Saturday, February 28, 2009

China Beach

My wonderful husband went out and bought me a cool machine the other day and now for the past couple days I have been dubbing China Beach episodes from VCR tapes onto DVDs. It's not been easy...going through the tapes (over and over) to try to dub them in order. Some episodes are pretty messed up, but there is enough there to get the story and/or the gist of it. It's been nice to watch them again - it's been years and years since the last time.

Watching China Beach again brings back memories I had of the time when I first watched it. I was still in High School when it first came out (1988) and I can remember wanting to be McMurphy. I can remember wanting the camaraderie, the friendships that seemed to be forming before my eyes as I watched. I can remember wondering why my father, who went through the same things, didn't seem to have any friends from those days - but that's something to explore on another day.

By the time the third season started, in the fall of 1989, I was a senior and already thinking about the career and friends I would have following the Air Force Academy. I watched China Beach and dreamed about serving my country and making a difference in the world. Then in 1992, I had medical leave from USAFA and stayed with my father in MA for a year. China Beach was in re-runs on Lifetime. Again, I spent time watching China Beach and dreaming of returning the Air Force Academy and the career and friends I would have after graduation.

Fast forward to 1998 and I am getting ready for my first deployment. I was heading out to the United Arab Emirates for 60 days, only 60 days - I wanted to stay longer and I wasn't even there yet. Finally, I was getting to go somewhere and do something. I was going to make a difference. I was going to have new experiences and meet new people - people that would share these experiences and become lifelong friends.

Some of those things I dreamt of actually happened, some didn't. All I can say in the end is that China Beach had a lasting impact. I have never forgotten it, and imagine it is something I will continue to think of, and watch, long into the future...I just wish they would come out with the series on DVD (I am missing one episode from both season three and season four).

During my first deployment, I wrote the following:

Coming Home

Dog tags chanting in the wind –
M-60s pointing at the wire

Tents placed in rows –
uniforms and civies hung side by side

Favorite shows watched again and again –
painting a picture of endless possibilities

M*A*S*H and China Beach –
someone else’s ideas; a dream made real

Doing something important –
something to be proud of

Set apart from others –
by location and sense of duty

A wish to serve –
to go where others won’t

Sunsets over sand dunes –
foreign tongues and customs

The sense of déjà vu
finally coming home . . .


  1. Beautiful words...

    I think I know what you mean. For me, it was "Call to Glory" on TV, and "The Right Stuff" movie and book. I probably asked myself a million times if I had "The Right Stuff" and longed to go to the Academy and test myself.

    I also always wanted to be Raynor Sarnac... flying test jets and U-2s over commie bad guys where they couldn't reach me. None of that flying part turned out... like your story, luckily something much better turned out to be reality.

    But my daughter is a near-duplicate of Elizabeth Shue, so Call to Glory is still in play. :)

  2. I've never seen "Call to Glory" - maybe I can find it on Netflix? Or maybe you cna loan it to me sometime?

  3. I have two thoughts, and the funny thing is they aren't necessarily compatible with the thoughts you expressed above.

    The first is of flying over China Beach on our trips in and out of Danang, Vietnam. That was part of the REPAT (Joint Task Force - Full Accounting) missions we flew on deployment from Yokota AB, Japan (we deployed to U-Taphao, Thailand, then flew from there to go in country to Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia). Sadly, the Vietnamese government never allowed us to leave the base, so I never got to walk on China Beach itself. But Danang is beautiful! A protected little harbor, surrounded by high mountains just west of the city, with the white sand beach on the east. Just beautiful.

    And then speaking of influences, either in movies or books, I have to list several: "Sayonara", with Marlon Brando as a Korean War fighter pilot reassigned to Japan. James Garner is another plus! Great, great movie.
    "Strategic Air Command", with Jimmy Stewart and June Allyson. If you ever want to understand the history of the Air Force, especially during the LeMay era, watch this movie! And given that Stewart actually lived the life of a WWII vet who was brought back to fly as a Reservist during the Cold War, it's completely authentic. Plus, the actor who played Col Potter on M*A*S*H is in it!
    Definitely read "The Hunters" by James Salter, another person who lived the life of a Korean War fighter pilot before writing about it. He has several other great novels, as well, but this was his first and arguably best.
    Lastly, a work of more recent vintage was a book written by a female USAFA grad based on her experience piloting a tanker during the first Gulf War. I have the book at home and will need to get the name of it for you later.
    Oh, and how could I forget the book "Jarhead" by Anthony Swofford? Excellent work from a USMC perspective!