A rare and close look at what war is really like through China Beach

There’s no fantasy, hero worship or fake humor in this TV series. Everyone is flawed and injured from the war—even Americans who never served in Vietnam or wore a uniform.

“China Beach” was a TV series from 1988 to 1991, and I didn’t view it until recently after I first heard about it and bought a copy of the series on DVD at Costco. I didn’t buy the complete series that comes with almost 60 hours of run time. I bought Seasons 1 + 2 with about 22 hours.

And I think I know why this excellent TV series was cancelled after four seasons—although the series has more than 249 reviews on Amazon with 4.8 of 5 stars, most Americans can’t deal with the harsh reality of war. After all, less than 7% of Americans are veterans and even fewer have served in combat.

“China Beach” is set in a combat hospital during the Vietnam War in the late 1960s. The title refers to My Khe beach in the city of Da Nang, which was nicknamed “China Beach” in English by American and Australian troops during the war.

The main character is first lieutenant Colleen McMurphy who is a triage nurse dealing with often severely wounded troops.  The directors focused on reality and there were real combat nurses who were consultants. There’s a bonus DVD with this set where we get to meet some of the nurses who served in Vietnam.

The fictional nurse, McMurphy, takes her job saving lives seriously and when she loses wounded troops, she takes the loss personally and is emotionally injured. Her PTSD is visible from the beginning. At times the suffering and drama were so intense, my eyes filled with tears from my own memories.

If you want a close look at the reality of combat and the price the troops and civilians pay, I highly recommend this series. You’ll have a safe front row seat to watch these characters become friends, lovers and then suffer loses that would break most people and scar them for life as it must have scarred the real nurses who served there.

You may question my opinion of this series so it may help to know that I’m a Vietnam combat vet who was a field radio operator in the U.S. Marines. And I was fortunate to never have to be medevaced to a combat hospital although some of the Marines in my unit were.

Now I’m thinking about the seasons of “China Beach” I haven’t seen.

Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran.

Low-Def Kindle Cover December 11His latest novel is the award winning suspense-thriller Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he did not commit while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.

And the woman he loves and wants to save was fighting for the other side.

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5 thoughts on “A rare and close look at what war is really like through China Beach

  1. I liked the first two seasons more than three and four. Three and 4 were depressing after all the characters came home to the U.S—especially for McMurphy.

    • I agree. I just finished the last two seasons early this week, but—having been in Vietnam myself—it was pretty much the way it was. As a U.S. Marine fighting in Vietnam, it was much easier in the combat zone. It was after I came home that the world turned dark. My journey after I returned home was similar to McMurphy. I drank heavily for fourteen years before I managed to stop, and the memories are always there through the PTSD that came home with me.

      There was one scene near the end where McMurphy’s husband mentioned that she couldn’t stand loud music. Me too. I like it quiet.

  2. Just what I was looking for. Thank you. My dad was one of the casualties of the Vietnam War, and I want to know what it was like for the father I never knew. He died over there when I was two.

    • The first two seasons focus on the brutality and insanity of this war, and the remaining seasons switch to what it was like for the traumatized vets who survived when they came home (with some flashbacks).

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