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"Pappa's Got a Brand New Bag"

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"Under Seige"

Episode#14

By Lee Russell

This was "Tour's" version of the seventy-seven day siege of Khe Sahn, a Marine Corps firebase built at the Western edge of I Corps, adjacent to the Laotian border. Some explanation of the real siege may clarify events in the episode.

The siege became the focus of Press reports and public attention. President Lyndon Johnson kept a model of it in his office to study, as he read intelligence reports. As the siege intensified, the North Vietnamese began to display an alarming self-confidence and tactical sophistication. On the night of Feb 7, 1968, steel-helmeted NVA infantry, led by tanks and flame-throwers, that no one knew they had, overran the adjacent US Army Special Forces camp at Lang Vei. (This attack is referred to in the episode.) After that, no one knew what the North Vietnamese were planning next, except that it would come as a surprise. They were right. The surprise turned out to be far away from Khe Sahn, in the cities of South Vietnam. It was called the Tet Offensive.

Several events of the real siege are used in this episode. NVA officers reconnoitering the base in captured US uniforms, for example. It wasn't possible to reproduce the rain and fog that isolated the base, nor the continual shelling. Reporter Michael Herr wrote a memorable first-person account of the siege in his book "Dispatches". Herr served as a screenwriter/adviser to the movie "Apocalypse Now" and his account is dramatized in the film. Happily, "Tour" did not try to duplicate this.
The tracks and red grease that the patrol finds was my contribution. Russian mortars came on a wheeled base so they could be moved around by hand. The North Vietnamese and Viet Cong often prepositioned such heavy weapons before a major attack. The use of the mortar shells in the repulse of the final NVA attack on the base was probably a contribution of the Army PAO. It wasn't mine. The improvised device Anderson rigs up at the end is called a "fougasse" (sometimes spelled, and pronounced: "Foo-gas"). As shown, it was any sort of thickened fuel, in drums, ignited by white phosphorus grenades. .

Among the first surprises the NVA had for Khe Sahn were the Russian 130 mm cannon referred to in the opening scenes. They outranged the standard US 105 mm guns, but were smaller and more mobile than our long-range 175s. The Israelis had taken a number of them off the Egyptian Army, a few months before in Sinai. That was the only reason the US knew about them at all. Prior to Khe Sahn, no one suspected that the NVA had any artillery at all in the South, never mind the latest Russian models.

The delivery of ammunition by helicopter sling-load, as shown in the show, became the standard means of resupply for Khe Sahn late in the siege. It limited the time the helicopters were exposed to enemy artillery. They didn't have to either land or hover.

Captain Heath makes a reference in the beginning to the reason the US was at Khe Sahn at all in 1968. It was to be the linchpin of the "McNamara Line." This was Defense Secretary Robert McNamara's plan to seed the Laotian border with all sorts of air-dropped sensors, acoustical, thermal, even olfactory, to detect NVA units on the move. The NVA had a lot of fun with the sensors, moving them around, hanging them up in trees, next to chimes and bags of buffalo urine.

For all his (the writer's) talk of "chain of command", CPT Heath continually goes over his superior's heads to appeal to his old boss in Saigon for special favors. This was a big no-no and would seriously effect his career, even without his other bad decisions.

This was another of the episodes that was written and rewritten, for dramatic content, and just did not seem right. It underwent a final total rewrite, on the edge of shooting, and was finally accepted. This was also the end for medic Randy "Doc" Matsuta played by Steve Akahoshi, a principal character. This was another cost-saving decision.

*Note: This episode was the only episode of Tour of Duty that won an Emmy for "best sound"category (Source: Steven Akahoshi)

About the Music....The midi's are songs from the original episodes


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