Stories From Tour of Duty
by Terence Knox
Someone asked me a question not too long ago, and I'm going to try to answer it now. I don't want to make too big a deal out of it, because, really, it's not a big deal kind of question. It's not even a little deal kind of question, in all honestly. I just happen to have a tendency to complicate things whenever the opportunity presents itself, even with something as simple as this question: “Did I have fun filming Tour of Duty?”
The answer, in its most uncomplicated form, is “yes.” Yes, I had fun. Of course I had fun. You kidding? It was the best time of my life--at least so far--and, in fact, it was so MUCH fun that in order to feel comfortable with answering the question, I feel it's necessary to take a minute or two here and complicate things by trying to explain what I mean by “fun.”
We were filming a jungle sequence from “The Hill.” Episode 21 from the first season, the last episode before we got to go home. We were in Hawaii, which sounds pretty good; but we had been there seven months by then, which is a long time to be away from home no matter WHERE you are, even Hawaii. And we were, all of us, dragging our asses. Sitting here now, these several years later, it's hard for me to tell you any of this without wondering if it might sound as silly to you as it does to me--the fact that we were working in Hawaii, the best and steadiest job any of us had ever had, and we had the nerve to be dragging our asses at all. And that we were griping about the long hours and the heat, and the hotel accommodations. And that we were all dying to get back home, back to the MAINland, where we could sit around and be unemployed like we were before we got lucky enough to get hired for this job in the first place.
And it seems even sillier in the context of what it was we were being paid to do. We were pretending in front of the camera to be soldiers in Viet Nam. In Hawaii for twelve, sometimes fourteen, hours a day we were pretending for TV to be the guys who went over there into the Real Deal, where they worked longer hours in more heat for less money, without dressing rooms and hotel rooms and where the bullets were real, and when people were shot they didn't jump back up to try it again when the director yelled “Cut.” We knew that then, and we certainly know that now. All of us. But you asked me how much fun it was, and I'm just trying to explain why I answered “yes.”
The jungle sequence was this: our platoon was moving in single file through the bush. The point man, the guy in the very front of the formation, hears something and quickly goes down to one knee with his hand raised in a fist. The rest of the platoon also goes to one knee, alert, looking from side to side, rifles on full automatic. The Lt., who is usually somewhere towards the middle-rear of the column with his radio-man, (RTO), moves up along the column towards the front with the RTO. The Sarge, who normally moves around to different places in the formation, but in this sense is in the rear, movies up the column in a crouch towards the front to join the point-man, RTO, and the Lt. to assess the situation. Got that? Okay, now hit rewind and watch the sequence again.
The column moves through the jungle. The point hears something, goes down to one knee with raised fist. The platoon goes down in ready position, safeties off. Lt., followed by the RTO (Joshua Maurer), scrambles to the front of the column and crouches quietly with the point-man. Look to the top of your screen there, and you'll see Zeke moving up from the rear of the column towards the front to join them. He moves low and carefully past each of the soldiers in the column, past Ruiz and Johnson, past the medic, past Percell, past Taylor, past Baker..BUT...as he is moving past Baker's shoulder, his hand darts out quickly to Baker's neck, then back again. Then he moves on up to the front of the column and joins the Lt. and RTO to begin the dialogue of the scene.
NOW...rewind it again and watch the sequence as Zeke moves past Baker, right at the part where his hand darts out to Baker's neck. See that?...Okay, now watch Baker as Zeke moves away from him and up to the front of the column. In fact, watch Baker during the ENTIRE scene between Zeke, Lt. and the RTO. He's in the bottom left-hand part of the screen, in the background, just past Zeke's elbow, There, see him? The way he's squirming around back there, the way he's pawing at his neck, the way he's grabbing at his collar. See that? I mean, right in the middle of the scene, in the middle of the jungle, in the middle of the war, in the middle of Viet/Hawaii/Nam, in the middle of your CBS network programming, Eric Bruskotter is jerking around in the background of a important scene between Zeke and Lt.
That's because Zeke, when he moved past Baker in the column, reached out and stuffed a big handful of grass and mud and slime down the back of Baker's neck, before moving on up to the front towards the camera and dramatic dialog with the Lt. In fact, look closely during that scene with the Lt. and you can discern a certain quiver to Zeke's lips as he listens to the Lt. Not much, just a little hint of a quiver. See it? There. Right there. Know what that is? That's Zeke trying his level best not to giggle during the scene. And back there in the column you can still see Baker trying to get the mud and grass and slime out of his shirt.
That was fun. That was a lot of fun.
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