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"Soldiers"

Episode#15

By Lee Russell

This was another "reduced cost" show, but it turned out to be one of our best, I think. It was my personal favorite. Everyone assigned to Vietnam was eligible for a Rest and Recreation (R&R) leave once during their Vietnam tour. This was a five to seven day (depending on the destination) trip to any of half a dozen Asian countries, or to Honolulu, Hawaii. The military flew you there and back. Hotel accommodations were arranged, but paying for your stay was your responsibility. Each destination had its own attraction. The choice of an R&R was one of the most carefully considered decisions you got to make. Returnees from each R&R were debriefed for details and alternatives were discussed. Going with a friend was better than going alone. Eventually you made your choice, thirty days ahead of time, as I recall, and then, one day, the moment would come. You'd be taken from your unit and flown back to base camp (Chu Lai for our guys) get your Class B khakis fixed up and then fly on a chartered Boeing 707 to, well, Paradise.

In this episode, Ruiz and Taylor, having carefully considered their options, have chosen an R&R to Bangkok, Thailand, famous for low cost partying and female companionship. As they prepare to depart, their friend Percell is sent on emergency leave to Hawaii where his hell-raising Dad has suffered a near-fatal heart attack. They decide to go with him instead. Honolulu was generally the choice of married men, whose wife would fly out to join them.Hawaii was also one of two seven-day R&R's (the other was Sydney, Australia) which meant two days less "in-country". It was also the only R&R destination where you could drive a car, which was very important to some people. Changing your R&R destination at the last minute was an administrative nuisance, but was possible. Zeke has to call in favors for this one.

What happens to Percell is largely based on the experience of one of my friends, after a similar event. He was pulled out of a serious Tet Offensive battle and flown to his dying father's side in a southern European country. His father died before he got there, and he was authorized to stay on for the funeral. To the annoyance of his relatives, my friend displayed little grief or emotion. He had seen so many friends suffer and die. He basically went out and had a good time. Really, what else could he do?

One of the things that people were uneasy about were the rumors about "back home." Being in the military, and especially being in Vietnam, cut us off from the swiftly changing pop culture of the '60's. We had no direct contact with people our own age. The new replacements told stories about how the mood of the country was changing. It was turning against the war, and even those fighting it. No one knew what to expect. The girl our guys meet at the bar gives them a chilling update, especially Percell.

The character of the bitter veteran, Rudy Morales, a paraplegic now consigned to a VA hospital, was based on an incident in Dr. Ronald J. Glasser's book,"365 Days". So was the death of "Sweet Harold" a soldier so badly burned his race could not be determined. (The soldier's name was Harold Sweet, so the placard by his bed read: "Sweet, Harold".) A Roger Henry Sweet, an Air Force enlisted man, did die in Vietnam but this wasn't him. Glasser had changed the name. The research people who were supposed to check on stuff like this missed this reference.

What our guys do on R&R was based on my own experiences and some of my friends', such as systematically ordering all the fancy drinks on the menu, singing Army cadence calls in hotel corridors and waking up "regular" hotel guests. In the script, but cut for time, is a scene where our guys splash through surf, singing an irreverent antiwar cadence call: "Lyndon, Lyndon, heed my plea, I don't want to die in the Infantry.....".) There is a poignant scene where our guys return to their hotel room to see the routine television station sign-off. One of the letters the show got was from a group of Vietnam vets who used to gather in a bar to watch the show. When our guys stop and salute the National Anthem, everyone in the bar stood up and did so too.

Morales' final advice, that our guys should desert rather than go back to Vietnam, was based on my friend's experience. When he returned from emergency leave, his friends were outraged that he had not taken the opportunity to desert. It had occurred to him, of course, but there was never any question of him NOT going back.

Costuming notes. This was the first time we had to decide who gotten what medals by this stage of their tour. We had to do this VERY quickly and everyone got involved, the costumers, the Army Public Affairs Office, myself and even the actors. The ribbons are also worn in a certain order too, and it is a nuisance to add one or remove one. Percell's uniform was the least trouble. He is wearing the one he flew to Vietnam in months before. Taylor had been wounded in "Notes from Underground," so he gets a Purple Heart, but how about Ruiz? Even the actor couldn't remember. The result was kind of a compromise, but we got no viewer complaints. The small colored pins worn on the Class A Service Cap denote the unit. As the 3/44th Infantry was fictional, there was no "correct" device. I could have designed one, but there was no time to do so. Our guys wear the insignia of the real 3/21st Infantry, a part of the real 196th Infantry Brigade.

The cab driver jokingly refers to Ruiz and Taylor's "civilian clothes," the khaki trousers from their Class B uniforms, and their black military shoes and socks. They also wear their Army issue web belts-all trademarks of low paid soldiers off-duty. This was one of my contributions. The cab driver also refers to his own military service in WW II, with the Japanese-American 442nd Regimental Combat Team. His account is correct. Even after their families were interned in relocation camps, many thousands of Japanese-Americans volunteered to fight for the United States. The 442nd RCT, which fought in Italy and France, was among the most highly decorated units of WW II. Unlike other WW II veterans, Japanese-American veterans often returned to face prejudice at home.

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