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Series / Tour of Duty

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Tour of Duty was an American drama television series on CBS. It ran for three seasons from 1987 to 1990. It was inspired by the Academy Award winning feature film, Platoon, making stories about The Vietnam War acceptable mainstream entertainment.

The show followed an American infantry platoon on a tour of duty during the Vietnam War. The story focused mainly on Bravo company's second platoon under the command of 2nd Lieutenant (later 1st Lieutenant) Myron Goldman (Stephen Caffrey), and Staff Sergeant (later Sergeant First Class) Zeke Anderson (Terence Knox).

The first season opens in 1967 and follows a standard light infantry platoon. In the second season, the troops found themselves relocated to a base near Saigon while conducting the typical "search and destroy" missions. Female characters were also introduced (in hopes of gaining more female viewership and because of the premiere of the ABC Vietnam Army Nurses drama China Beach which was aimed at a more female audience). In the third season, the remaining female character was killed off and the platoon was transferred to a SOG (Studies and Observation Group) unit under the command of Colonel Brewster (Carl Weathers), conducting covert operations in Vietnam and in Cambodia, culminating in the fictional version of the raid on Son Tay Prison. The third season was the show's last.

Tour of Duty contains examples of:

  • Advertised Extra: Kevin Conroy was a member of the main cast for the first season, but the writers could never figure out how to properly integrate him into the storylines, as his character was a commander who normally stayed on base. Stuck in Hawaii with nothing to do for most of the working week, he set up a small stand on the beach and sold sketch portraits to tourists out of boredom. His character was dramatically killed off before the end of the season.
  • All Your Base Are Belong to Us: Firebase Ladybird suffers this in the episode "Under Siege". The new company commander brushes off Anderson and Goldman’s concerns about the base defenses, thinking Charlie would be foolish to attack the base. Cut to the VC broadcasting over a loudspeaker that the base is now surrounded, and will attack that night. Oh, not to mention the base is desperately low on ammunition and no ground or air support is available. The VC attack and overrun the base. Only thanks to some clever rigging of some IED's in and around the base perimeter is the platoon able to get the upper hand and drive the enemy back. However, the base is completely destroyed in the process.
  • Anyone Can Die: The series did not shy away from killing off major characters, often without warning, highlighting the arbitrary and unfair nature of combat.
  • Big "NO!": At the end of Doc Hock - Goldman lets one out after the building Alex is walking in front of explodes. She then dies in his arms.
  • Booby Trap: Practically anytime the squad is out on patrol, you can expect one (or more) to make an appearance. Some are averted, some....not so much.
  • Break the Cutie: The character arc for a good portion of the cast is how young fresh-faced men are forced to fight and compromise their beliefs in order to survive, only for those that do to come out the other end physically and emotionally mangled
    • Horn is introduced as a pacifist and conscientious objector who'd rather play the harmonica than fight what he sees to be an unjust war. His character arc depicts his realizing the necessity of killing to survive in an environment that doesn't care about his philosophical views and his gradual transformation into a stone-cold killer. His final episode shows him suffering a crisis when he realizes what he's become.
  • Butt-Monkey: Baker. Lampshaded towards the end of the first season:
    “I try to do everything right…everything wrong happens to me!”
  • Communications Officer: PFC Roger Horn. Due to his pacifist beliefs and refusal to fight (at first), Anderson makes him the RTO so he can be kept close to him and the LT.
  • Dies Wide Open: Capt. Wallace
  • Downer Ending: Many.
    • The finale of the second season ended with a surrounded Lt. Goldman and Sgt. Anderson calling down an artillery strike on their own position. They get better.
    • Many individual episodes, such as "Brothers, Fathers, and Sons" and "Roadrunner"
    • Finally, the last episodes of the series are almost universally depressing. Lt. Goldman is completely disillusioned and has stooped to the same tactics he testified against a friend for. Zeke, with nobody to return to, is given another batch of young idiots to watch die. Taylor, now the last of the old squad, is wounded in a firefight. Pop loses his son and is badly wounded. Griner comes home blind. Hockenbury's pacifism costs the life of a comrade and he is stuck in a care center watching wounded men die. Ruiz and Percell both struggle to adjust to life back home, and McKay is grounded from combat flight, has difficulty getting a job, and when he does he can find no joy in flying in a civilian capacity. The series saved its emotional gut punches for last.
  • The Dreaded Toilet Duty: One episode features Percell being put on latrine duty as punishment for an infraction. The officer overseeing this delights in making this already horrible task even worse, berating and mocking Percell as he's burning the waste in the drums, and even taking a dump in one of the toilets before Percell's had a chance to put the drum back under the hole. When it's all said and done, Percell walks back into the barracks to get cleaned up and the other soldiers recoil from him due to how bad he smells.
  • During the War: During The Vietnam War to be precise.
  • Ensign Newbie: 2nd Lt. Goldman is this at the start of the show. He gains experience and maturity quickly over the course of the first season.
  • Every Helicopter Is a Huey: Played straight for the most part. Other than a rare cameo of a Chinook in a couple of first season episodes, a crashed Cayuse in the opening credits, and a civilian Jetranger in the series finale, EVERY helicopter shown in the show is the venerable Huey.
  • Haven't You Seen X Before?:
    Private Alberto Ruiz: What's the matter? You niggers never seen a spic before?
  • Honor Before Reason: In Gray-Brown Odyssey, Lt. Goldman and a female VC prisoner, whom he holds at gun point after a prior ambush that also leaves him temporarily blind, come across a wounded communist sympathizer and his starving family. After hearing the VC explaining about the plight of the said family of four, Goldman gives them all his rations and is about to move on. The VC, knowing that Goldman does not understand Vietnamese language, not only tells the family that Goldman has just offered them food but also asks the family to mob the blind Goldman and help her escaping. A girl from the family grabs a knife to free the VC...... only to be prevented from going through with it by her wounded father, who thanks Goldman for the food and allows him to leave with the VC still his prisoner.
  • Just Plane Wrong: In a "blink-and-you'll-miss-it" moment from the episode "Soldiers", a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter can be seen being towed in the background when Percell, Taylor, and Ruiz are walking to board their plane. The Blackhawk didn't enter into service until 1979 - 12 years after the episode time period was set.
  • The Medic:
    • Randy "Doc" Matsuda was Bravo Company's designated medic during the first season, before becoming a victim of Anyone Can Die.
    • Hockenberry becomes the platoon's new medic in the 3rd season, though his pacifist ways and smartass mouth don't make him very many friends at first.
  • Of Corpse He's Alive: Some of the characters are forced to do this when one of the new guys gets drunk in town and jumps to his death. They initially plant the body in the jungles with the intention of shooting him in order to make it look like the VC killed him. The platoon sergeant however, finds out, but not before the base is attacked by the enemy. The new guy's corpse startles a VC sapper who fires at the body before being killed. The dead soldier is honored for fighting bravely in the base's defense.
  • Rank Up: Myron Goldman goes from 2nd lieutenant to 1st lieutenant between first and second seasons, Staff Sergeant Anderson is promoted to Sergeant 1st Class, and Johnson is promoted to Sergeant, both in season 3.
  • Re-Release Soundtrack: Every licensed song was replaced with a soundalike, including "Paint It Black" by The Rolling Stones, which was used as the Real Song Theme Tune.
  • Retirony:
    • The show had an odd tendency of killing off anyone who was 'getting short' (ie: Was about to complete their mandatory one-year Tour and be sent home). Even the main characters weren't always immune to this.
    • Played with when one character was only grievously wounded when he found out he was 'getting short'. In a much later episode, we find out that said character later recovered in hospital, re-enlisted, got promoted, and returned to combat...only to be Killed Off for Real this time.
  • Sergeant Rock: Staff Sergeant (later Sergeant First Class) Zeke Anderson, especially in the first few episodes when Goldman was more an Ensign Newbie. He is a grizzled veteran who has the respect of all of the men in The Squad.
  • Shown Their Work: In the first season, particularly, the show went to great lengths to show accurate weapons, equipment, and tactics as well as creating a fictional yet believable military unit with its own backstory.
  • Sleeves Are for Wimps: Anderson rarely wears his uniform shirt when out in the field, preferring to wear his equipment harness over a tank top, so his well-muscled arms are on full display.
  • The Squad: The focus of the series is very much on 2nd platoon Bravo Company, complete with nicknames for almost every platoon member.
  • Squirrels in My Pants: In the episode "Angel Of Mercy", Baker is suffering from diarrhea and has to go off into the bushes while standing watch to drop his pants. While he does so, a large toad jumps onto his dropped pants. At the same time, he happens to see some Vietcong slipping out of a tunnel to evade the American soldiers. Baker quickly yanks up his pants and Hilarity Ensues.
  • Temporary Blindness: In "Brown-Gray Odyssey", Lt. Goldman temporarily loses his sight after his Jeep hits a mine, and the fire extinguisher backfires. He has to be guided by a female VC prisoner he is holding at gunpoint.
  • Tokyo Rose: The series briefly featured a Vietnamese equivalent, note  with one GI asking another why he listened to that stuff. He replied that the propaganda was annoying, but that the music they played was actually pretty good.
  • Training the Peaceful Villagers: "Paradise Lost"
  • War Is Hell: Like most series about The Vietnam War made after Platoon, Tour of Duty focuses a lot on the horror of combat.
  • Weapon Tombstone: Captain Wallace has one made for him, and several others, at Firebase Ladybird.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?:
    • In "Notes From The Underground", Sgt. Anderson and Lt. Goldman are maneuvering through underground tunnels. Anderson spots a snake up above them, and Goldman jumps back in time before it strikes. The LT is terrified of them but gathers enough courage to kill it. He then tells Anderson he's been afraid of snakes ever since he was a kid. Anderson says “you’d be nuts if you weren’t”.
    • In the season 1 finale “The Hill”, Taylor and the newbie Mitchell take cover from small arms fire. All of a sudden, Mitchell starts screaming, saying a snake bit him. Taylor tries in vain to calm him, but in a matter of seconds Mitchell starts choking and dies.
      Horn: Dammit...that Pit Viper’s venom kills you faster than the electric chair.