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"Roadrunners"

Episode#11

By Lee Russell

The "inspiration" for this episode was the movie "Flight of the Intruder", which included a sequence where shot-down Navy pilots are rescued from North Vietnam.

For me, responsible for the historical accuracy of the show, there were several maddeningly frustrating issues involved with this episode. The first was the matter of the pilot. Was he going to be Navy or Air Force? This was important for the costumers to know as far as possible in advance. Period flight clothing and survival equipment was going to be hard to find. To make matters worse, the two services even had different color flight suits and equipment. I needed a decision from the writer on this, but he waited almost until the actual shooting day to make one. Happily, the costumers were able to come up with the right Air Force gear at the VERY last minute. (I had Navy stuff standing by to ship by FEDEX, but there would be the question of sizes. It might not fit the actor.)

Another issue involved the plot. The U.S. Air Force actually has an organization (the Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Service), specifically to rescue pilots. (By agreement, in Vietnam, flyers of either service who came down on land were the responsibility of the ARRS, those who landed in the ocean were the responsibility of the Navy.) For various reasons (Army field radios didn't work on the right frequencies, for example, so they couldn't talk to the downed pilot) both rescue organizations preferred that the Army just stay out of the way. However we needed this as a plot device, so the existence of the ARRS was ignored.

A more serious matter was the behavior of the survivor and the patrol, after they have rescued him. In the movie, the survivors of the crash in communist North Vietnam follow their orders to "head for the sea" where they have the best chance of attracting the attention of the rescue forces. The writer wanted this to be our guys goal too. However, in SOUTH Vietnam, this makes no sense. The South was full of US troops! Even if their radio doesn't work, the patrol need only attract the attention of a passing aircraft, or make their way to the nearest US firebase. (This last would be dangerous for a lone, unarmed pilot, but the patrol is well armed.) And what is waiting for our guys on the coast anyway, if they get there? Why their own huge divisional base complex at Chu Lai! Unless the pilot wants to stop by the Officer's Club for a quick drink with Goldman, before going back to Thailand where he is based, there is no reason to go to the coast at all! The writer changed this. Now they are just trying to get out of the valley.

The last matter deals with Anderson's prior service in Vietnam, a topic I had dreaded having to address. Before I was hired, the writers had stipulated that Anderson was well into his third consecutive tour in Vietnam. (Actually you didn't volunteer to serve
additional "full" tours. After you finished your first tour you could volunteer to stay longer in-country, up to six full months. You could then volunteer once again etc. But the Army had an ironclad rule that you couldn't serve more than 36 consecutive months in a combat zone.) So where has Anderson been the last two tours? The show is set in a very specific time period, starting in late summer/early Fall 1967. If we back off two years to the Spring of 1965, Zeke must have been among the first American combat troops to arrive in Vietnam. He can't have come over with the 196th Light Infantry Brigade, they had only arrived in August, 1966, as a unit, from Ft Devens, Massachusetts.

In "Roadrunner" we now find out that Zeke had been in this area before on his first tour (Spring 65-on), and his unit had suffered heavy casualties. Now the problem is that the show is set in the Southern part of I Corps, which, until the very period of our show, had been the exclusive territory of the US Marines. NO Army troops, except Special Forces, had served there. Dilemma. However in a few days in November 1965, the Army's First Cavalry Division (Airmobile) had fought two terrible battles in the Ia Drang Valley in the northern part of II Corps, on the border with Laos. The battles, at LZ (Landing Zone) X-RAY and LZ ALBANY, cost the lives of several hundred US soldiers of what had once been General George Armstrong Custer's old outfit, now the 7th Air Cavalry Regiment. Sounds like what we need here huh? In addition, we know that Anderson had served with Special Forces sergeant Earl Ray Michaels on his first tour (The War Lover). The "Cav" had been called to the rescue of several Special Forces camps in 1965-66. So THAT fits. We also have, if needed, a "sorta" explanation as to why Anderson doesn't wear his "combat patch", the insignia of his old unit, on his right sleeve (a jealously guarded privilege of those who serve in battle). The 1st Cav's patch was very large and he might have felt it was too much of a target. (On the other hand, this insignia was the MOST respected one in Vietnam, but.... who knows?) So it all sorta fits. I figured this all out and carefully, carefully, explained my conclusions and reasoning to the writer, and he sorta, finally agreed.

Okay, Zeke now was in the 1st Cavalry Division (Spring '65-Spring '66) and later transferred to the 196th Infantry Brigade (which arrived in August, 1966). The obvious reason for this was that the 196th arrived as a unit and all it's original people's tours expired at the same time. So the Army would have moved people in and out of the unit so it could have a base of experienced NCO's to help keep its combat experience current for the new guys. Why did Zeke leave the 1st Cav? Well maybe he had wanted to stay in the field and they had insisted he take the rear echelon job he had earned during his first tour. And so he jumped at the chance to go to the 196th. Okay, everything fit!

The next day (all this happened at the VERY last minute), I received a copy of the FINAL script, the one they were shooting. Zeke has now been assigned to the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment. This is a seriously WRONG unit for him to have been part of. It was a tank/mechanized infantry unit that fought far down South near the Cambodian border. It had arrived in-country a month after the 196th Light Infantry Brigade had, in September 1966. The war the 11th ACR fought was VERY much different from that fought by the 196th. A totally different set of military MOS (Military Occupation Specialty) skills were used by each. Fighting from a tank required a totally different mindset than being a foot soldier. I telephoned the writer. "I thought we had agreed on this?" I asked. He casually replied that after talking to me, he had called the Army Public Affairs Office and they had suggested different units, and he had picked the 11th ACR. I was outraged! All my careful research, planning and explanation had been for naught! I exploded and I think I may have hung up on him. A few minutes reflection and I called back to apologize. It was an innocent mistake on his part and, I knew by this time, nobody was going to "get it". I had worked all the previous night at my "regular" job, and all day for "Tour" and I was just about to go back to my "regular" job. The writer graciously accepted my apology. "We can't have that." he said, and I agreed. It was the only time I lost my temper with a writer.

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