WARNING:This is EXCLUSIVE material and is the property of webmasters of this site, Page Creations., and Soldiers Magazine.Use of ANY of this material is violation of copyright

Make your own free website on Tripod.com

Please wait or the music (wav file) to download completely (1092 kb).
If it is broken up wait until it loads and then replay using the console
Hollywood Pulls Its Tour
From Soldiers Magazine by Dennis J. Steele

DURING the Vietnam War, TV news catapulted tons of coverage into American living rooms. Television captured combat, chaos, pain and pity, and packaged it in precise segments.

Viewers who tried to understand the war by lashing together those slices, as it turned out, found too many pieces were missing or lost. TV coverage had boiled down the war to brief glances of soldiers struggling through jungle under the weight of weapons and equipment as safari- garbed reporters tried to explain the day's events in two minutes.

To understand the soldiers, you had to be there. You had to go through 12 months of wrenching, shifting emotions with them. You had to pull a tour. So, for almost 20 years, there's been a wide difference of perspective separating Vietnam veterans and people who saw the war shoe-horned between commercials. Television is trying to narrow that gap with a drama series called Tour of Duty.

The series follows an infantry platoon, but it is no more the story of one platoon in Vietnam than a decade of M.A.S.H. was the story of a doctor's short tour in Korea. Tour of Duty uses its cast to tell the story of all platoons that fought in Vietnam, and shows the human side nobody saw in the generic news glimpses of 20 years ago.

It's a chance to pull a tour with them.

The film crew prepares
to shoot a scene
FOR a week last November, the Tour of Duty television crew pitched camp in the lush green mountains a few miles outside Honolulu. They film the TV series at various locations around Hawaii, carving a model of Vietnam from chunks of tropical paradise. That week's location was cozy DENNIS J. STEELE, a former SOLDIER photojournalist, recently separated from active duty.

compared to the battle-torn Vietnamese highlands they hoped to depict. But it was often slit-trench pitiful compared to any tourist's vision of Hawaii.

Three or four times in one day, storms swept off the ocean and ripped into the set. Sheets of needlelike rain shot across the ridgeline, driven by 40 mph gusts that mashed waist-high grass to the ground.

Directors, cameramen, stars, extras and an array of technicians scrambled for cover. Actors yanked ponchos from their rucksacks, a small benefit of authentic costuming. Those out of uniform fended for themselves.

Several people futilely tried umbrellas. The frames folded inside out in a flash. Most of the crew just zipped their windbreakers, jammed caps over their ears and stood with their backs to the gales. Only the expensive sound and camera equipment weathered the storms under adequate protection.

It was another week of field duty for the TV crew cold, rotten, rainy, work-into-the-night, 30-minutes-for-chow field duty. Forget glitz and glamour on the Tour of Duty set. Generally speaking, they'd settle for avoiding a case of pneumonia.

Terence Knox, who plays the lead character of SSgt. Clayton "Zeke" Anderson, wandered around the fringe of a set while his co-stars finished a scene. He appeared pale. Makeup couldn't hide it.

I feel lousy," Knox said hoarsely. "We were shooting a scene in a swamp a few days ago and I think I swallowed some bad water." He grimaced and rubbed his stomach. "I need some hot soup."

An assistant director shanghaied someone to fetch the soup. It wasn't star appeasement; Knox needed first aid. A few hours and a large portion of broth later, he had bounced back.

"I've got no room to complain," Knox offered. "No matter how hard it gets filming here, it ain't shit to what it was really like for the guys who served in Vietnam." He has developed a special respect for Viet- nam veterans, and veterans in the show's audience display a kinship

Knox recalled an incident from a few weeks before: "I was walking through a hotel lobby and a Vietnam veteran - a big Hawaiian guy who had served there in '67 - came up to me and said, `Keep your intervals. Remember to keep your intervals.' He was telling me to spread out my squad. Of course, there's no way we can maintain intervals because we have to get all the actors in the shot. But it made me feel good. It was like he was advising another NCO." Knox learns about Vietnam from combat veterans - technical advisers provided by the Army. These advisers, who are master sergeants, first sergeants or sergeants major, are on the set to help directors and actors with authenticity. Generally detailed from the 25th Infantry Division in Hawaii, a different adviser rotates in when each new episode begins shooting.

Actor Terence Knox gets
some combat cosmetics
"Rotation gives the crew a wider per- spective, due to the advisers' varied experiences in Vietnam. For the episode that week, the adviser was MSgt. Charles Pich of Company C, 4th Battalion, 22nd Infantry. "I ensure the actors don't make any gross violations," Pich said. "I tell them how to set up different positions and help actors play their roles. There are certain things they have to do for `Hollywood,' like bunch up for the camera, but I've been impressed by their willingness to do things correctly. These guys give 100 percent to make it look right on TV, to make it look right to a veteran." Pich served in Vietnam with the unit depicted in Tour of Duty, the 196th Light Infantry Brigade, 23rd Infantry Division (Americal). "The coincidence has brought back a lot of memories for me," he said. "It's very close to home." Tour of Duty hits close to home for many viewers, also. Several veterans' organizations endorse the series, and the producers and cast members receive stacks of letters from veterans and their families.
The series' impact was related by the wife of a veteran. She wrote that her husband had never talked about Vietnam since he came home almost 20 years ago.Since they started watching Tour of Duty together, however, her husband has slowly begun to tell her about his own experiences. It's been a relief for them both. The Army helps Tour of Duty in ways beyond technical advice. The show isn't the only one that gets such assistance. On the contrary, the Army has supported many movies and TV series over the years at no additional cost to the government or taxpayers. The Army has a public affairs staff in Los Angeles that assists Hollywood studios. In return, the Army is allowed to review scripts for technical and historical accuracy. Because Tour of Duty is filmed only on Hawaii, a full-time assistance officer, Lt. Col. Paul Sinor, is located there. According to him, the Army provides support in three categories: The first category is a reim- bursement agreement, which covers using Army vehicles in scenes, for example. The production company pays a set mileage rate. The second category is using training missions to construct facilities on bae, which the production can use. Building projectes are part of the enginerring units' regular training missions. they would need similar projects regardless of movie or tv series productionThe third category is issue and return. This covers using special equipment which otherwise would not be available to filmmakers. .

In addition, producers may be authorized to purchase surplus or out-of-service items from property disposal offices. The Army, however, doesn't provide blank ammunition , gasoline, pyrotechnics, or any other expendable material, nor does it pro- vide field gear or individual weapons. "The company is easy to work with," Sinor said. "They understand the limitations. By far, our most valu- able help is our rotating technical advisers and specialty technical advisers, such as chaplains, nurses and pilots, who help with certain scenes."

The scenes being filmed on a mountain that week needed a couple of soldiers who could rappel. They needed some Rangers, and that's who they got. Two 2Sth Division Ranger Indoctrination Course instructors stood atop a cliff which would be used for a pilot rescue scene. SSgt. Douglas Sanders and SSgt. George Gephart normally pre- pare soldiers to attend Ranger School. That day, though, the two were getting ready for a big scene. Sanders would double for the charac- ter Pvt. Danny Purcell, played by Tony Becker. Gephart would stand in for an Air Force pilot who had bailed out and gotten snagged on the rocks. The cliff was pint-sized by real rappelling standards, only about 25 feet high. Camera angle trickery and lens distortion would make it appear much higher. Becker, not an actor to stand by and watch somebody else do all his dirty work, recruited Sanders as his rappelling instructor. "This isn't the first time the Rangers have helped us out; they're very easy to work with," Becker said , while putting the finishing touches on his Swiss seat.
SSgt.Douglas Sanders, climbing
and SSgt.George Gephard, hanging,
double for actors in a cliff rescue scene.

We don't get any of the normal BS that stunt men from Hollywood generally glve us. The Rangers just do what needs to be done. They're sharp."
Becker more or less mastered the Swiss seat and hooked up alongside Sanders for his first ride down. Sanders talked him through it as they inched their way to the bottom. Becker finally made it, safe and sound, and beamed about his accomplishment.
"Let's do it again!" he said. Within an hour, he was on his own and bounding down the cliff in everlonger hops. Still, Becker wasn't ready for rappelling's big time - the casualty carry. Sanders stepped in.
Tne scene called for Sanders to climb to where Gephart hung limply in a parachute harness, as if unconscious. He would then free Gephart, swing him onto his back and bring him down.
"Make it look difficult!" the director shouted when the scene started. "Don't make it look too easy!" Sanders struggled up the cliff, spilling enough rocks to make it look exciting. At one point, he concentrated too hard on creating rock slides and slipped.
Sanders plummeted, barely avoiding the camera. Still on his feet, he trotted to a stop a few yards from the base of the cliff in no-biggie fashion.
"Hey, Purcell!" another actor shouted to Becker. "Call your agent! They just killed you off!" Tour of Duty actors find their services are no longer needed when they get the script for the next episode and it contains their death scene.
Becker's number wasn't up, so Sanders got ready for another try. Things went off without a hitch the second time, with Sanders giving an Emmy-winning performance in the Making-a-Small-Cliff-Climb-Appear- Difficult Category. Rocks tumbled. Boots skidded. The crew and cast, assembled at the bottom of the cliff, admired each hair-raising near fall and recovery.
Rising to the drama evoked by Sanders' ascent, Gephart delivered an equally stellar performance as dead weight and a good sport. They received a round of applause when they touched ground and the director yelled, "Cut and print!"
When actor Miguel Nunez reached another nearby set for the next series of shots, he was still chuckling about Sanders "killing off" Becker during the rappelling scene.
"If they ever kill me off " Nunez declared, "it'll take at least two episodes." He clutched his heart and began a horse-opera gunfighter's death scene, reeling two or three times before crumpling to the ground, adding several fish flops and straight-leg kicks for good measure.
Stan Foster, who plays SP4 Marvin Johnson, sat on a boulder and half-heartedly watched the death scene. Actors spend much more time waiting than acting. Sometimes an hour could pass between 90-second parts on camera as other scenes are shot or technicians haul equipment to a new spot.
Foster was S years old in 1967, the year in which Tour of Duty is set. He only vaguely remembers seeing TV news reports about Vietnam. That's about all he knew of the war before landing the part.
"There's nothing about it in history books," Foster observed. "So the only way for me to learn about Viet- nam was to talk to men who served there. That's why I think this show is important. It reveals things about Vietnam to people who otherwise would not be exposed to it. Of course, there have been movies about Vietnam, but a movie has only about two hours to get its message across. We have an hour every week."
Foster fidgeted, growing impatient at the time it was taking the crew to get ready.
"We deal with personal and unpopular issues," he said. "We don't get involved in the politics, just the things that affected our guys over there." He stood and slid his hands into his jungle fatigue pockets.
"I think most every veteran can relate to us," he said. "We're all types of guys from all over the country - black guys, white guys, an Asian, a Puerto Rican, a Jewish guy, a Northern guy, a Southern guy. Every- body has a different personality. The cast is that way, too, different people from different places. We were thrown together when the series began, just like an actual squad might have been in Vietnam. We found out that we're actually a lot alike."
Foster peeled another glance at the set. The camera was in place. They might be ready soon. He picked up his M-16 and rucksack, ambled toward the set and continued, "Although we were different people from different places, we had a pur- pose for being here, so we had to come together quickly.
"We had a short period of time to pull together," Foster said. "Although I've never been in the military, I think the Army's a lot like that
, a lot like us." He shrugged.
"Maybe we're a lot like the Army."

APRIL 1988

Back to "Articles" Page
Back to Main Page