Season 1 Episode 14 – The Medal

Directed: Paul Stanley
Written: Richard Maibaum
Released: 08 Jan 1963

The plot for The Medal is about somebody having a crisis of consciousness, an often revisited theme in Combat!. Here we have a man who is struggling with his own guilt after he steals the valor off of a soldier that he considered his own buddy.

The squad gets pinned down by a machine gunner on a tank who is blocking the way to Courbet.

Pvt. Vincent D’Amato and Pvt. Wharton are previously seen talking about back home and how Wharton is going to come visit them in the states. This sort of exchange usually means that whoever is doing the talking will “get it” pretty soon. Pvt. D’Amato is played by Joseph Campanella and Pvt. Wharton by Frank Gorshin.

Once the German tank machine gunner opens up, the rest of the squad fall back but Pvt. D’Amato and Wharton are cut off from the rest of the squad.

D’Amato see’s an opportunity to sneak up on the tank through a ditch and he asks a reluctant Wharton to go with him and cover him as he sneaks up to the tank. You can see that Wharton is scared to death and has his head in his arms most of the time.

D’Amato gets to a position close to the tank by a little bridge and he takes a shot with his M1 rifle, taking the machine gunner out. He then runs up to the tank and climbs aboard and throws a grenade down into the hatch. After he does that, he sees a whole platoon of Germans rushing the tank and D’Amato swings the machine gun around and opens up on all of them taking down all the Germans en masse.

damato-machine-gun
D’Amato looking down the barrel of the German machine gun on the tank he just captured

Then we see a German officer aim a Luger at D’Amato and hitting him. Wharton sees what happens and gets enough courage to go up to D’Amato and then he also climbs up on the tank and opens up with the machine gun, only now there isn’t anybody to shoot at because they’re all dead.

The rest of the squad come running up and everybody looks on in amazement. Billy Nelson says “You’re a regular one man Army, Wharton!” Wharton is so dazed and confused, he doesn’t know that the guys assume he is the one that did this heroic action, saving everybody’s skin after they were all being pinned down.

wharton-after-fire-fight
Wharton dazed after fire fight
billy-one-man-army
“You’re a regular one man Army, Wharton!”

The next scene is pretty important. They’re holed up somewhere and Hanley has a word with Saunders about a directive that he’s been carrying around in his pocket for the last few days.

The directive says how important it is for good moral that decorations be awarded promptly and on an equitable basis. Hanley wants to know Saunders’ opinion of awarding Wharton the Silver Star?

Saunders replies that “I’m the wrong man to talk to. No man is in this for the ‘glory’ unless he’s a ‘psycho’!” I thought this statement was pretty true.

D’Amato dies and Wharton takes it really hard. Also at the same time, Saunders hands him a letter which turns out to be the dreaded “Dear John” letter from back home. Caje, while on guard duty, sees Wharton reading the letter and tearing the picture of his girl up and throwing it on the ground. He offers to talk about it but Wharton declines and goes sulking off, leaving Caje back to his guard duty.

The rest of the story would have been pretty uninteresting, with Wharton receiving the Silver Star and going back to the states as a hero if they didn’t capture the German Oberleutnant that shot D’Amato.

It was during the initial questioning that it was revealed that this German was also at the same tank that Wharton was at. The wheels in the German’s head begin turning to use this information to his advantage.

Saunders and Wharton escort the German back to S2 but before they can make it very far, they take cover inside a boutique and hole up inside while Saunders patrols the area.

german-officer
German officer trying to make a play to escape.

While Wharton and the German are inside, the German makes his play to attempt his escape. He tries to talk to Wharton into letting him escape and doing a self inflicted wound, which will get him the Silver Star which he so wants and gets him sent home a hero. Saunders then come walking around the corner and having overheard everything that they were talking about.

Saunders confronts Wharton and is visibly angry with him for what he’s done for “A lousy medal!” Right at this point, the German makes a break for it and while he’s trying to run across the street, Wharton takes a bead on him and shoots him in the back. Saunders says “That takes care of him, now what about me?” Laying the guilt trip on Wharton pretty thick.

As Wharton tries to explain, a German patrol rounds the corner and a fire fight ensues. Wharton was able to duck behind cover but Saunders couldn’t make it. He shoots 2 Germans and another one with a MP-40 shoots the “Boutique” sign above Saunders’ head and the sign crashes down on him, sending him startled and screaming into some barbed wire.

You hear Saunders yelling as if in pain and at this point, Wharton has a choice to make. You can see that he’s conflicted and tempted to leave Saunders behind so as not to risk his secret being told. He chooses the later and goes back to help Saunders at great risk to his own life.

saunders-under-sign
Saunders screaming under the sign and tangled up in barbed wire

During the course of cutting Saunders out, a German lobs a potato masher grenade and Wharton managed to grab it to throw it back to him but the grenade went off and injured him in the left arm. He was still able to pick up Saunders’ Tommy gun to kill that German.

At the end, Wharton comes clean about the medal and how it should be exactly how he told it, but with a different name – “Vincent D’Amato”. It also turns out that Wharton’s arm injury is serious enough to be sent back to the states, so he’ll be going home with a medal after all, The Purple Heart.

Saunders killed 2 Germans

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