Hello, BHGP Readers and Hawkeye Fans!
I have considerable freetime in the summer, so I've been watching a lot of television. One of the shows I've been watching quite a bit lately is M*A*S*H. It is my dad's favorite TV show, so I've seen many of the episodes. It is re-run on weekdays on the channel TV Land, from about 4 pm to 6 pm, CST.
Today, I ran across an episode that made me realize that AIRBHG may be a considerably-older/active phenomenon than we previously thought. It is an episode that deals with a soldier facing the challenge of a life-changing war injury. It is also an episode where Major Burns sets up a boxing match between Corporal Klinger and Sergeant Zale. But, today, I will focus on the parts of this episode that are related to Iowa.
The episode is called "End Run." It originally aired on January 25, 1977. That makes it episode #115, or Season 5 Episode 18. The episode was actually directed by Harry Morgan (the guy who played Colonel Potter).
In this episode, an Army soldier named Sgt. Billy Tyler is seriously wounded while his platoon is strafed by artillery. He was initially safe, but tried to attend to injured comrades, and took shrapnel to his leg. Sgt. Tyler is played by an actor named Henry Brown. I'm sure you remember Brown from his unforgettable work in a slew of roles. I can only imagine the possibly-precarious condition of some of the well-loved franchises of American television and cinema, were it not for the contributions of Henry Brown. I'll include a select few below, but you could also consult his extensive IMDB page.
"Abe Humes / Forbes / Omar 'Miami' Blake" on Kojak.
"Plainclothes Cop" on Lethal Weapon.
"Squad Member #2" on Lethal Weapon 3.
"Mr. Turtle (Lisa's father)" on Saved By The Bell.
"Reggie / Assistant District Attorney Hunter" in Matlock.
"Jeff 'The Poet' Freed" on Picket Fences.
"Doctor" on Eerie, Indiana.
"Numiri Captain" on Star Trek: Voyager.
"Detective Byron Brown / Detective Dennis Winfield / Police Officer" on Baywatch Nights.
If you're wondering more about Henry Brown, like if he has returned to his roots in California's Bay Area, then it is painfully obvious that you do not regularly read Oakland Magazine.
But, back to the M*A*S*H episode. Brown's "Sgt. Tyler" is med-evaced via helicopter to the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital. As the doctors are performing triage on the patients, a proud son of Iowa Corporal Walter "Radar" O'Reilly (played by Gary Burghoff) tells surgeon Captain B.F. "Hawkeye" Pierce (played by Alan Alda) that this patient
"is Billy Tyler. You know, the All-American running back from Iowa? (He) tied the Big Ten rushing record for a single-season. Surefire star for the pros. Everyone in Iowa knows Billy Tyler."
In an emotional scene, as the surgeons are preparing to operate, Tyler says
"Before you put me under...tell me what are you going to do?"
(Captain BJ Hunnicutt then assures Tyler that they will do everything they can to repair his injured leg).
Tyler replies, "Doc...please...if you can't save the leg, don't save me."
Obviously, at that point, I had to pause the DVR and find some kleenex, before my tears soaked the carpet in my living room.
Alas, Captains Pierce and Hunnicutt could not save Sgt. Tyler's right leg. We viewers learn this as Captain Pierce talks with Sgt. Tyler in the post-op room, with Captain Hunnicutt looking on. Tyler doesn't initially realize he has had his right leg amputated.
Tyler: "No, I feel okay. I mean, the leg hurts, but it's there, so I feel pretty good. You know, I played a whole quarter against Michigan with a sprained ankle. It hurt worse than this."
Pierce: "Listen, Billy, we tried. But the artery...was just too busted up. The operation didn't work. We couldn't save it. That pain you think is in your leg, is in your head. It's called a phantom pain. It's just a leftover."
Tyler: "I'm not going to listen to this phantom pain bull..." (He looks down, under the bedsheet, and realizes the truth.) "Oh God! What did you guys do to me? You had no right! You had no right to do it! What's another leg or arm to you? You didn't do enough."
Pierce: "Listen, I know what you're going through..."
Tyler: "No you don't! There's no way you could possibly know! You're not me. Don't tell me how I should feel. Why don't you go to hell!"
Later, "Radar" O'Reilly discusses the patient with Captains Hunnicutt and Pierce.
Radar: "Boy, he was such a great football player. What's he supposed to do now? I'd like to go talk to him in the morning. You know, keep him company."
The next morning, Radar tells Pierce that Tyler wants to commit suicide with pills. Pierce talks to Tyler.
Pierce: "Word has it you want to retire, permanently?"
Tyler: "You got it, Doc. They don't make football uniforms with one leg."
Pierce: "Yeah, you're right. Once you lose a leg, nothing works anymore. Your eyes, your mouth, your hands, your brain. You might as well chuck it all."
Tyler: "Don't try to con me. Playing ball was all I had. It's the only thing I know."
Pierce: "And without that, you're nothing?"
Tyler: "I'm not stupid. I know what you're trying to do. You're trying to get me to stand on my own two feet. Well, I can't do that anymore."
Pierce: "Maybe you are stupid. If you think all you can do is play football, you have a pretty narrow view of life. What were you going to do when you turned 40?"
Tyler: "I was going to look back on a great career."
Pierce: "Well, now you're going to have to look forward to something else."
Tyler: "Like what? The only thing I knew how to do was run."
Pierce: "You're still running, Billy. Only now, you're running away."
In a manner which I would call typically Iowan, "Radar" O'Reilly befriends Sgt. Tyler. Radar shows him a Life Magazine article from "last year's Iowa-Minnesota game" (I have deduced that it must be the game from 1950 or 1951, which were the only wins or ties for the Hawks against Minnesota during the Korean War). The magazine has a picture of Tyler playing for the Hawks. Radar tells him how he listened to the game on Armed Forces Radio, and Tyler talks about how Iowa was unable to move the ball on offense for most of the game. Then, Iowa started using the short pass during the last two minutes.
Radar: "And then you dove over line in the last 20 seconds!"
Tyler: "There's always a way to beat 'em, you just have to keep trying until you find it."
(Radar gives an encouraging nod)
Near the end of the episode, as Sgt. Tyler is being sent home, he and Radar say good-bye, both admitting that they will miss talking with the other. Tyler says "I've decided to go to the short pass. By the way, Doc, I know you did all you could. Thank you."
(Radar later explains to Pierce that Tyler's going to try to live life upon his return home.)
The lessons are obvious. Even though AIRBHG has been giving us the business for decades, we must continue to strive. And also, as we approach Independence Day, it is probably a good idea to be nice to a veteran, particularly those who have given up so much.
Happy July 4th, everybody!