I'm not sure why I never watched China Beach when it aired from 1988-1991, but I didn't. I was pretty busy with work and my kids back then and was extremely turned off by everything Hollywood and TV had done to negatively stereotype U.S. Vietnam vets. So, I concluded, without ever viewing a single episode, a prime time ABC-TV show about my war would undoubtedly make me mad.
In the ensuing years I've come across scores of vets, from my era and the more recent wars, who've talked up the show, in part because they had an enormous crush on Dana Delany, the actress who played Army nurse Colleen McMurphy in the series. But that still wasn't enough to get me to change my opinion about the entertainment industry and its abysmal treatment of Vietnam.
And then my friend and collaborator Craig Werner and I decided to write a book about music and the Vietnam-era and started interviewing Vietnam vets about the songs that helped keep them alive, or bring them back home, during the War. We soon realized that Vietnam soldiers used music to form bonds, express their feelings, and hold on to the humanity the world was trying to take away.
The songs they referenced -- "Nowhere to Run," "My Girl," "Green, Green Grass of Home," "Piece of My Heart," "White Rabbit" and the iconic "We Gotta Get Out of This Place" -- were many of the same ones that were included on the China Beach soundtrack.
And so slowly, ever so slowly, my opinion started to change.
I decided that I needed to go back and watch the series in order to make my own personal assessment. To be honest, I was most interested in listening to the songs and seeing how the show's creators would integrate/connect them to the Vietnam experience. Hell, everything's on DVD these days, isn't it?
The short answer is no, at least not for China Beach. And the reason, as Craig and I have come to understand in our own research and interviews, has to do with that same quintessential 1960s music. It was precisely the rights to these singular songs that had prevented China Beach from being released at all, even while it is one of the most-requested television shows not available through either VHS or DVD following its broadcast run.
Thankfully, that changes on April 15, as StarVista Entertainment/Time Life offers China Beach: The Complete Series, a 21-disc collector's set featuring all 62 episodes and over ten hours of exclusive, never-before-seen bonus features, including heartfelt letters from Vietnam veterans.
The collection will also include the 302 songs heard during the series!
"China Beach was long seen by many as un-releasable because of the clearing of so many (music) rights," said Jeffrey Peisch, VP of Entertainment Marketing for Star Vista Entertainment/Time Life. "However, the show's fanatical fan base and its standing as one of the greatest TV series to never be released on any format, made us recognize that the time and expense spent on clearing the music was well worth the effort."
Added Gord Lacey, founder of TVShowsonDVD.com, "When we launched the site in 2001, China Beach was, from the very beginning, one of the most requested unreleased programs on DVD. Fans will be thrilled to know that the music that made the series so memorable will be nearly intact on the DVD set."
I'll place my China Beach order on Monday and, within a few days, will begin to wend my way through all 62 episodes. I know there were be moments, probably a lot of them, when I'll be angry at how "wrong" the show is about "my" Vietnam.
But my ears will perk up when the music plays, and I'll close my eyes and let Martha & The Vandellas, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, and CCR take me back to what I lived, and what I survived.