipe (purchased for the show from a Vietnam collector) and the Chinese land mine Michaels disarms. I “commissioned” the land mine from a machinist friend of mine who made it out of wood. I have a photo of it someplace before it was painted. I also supplied the “skull and crossbones” pocket insignia the SF sergeant wears in the beginning. (I xeroxed a real one from my collection. As it is black and white, and sealed inside plastic, it didn’t matter that it was a piece of paper and not a piece of cloth.) I also supplied the “cat’s-eye” sapphire ring Michaels is wearing, one of the trademarks of the Special Forces (along with a steel diver’s watch and an Army demolition knife. In the States he would also have the other two SF trademarks: a sports car and a divorce! LOL). I personally screwed up one line in the script. Michaels says he is from the 5th Special Forces Group at Nha Trang. When SOLDIER OF FORTUNE magazine reviewed the show, they pointed out that he was assigned to MAC-SOG, and their headquarters was in a hotel in Saigon.
Oh yes, Michaels brings his personal bodyguard on the mission. This man is a Nung, a Vietnamese of Chinese extraction. The Vietnamese looked down on ethnic minorities and the Nungs had a hard time of it. The US Special Forces trained them and found them tough and loyal fighters. Many SF soldiers retained them as personal bodyguards and paid their salaries out of their own pockets.
Worth another look:
Goldman finds himself on a trip wire and now in the hands of Anderson and Michaels. The two men must disarm the bomb while Myron remains steady, trusting that his sergeant and Michaels can save his life.
- Your Precious Love – Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. When Leroy enters Third Squad tent and Taylor says, “They play the best R&B.”
- We Gotta Get Out of This Place – The Animals. On the helicopter ride out and as the squad slogs across the river.
- What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye. When the Hueys come in at the end of the episode to pick up Third Squad and Michaels.