China Beach (1990): S03E18 – Skylark


China Beach is an American dramatic television series set at an evacuation hospital during the Vietnam War.

The title refers to My Khe beach in the city of Đà Nẵng, Vietnam, nicknamed “China Beach” in English by American and Australian soldiers during the Vietnam War. The ABC TV drama aired for four seasons, from 1988 to 1991.


A soldier named McDonnell is wounded in action, dies while being treated by McMurphy and Dr. Richard at China Beach, and is processed through Beckett’s morgue. Soon after, a bickering McMurphy and Richard are interrupted by Ruby (guest star Ruby Dee) and Ernie (guest star Joe Seneca), who arrive to Ella Fitzgerald’s version of Skylark and claim to be a visiting USO dance troupe. Frankie and Answer Man are assigned to work in the motor pool, where they’re constantly ridiculed by Sarge Pepper with bigoted remarks. The two are surprised by Ruby and Ernie, who encourage them to work on a truck Sarge Pepper had declared them incapable of restoring, producing a needed distributor cap out of nowhere. Later, Sarge Pepper is shocked by Frankie and Answer Man’s restoration job on the pickup. McMurphy and Richard’s divide worsens; Richard finds Ruby and Ernie’s commitment heartening and asks McMurphy who she’ll be dancing with in 40 years when she makes a snide remark about Richard’s ex-wife. The base dance competition is interrupted by a bombing, and McMurphy is struck by Ruby comforting dying soldiers. Suspicious of the old couple since their arrival, she searches Ruby’s belongings, finding letters from her grandson written over a decade prior. Ruby and Ernie ask Beckett about the lost items he collects from dead soldiers. Beckett tells them that he likes to make up stories about them to continue their legacies, which causes Ernie to give him a penknife that was passed down in his family and was supposed to go to his grandson. McMurphy pulls McDonnell’s file, discovering that Ruby and Ernie are likely his grandparents – and that the records show they died in 1958, which she chalks up to an Army clerical error. K.C. finds the old couple sleeping in her bed. They encourage her to join them, and Ernie offers to tell her a bedtime story, but K.C. cannot remember being told one in her childhood. After a night of restful sleep with them, she awakes by herself. The next morning, Ernie tells Richard he had not seen his grandson since he was 7 and that an “accident” had kept them apart. In conversation with Ruby, McMurphy pieces together their true identity and asks if the old couple are angels, but Ruby tells her that she, Richard, and Beckett are angels to the wounded and dying who pass through China Beach. That night, upon hearing Skylark on the helicopter pad, Richard and McMurphy share a dance.

China Beach Series

You can find a full index and overview of China Beach here.

Production & Filming Details

  • Release Date: 14 March 1990.
  • Running Time: 46-47 minutes.
  • Rating: Unknown.
  • Country: US.
  • Language: English.

Video Link

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