Directed: Burt Kennedy
Written: Tom Sellers and Art Wallace
Released: 27 Nov 1962
The squad is taking a well deserved break in Avranches. They were expecting something nice, only to find it a complete pile of rubble. There’s really nothing to do there so Kelly decides on playing football but can’t get a ball from the supply Sargent.
In the intro, we find out that they had been at Gavray, Avranches and Virey on their previous missions. I wasn’t really clear on this before.
This episode uses an often revisited plot line of a story from the new guy’s point of view.
In this case, it’s a replacement who happens to be a celebrity and was drafted. He’s a famous baseball player named Del Packer, played by Tab Hunter. He has the highest stats for any pitcher in organized baseball, of which Billy Nelson knows all the numbers. Billy is everybody’s kid brother. Played by Tom Lowell, he is Little John’s little buddy. Although Billy sometimes visibly annoys Little John, the truth is that Little John would do anything for him.
The squad is awestruck by celebrity, especially Billy who asks Del for an autographed baseball to send to his kid brother.
Idol worshipping immediately ensues while Kelly connives the squad to get involved in an inter-company baseball match with Company L, since they now have a “ringer”.
As they wait for their next mission, the nervousness that Packer feels shows. It becomes apparent that the reason he’s so nervous is to protect his “million dollar arm”, which he reveals he’s paranoid about losing through getting wounded.
Saunders has to confront him with having to fight two different battles. One with the enemy and one within himself and how he has to chose which to fight.
Saunders is detailed to escort a truck load of supplies and he chooses Packer, Kelly and Nelson for it. While riding in the truck, they’re ambushed by some German “stragglers” and the truck crashes into a shallow ditch.
This is when Packer’s courage is tested. Saunders and Packer flank the ambushing Germans, however, Saunders sees a German flanking them towards Kelly and Nelson. He realizes that if the German succeeds in flanking them, they’re had it. He orders Packer to cut him off and to kill him while Saunders rushes the main body directly. While Packer runs towards the German, he got fired on and froze up with fear. This caused the German to flank them who shoots Billy Nelson in the chest. Saunders in the meantime was successful in killing the two other Germans.
One of the Germans was played by Eric Braeden, who also played Capt. Hans Dietrich in The Rat Patrol.
Guilt soon ensues with Del Packer and the truth comes out when Saunders finally tells Hanley. Packer is then given a change to be given special duty in London instead of staying on the line with these man. Packer chooses London.
This theme is often revisited with Combat. When asked the question whether somebody should be on the front lines or not, it’s always answered by why should anybody be special enough to get out of that responsibility? Nobody is better than anybody else so what makes them so special?
We see Packer going to visit Billy in the hospital to give him the autographed baseball that he had promised him for his kid brother. Billy isn’t in his bed so Packer assumes he died and symbolically drops the ball there on the hospital floor.
While taking artillery fire, Hanley orders Saunders to take out an old winery being used as a OP. That’s when Packer makes his appearance, having chosen to return to the unit instead of going to London. I guess his conscious got the better of him. Living with yourself is sometimes the toughest thing to do.
Saunders chooses 5 men, including Packer. They approach the winery, which is nothing but rubble. They come under fire and Saunders and Packer move closer using some cement walls. Everybody is pinned down. Packer then shows off his talent and throws a grenade and killing the Germans.
I realize this scene is all about Packer’s return and showing off his great throwing arm. However, in a scenario like this, when they knew they were going to encounter this kind of resistance, why didn’t they just call in an artillery mission? Or, they could’ve just carried some rifle grenades, mortars or a bazooka.
Saunders kills 2 Germans
Gets wounded in the leg.
Billy Nelson gets wounded in the chest