DISCLAIMER: This story is based on the television series Tour of Duty which aired from 1987 through 1990, distributed by New World Entertainment. All characters belong to the creators and/or producers of the show and were brought to life by Stephen Caffrey (Lt. Goldman), Terence Knox (Sgt. Anderson) and Tony Becker (Cpl. Percell). No money is being made with this story and it may not be posted, published or archived without permission. Although care has been taken in the attention to military protocol, certain artistic licenses have been made for the sake of readability.
This story is rated : PG
This story takes place directly after the episode "The Raid"
Written by, Erin Coates
TOUR OF DUTY: Adjustments
Alberto Ruiz and Danny Percell watched from the open door of the Huey helicopter as Camp Barnett grew smaller and smaller and then out of sight. Together they had survived in Vietnam and today they were leaving together. They sat in silence for a while, each man thinking of the friends he had lost and the friends he had left behind. The hum of the rotors echoed through their ears, the sound would be unforgettable. The chopper ride was bittersweet.
Ruiz turned his attention to Danny Percell who was sitting behind the copilot still staring at the jungle below. Minutes passed before the Puerto Rican soldier broke the silence. "Danny? So what is the first thing you are going to do when you get home?"
"I dunno, everything is going to be so different."
"Yeah," Ru paused, "but you have to be looking forward to doing something."
"I think I will just stay at home for awhile and get used to everything. The world has changed a lot from when I left. I just hope Montana is the same." Danny sat back and thought about the wide-open spaces Montana had to offer. He already knew his family was different. His parents were divorced leaving his mom a single parent and his dad had a girlfriend young enough for Danny to marry. As much as the soldier wanted to be home, he didn't feel in a hurry to get there.
"I can't imagine the Bronx has changed that much, or at all." Ru's words fell silent to Danny's thoughts.
Ruiz joined his friend in directing his attention to the open country below. The day was hot and the wind felt good against their faces. The evening sun was beginning to set and the horizon showed a rainbow of colors against the hills of Vietnam.
Both men watched the green scenery fly by, never again would they have to worry about jumping off the Huey, ducking for cover, eating from a tin can, going days or weeks without a shower and even longer without a woman.
Everything they had seen and been through may never be spoken about. Danny thought about the boy he had shot, the girl from the downed USO chopper, his brush with being sent away for murder when defending a woman from a rapist, his drug addition and the friends that pulled him through his misery. He knew these weren't things that anyone would ever understand.
Ru's mind was flooded with thoughts of what he would do when he arrived back in the world. He didn't feel he was good at anything, other than being a soldier. The Army gave him a place to fit in and be successful, and now he was leaving that place behind. This was it, the end.
Sergeant Markus Taylor entered his hootch and looked around, empty. They whole place seemed awkward with Johnson, Ruiz, Percell, Grinner, Pop and Doc gone. He felt like crying, but knew it wouldn't do any good. Just then the screen door banged against the building and Sergeant Zeke Anderson came strolling in. The big grin on Zeke's face informed Taylor that the Sergeant had an order in store for him.
"What are you grinning about?" The newest sergeant asked with a hint of disgust in his voice. He placed his hands on his hips and waited for Anderson to answer.
Zeke's grin grew bigger as he began to mess with Sergeant Taylor's mind. "Now wouldn't you like to know?" The seasoned veteran placed his out stretched had on the door jam and leaned to his right side. Zeke enjoyed being the tormentor.
Taylor felt annoyed by Sergeant Anderson's game. Damn him, all my buddies are gone and he has to come in here and bug me now!
Taylor stared at the Sergeant waiting for the secret to unveil itself.
Zeke Anderson hesitated, watching in amusement as Taylor shifted his weight and shoved his hands in his pockets. Zeke could no longer hold in his own excitement and broke the silence. "Pack up your foot locker soldier, you have a new rooming assignment."
"Now why don't you just follow the first order and we'll see where to." Sarge watched as Taylor slowly moved through the hootch to take down the few pictures he had displayed and grabbed his pillow and footlocker.
Markus Taylor paused for a moment to take one last look around the hootch. Ironically he had a lot of good memories in this room. Taylor moved his belongings out to the jeep that Sergeant Anderson had waiting outside. Both men jumped in and headed to the new hootch. In seconds the veteran Sergeant pulled the jeep to a stop.
"What?" Taylor questioned, "You need to stop by your hootch and get something?"
"Nope" Anderson smirked with delight waiting for Markus to come to the conclusion on his own. When he was sure the newer sergeant remained clueless he decided to unveil his little secret. "Come on in Taylor, this is your new home now!"
Taylor's smile reached from ear to ear. The realization that he was advancing in the army filled him with pride and excitement. "All right! No more sleeping with cherries for me! I know I am gonna like being a sergeant!"
Taylor grabbed his footlocker out of the back of the jeep and lugged it into the new home. Sergeant Anderson had already put the newer sergeant's name on the outside – SGT M. Taylor.
Inside Taylor was greeted by the little luxuries the Army had to offer. His government issued belongings no longer just included a cot and a wooden footlocker. The recent advancement afforded him the luxury of a locker, desk, chair and a lamp! Not to mention added privacy.
Cool, Taylor thought to himself, as Anderson pulled away from the hootch to return the jeep to the motor pool.
Ru and Danny jumped off the Huey when it touched down at Tan Son Nhut. The base was full of military activity. New soldiers were arriving and others were leaving. Vietnam was a vicious cycle. Ruiz looked at the new young soldiers. How many of them would be leaving Vietnam alive like him? Ru felt a flush of emotion, then calmed himself with the one though that had gotten him through his tour, it don't mean nothing. The two men headed to headquarters to check in for their flight home.
"Specialist 4 Alberto Ruiz and Specialist 4 Daniel Percell," Ru announced when they reached the counter to present their discharge papers.
The clerk on the other side of the counter was young and had a limp when he walked. Ruiz wondered if the man was given the desk job after being wounded in battle. The clerk checked out their papers, separating the carbon copies and stamping the date in the appropriate places. After several minutes of completing the paperwork the young clerk instructed the waiting soldiers that the plane would be boarding in less than an hour and the men should listen for the announcement over the public address system.
Ruiz jumped with excitement like a kid who just got exactly what he wanted for Christmas. "Did you hear that Danny! Less than an hour! Let's hit the club and grab some beers!"
Danny quietly followed Ru across the base to the club. The commotion on the base had calmed since the men were last outside. The new recruits were not in sight and most of the personnel from the base had gone inside to eat dinner. The evening air was hot and sticky as the sun began to set.
"Air conditioning!" Danny said as he breathed in the cool air that filled the club. It had been so long since he had enjoyed the coolness of air conditioning that it sent a shiver through his body as it adjusted to the temperature.
Ruiz strolled to the bar to order some chow and a few Budweiser beers. He and Danny grabbed a small table near a window and sat back to wait for their call to leave and watch the club patrons. Two older men were sitting at the bar sharing stories with the bartender. Across the room a younger man in his class B uniform sat, engulfed in a book, a duffle bag near his feet.
Most of the patrons here were soldiers headed home or officers coming in. The doctors and nurses stationed at the hospital in Tan Son Nhut tended to frequent this establishment to get away from the incoming infantrymen who were rowdy and obnoxious.
Ru and Danny were finishing their pizza when a girl's voice surprised them from behind. "Are you guys coming in or shipping out?" Both men turned to look behind them to see two American women smiling down at them.
Alberto Ruiz informed the ladies, "We are enjoying our coffee shop stop and getting ready to take the big bird back to the world."
"How about yourselves?" Danny smiled at the ladies.
The shorter girl with the sandy blond hair slid into the chair next to Danny. "We are headed back to the world ourselves." She snuggled up to Percell and asked, "How is it we have all been in country together and haven't met until now?" She looked into Danny's blue eyes and awaited a response.
In his gruff drawl Danny Percell seized the opportunity to welcome the ladies into their company. "Well I dunno, but I'm Danny Percell and this is Alberto Ruiz. Why don't you ladies join us till the plane is ready to leave?"
"Sounds good to me" the girl replied. "I'm Shelby Triniker and this is my friend Kayla Martens. We were nurses at the hospital here, we both worked in the O.R.."
"No way!" Ruiz cried out. His memory became engulfed with images of a nurse he had been fond of who had been stationed at the same base. He had lost contact with the woman when she had a nervous breakdown after learning that Ruiz was missing in action. The man probed the ladies for more information. "Did you know Suzanna Lasados?"
"Sure!" Kayla spoke up. "She wasn't here long, she got really attached to a grunt from Camp Barnett and then he turned up M.I.A.. She couldn't deal with that and, well... eventually they sent her home."
Danny looked over at his friend; Ruiz was shaking his head in agreement with the dark haired girl's story. Ru made no attempt to reveal whom the grunt was. He lit a cigarette and took a slow drag before furthering the conversation. "Have you heard from her?"
"No." Kayla's answer was shorter than expected. Ru never did find the time or the words to write to Susanna. He could only hope she was well. Kayla continued, "So where were you guys stationed and what were you doing?"
"We're just a couple of grunts from Camp Barnett" Ruiz was short and to the point. He wondered if the girls would pick up on his reference to being a grunt and connect him to Susanna. Neither girl noticed the comment.
"How about you?" Shelby grabbed Danny Percell's arm and smiled at him. "You have a lot of metals and are in pretty good shape to be just an infantry grunt."
Specialist 4 Percell smiled. He enjoyed Shelby's midwestern accent, and he thought she was pretty cute too. "Well you see, we were grunts and then the Army selected our squad to become an elite S.O.G. team. That's a special operations group that carries out classified missions." Danny was hoping to impress the young girl. Ru looked over at his bragging friend, tapped the ashes off his cigarette and slyly smiled.
"Hey Kayla, wasn't that Lieutenant you wanted to date on a S.O.G. team?" Shelby took a moment to recall the name of the Lieutenant then furthered her friend's embarrassment. "Yeah! Hey you two know Myron Goldman?"
Both men quietly laughed knowing Goldman's history with the ladies.
"Yeah he is our LT," Danny answered and shared a glance with his teammate knowing where this connection was going to end up. Through out their tour Lieutenant Goldman never had to struggle with finding a good-looking woman.
Both girls looked at each other giggling and Shelby captured the opportunity to continue the embarrassment of her friend by sharing the young nurse's attachment to the Lieutenant. "Kayla had a huge crush on him and they went at it a few times, but she just couldn't get him to commit!"
Ruiz and Percell rocked in their chairs laughing louder this time as Kayla hid her embarrassment into Ruiz's shoulder.
"Good ole LT." Ru chimed as he reached up with his hand to comfort Kayla.
Zeke entered the hootch and noticed that Taylor had settled in nicely. "All right now Taylor, you will be in charge of the third squad, so you'll have Preacher, Greer and Duckworth as your veterans. Greer's pretty damn whiney so you will have fun with him. A few transfers are coming in tomorrow and the rest will be new."
Taylor shook his head in agreement as he listened to the experienced sergeant. Markus knew he was ready to step up as a sergeant. Before it felt strange to be in charge with Ruiz, Percell and Doc Hockenberry being his friends. Now it would be different. The men would be counting on him to teach them the survival skills they would need to successfully complete their tour.
"I'd put Preacher up to the task of squaring away the new guys and making sure they are crosschecked at least once in the hootch and once again before they get on the chopper, got that?" Zeke moved across the room and pulled a wooded chair up to the side of Taylor's bed where Taylor laid on his side with his body propped up on his elbow.
"I got it Sarge," Taylor knew what he needed to do to be a competent sergeant. For over a year he had learned to mimic Sergeant Anderson's calmness in a tense situation. He had learned the art of keeping the men alive through quick and rational thinking. He knew the importance of being a friend and to understand that each man had his own story for why he was in Vietnam and how that soldier felt about his situation.
"Taylor?" Zeke had to work on one issue before he turned the men over to the less experienced Sergeant. "I know life isn't easy as a black man, but..."
"Don't worry about it Sarge."
Zeke refused to allow the young man to avoid this conversation, "Listen Taylor, we can't afford any hostilities or black and white issues like you had with Grinner when he first got here. The men need to know they can trust you no matter what their color."
"Yeah, I know that now." Taylor remembered the hard time he had given Grinner the first time they had met. Taylor was angry with the army and he had picked on Grinner, labeling the cherry as a racist southerner. Luckily the new soldier from North Carolina was a peaceful boy who chose to ignore the bitter man's verbal attacks. Within days of meeting the two men found friendship when working together against a massive attack by the North Vietnamese Army. The new sergeant regretted his behavior and missed Grinner after he was sent him home due to being blinded by an explosive. "I had other things bothering me then, but I have a handle on the ways of the army, I'm cool."
"Yeah Taylor." Zeke smirked " I know you're cool. Come on now, let's go get us some chow"
The two men laughed and rose from their resting places. They strolled out of their hootch fighting, as best friends do, over who would be the first out the door. Finally Taylor succumbed to the broad-shouldered Sergeant and the non-commissioned officers headed to the mess hall.
Upon landing at the Air Force base in Honolulu Hawaii Ru, Kayla, Shelby and Danny joined the other discharged soldiers in an army bus to take them to the airport. Danny noticed the bus windows were not barred to block grenades that may have been thrown by the enemy. Already the changes in his life were beginning.
"So what flight are you on?" Shelby's voice interrupted the beginning of Danny's concerns.
"Huh? Oh, I am on a flight to Los Angeles and then to Billings Montana. I think the flight number to Los Angeles is six sixty. Is that right Ru?" His buddy nodded in agreement. Danny reached into his duffel bag to retrieve his ticket and confirm the flight number for himself.
"Good, I am on the same flight." Shelby was pleased to learn that her time with her new found friend was not coming to an end in Hawaii. She liked him, he was easy to talk to, and polite. Shelby sat as close to Danny as she could. As he rooted through his bag for his plane tickets she made every attempt for her arm to brush against his.
Ruiz looked at his love struck friend from across the aisle to notice Danny's smile fill his face. Ru was happy his buddy had found someone to talk to. The Spec 4 knew Danny needed someone to understand the uncommon experiences that would plague his memory.
The Hawaii temperature was hot like Vietnam and the bus ride was long and boring as they drove through the city of Honolulu to the airport. Ruiz noticed many of the Hawaiians looking into the bus from their own cars. He felt like an animal in the zoo. What were they thinking? Did they see him as a baby killer and a drug addict just because he had served his country in Vietnam? Ru eyed the civilians, if you think that, you are wrong, sucker. He felt his defenses begin to mount and he feared the days and weeks ahead of him as he would have to assimilate into a his old culture as if he were a newcomer.
The bus pulled up to the airport and the passengers slowly exited and dispersed to a variety of airline gates. Kayla's flight was to Washington State and her gate was in the opposite direction of Shelby's gate. Kayla and Shelby hugged and said goodbye. The two women began to cry together and promised to write.
Danny and Ru were both uneasy about their own upcoming goodbyes. The men walked together to gate C and presented their tickets, boarding passes and found a seat to wait for their connecting flight to Los Angeles.
Ruiz had not slept well on the flight from Vietnam so he seized the opportunity to curl up in his chair and enjoy a siesta. Danny stayed awake watching anxiously for Shelby to check through the gate. He was hoping she would join him again and he could be there to comfort her.
Within minutes Ruiz had fallen into a deep sleep. Danny noticed Shelby walking towards him, her eyes were red and her cheeks streamed with tears. Danny approached the saddened girl and she collapsed into his embrace. Danny held her and kissed the top of her head as she cried.
"Kayla and I shared almost every minute of our tour together. We met on the plane over to Vietnam and we were both stationed at Tan Son Nhut the entire time." Danny guided Shelby to the place where he had been sitting, never taking his comforting arm off of her shoulder. Shelby sniffed and took a deep breath before continuing. "Do you know what that's like?"
The question was rhetorical and Danny knew that. He also knew how she was feeling. He would be going through the same emotions later that day when he would have to say goodbye to his own best friend. They too had shared their entire tour together. They were personally selected by Sergeant Anderson on the same day at brigade, and had been together ever since. In the beginning they fought and argued like enemies, but now they were like brothers. Danny's eyes began to swell with tears. He took a deep breath to hold back the consuming emotion and pulled Shelby closer into his embrace as he whispered. "Yeah...I know."
Sergeant Markus Taylor awoke and for a moment he lost his bearings as to where he was. He looked around the hootch noticing that Sergeant Anderson's bed was neatly made and he was nowhere to be found. Taylor realized there was a lot he didn't know about Sarge. Damn, he gets up early, what the hell does he do this early in the morning?
The young sergeant pulled himself out of bed and began to get dressed. He grabbed the sleeve of his shirt and stared at his sergeant stripes. Today he would meet his new recruits and take on a true leadership role in the platoon. Taylor threw on his shoes and boots and headed to the mess hall for breakfast.
"Hey Taylor." Doc Hockenberry strolled up.
"Hey Doc, how is the dispensary doing? Hope those foot fungus cases aren't keeping you too busy." Taylor laughed at himself. He knew that last few weeks had been rough for Doc since the conscientious objector refused to shoot a VC prisoner, which led to the death of an American soldier.
Doc recalled a conversation he had with himself over breakfast a few days prior about foot fungus and the morning news. "Yeah, I am busy. Are you going for breakfast?"
"Yeah." Taylor looked down at the red clay road weighing his decision to invite the medic to breakfast, or to just go alone. "Wanna join me?"
Doc Hockenberry smiled with relief. He needed a friend on base and he graciously joined the sergeant for breakfast.
"I got my orders to transfer to Tan Son Nhut at the end of the week. I am going to be working in the burn ward at the hospital." Doc wasn't looking forward to the transfer. He wished he would be able to rejoin team Viking and be in the field where he felt he would actually be doing some good for the men. Even though he wanted to rejoin the team he knew he never could. He still held strongly to his belief never to take a human life.
"All right! Sounds like that would be right up your alley Doc." Taylor was finishing his breakfast and preparing to leave. "I gotta run Doc, I need to didi outta here for a briefing and pick up my new recruits when they roll in here. Don't leave without saying good-bye, OK?" Taylor held out his fist for Doc to hammer with his own fist in a sign of brotherhood.
"Yeah, I'll catch up with ya later Taylor." Doc watched his friend bound out of the mess hall and jog across the street to meet up with Sergeant Anderson. Well Hockenberry, you're alone again. I gotta get outta this place!
"Sergeant Markus Taylor!" Zeke was excited to get the new sergeant prepped for the day's events. "I was just going to look for you, we need to get to the CP for a briefing and the new recruits should be here in about 20 mikes. Are you ready?"
"Good." Zeke smiled at Taylor and grabbed the man by the scruff of his neck. Zeke felt lucky to be working with a sergeant that had worked under him and could be trusted. So many platoons were suffering from conflict between battling sergeants. That was one headache Zeke knew he didn't need.
After the briefing the two men strolled over to the buses that had just pulled into Camp Barnett. The new recruits were dressed in fresh military issued outfits with their army green duffle bags strung across their shoulders or slumped at their feet.
Sergeant Kramer from Team Deuce ordered the young men to fall in line and await their orders. Half of the men were quick to follow orders and the others milled around not caring about the direct order. Sergeant Kramer began to personally educate each delinquent recruit about the way the army works and how he expects his men to be ready to follow orders or they would be the first to learn about the turn and burn behind the latrines.
Lord? What are you trying to do to me? Taylor eyed the recruits trying to pick out the men who would be joining his squad. The cherries looked younger than he had expected, or maybe he was just getting older? Some of the FNG's had barely any facial or chest hair.
Zeke looked over at Taylor signaling him to begin calling the names of his recruits. Taylor took a deep breath in and began calling the names "I need Furlong, Jacobson, Miller..."
Immediately two men called out "Which one?"
Taylor looked at the other Sergeants as they laughed at him. Taylor cursed himself for the rookie mistake and continued. "Brandon Miller, and Lincoln." Taylor noticed he was a few men short of a full squad.
Taylor lined the men up about twenty yards away from the crowd of Sergeants and cherries. To begin introductions and explain the need to follow orders and stay alive.
Taylor watched the men fall in line. "Welcome to sunny Vietnam! You all are my men now and I am looking forward to sending all of you home a year from now in the same condition you arrived. Now the only way that is going to happen is if you learn from your elders and listen to directions. Is that clear?"
"Yes sir." The response from the men was hardly auditable.
Oh man. Taylor thought to himself. The new responsibilities were going to be a major adjustment for him.
As the plane touched down in Los Angeles Danny looked over at Ruiz who was staring out the window. He then attempted to look down the aisle about twelve rows where Shelby was seated. He didn't see her because many of the passengers had jumped up to exit the plane.
Danny turned to his buddy who hadn't moved from his seat. Ru was sitting and watching the soldiers grab their belongings. So many of the men had places they wanted to be. Alberto Ruiz knew he had no pressing place to be, no orders to follow, no direction in his life. Percell and Ruiz had plenty on their minds and things they wanted to say to each other. Danny was the first to speak up. "Ru... you have my phone number right?"
"Yep, and you have mine so don't forget to call." Ru turned to look out the window and then back to his friend. "Danny? Why am I not looking forward to this?"
"I don't know Ru, but you're not alone."
"I want you to know that I appreciate all that you have done for me in Vietnam." Specialist Ruiz wanted to take the opportunity to let his friend know that they were leaving each other, but the men he met in Vietnam would always be a part of his life. "I couldn't have made it through without my friends, you guys kept me going and kept me alive."
Danny Percell knew that Ruiz had reciprocated the same kindness while in country, especially when drugs became a problem for the young man from Montana. "No problem. Now you have to stay out of trouble without me!"
The men shared a final laugh together.
"Oh yeah? Look whose talking!" Ruiz rose from his seat and pushed Percell out into the aisle.
The airport was busy with businessmen and families. Ruiz looked at one mother and her toddler as the young boy skipped along side of her. The boy had dark eyes and curly black hair and reminded Ruiz of himself. Ruiz directed Danny's attention to the mother and child. "That's what I need. A beautiful wife and a couple kids to give me something to smile about."
Just then the men spotted Shelby getting off the plane. Ruiz knew it was time to say goodbye to Danny and head home to New York.
"I'll never forget you, Danny." Ruiz took a chance letting his friend know how he felt.
Unexpectedly Danny threw his arms around Ruiz's shoulders giving him a hug.
"Take care, Ru." Danny watched as Ru held his fingers to make the sign of peace as he was walking away from his friend. Within seconds Alberto Ruiz disappeared into a swarm of travelers. Danny took a long deep breath and turned to see Shelby waiting for her turn to say good-bye as well.
"Danny?" Shelby wanted to be sure she had Danny's attention before she continued. She had found herself immediately attracted to Danny in Tan Son Nhut, but she never imagined he would be everything she needed at the time. "I want to call you when I get back to Omaha, OK?"
"Yeah!" Danny's eyes widened with the excitement that Shelby was as interested in him as he was in her. "You have got my phone number and address. Definitely, give me a call."
Shelby stepped closer to Danny. "Thank you for being there for me. I really needed a friend."
Shelby looked up at Danny, her blue eyes meeting with his. Danny raised his hand and placed it on the back of her head. The two moved closer to each other, closed their eyes and enjoyed a slow, long kiss. When the kiss ended Shelby and Danny threw their arms around each other and tightly hugged.
"Call me, OK?" Danny looked at the young nurse in her light blue dress. Soon he would be letting her go into the same crowd that recently took his friend from him. Shelby was everything he needed too. She was someone who understood the things he had been through and understood the war from his point of view. Danny noticed Shelby's eyes beginning to fill with tears. He kissed her a second time, this one longer than the first.
Shelby reeled from the kiss and the beautiful man standing before her. " Oh yeah! I will be calling you!" She took a few steps backward smiling at the discharged Spec 4. Then she turned and disappeared into the passing pedestrian traffic.
Danny looked around at the passengers waiting for their planes. He grabbed his bag from the floor, joined the crowd and headed home to adjust to his new life.