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.
In 1966, McMurphy and her childhood friend Nellie, nurses in a Lawrence, Kansas hospital, join the US Army together. McMurphy plans to join Nellie, who dreams of being stationed in Germany or Japan and meeting a doctor, in their overseas assignment. However, she is inspired by the combat medic training them at Fort Sam Houston to change her orders to Vietnam when the medic reveals he is returning to the war for a second tour. In training, the nurses are told of quickly assembled, fully air conditioned hospitals, but McMurphy arrives at China Beach that November to an unfinished ward completely exposed to the elements. She meets head nurse Jan Wyatt (guest star Debra Stricklin) and Dr. Singer (guest star Scott Jaeck), the veteran nurse and doctor at China Beach in the throes of a passionate affair. Elsewhere, K.C. (going by her middle name, Charlene) is pressured by one of her lovers, Lieutenant Colonel “Mac” Miller (guest star Wings Hauser) to bed the base commander and protect herself from having to return to working under a pimp. Dr. Richard arrives at the same time as McMurphy, concerned with nothing but his own self-preservation. During their orientation, the two F.N.G.’s are thrust into a mass casualty incident. McMurphy is immediately overwhelmed and her first few patients die as she treats them. She meets Dodger, Boonie, and Sweetness for the first time when Dodger asks him to treat Boonie’s stab wound (suffered on their covert mission in Laos, seen in season 2’s “Twilight”) and forms a bond with a wounded soldier, Tommy (guest star Tim Griffin), who recognises her perfume scent. McMurphy is shocked by the hospital staff partying after the hours in triage; told by the commander to keep her long hair off her collar again, she cuts most of it off with her surgical shears. She finds Tommy covered in ants in the open ward and promises to help him recover. McMurphy unsuccessfully seeks counsel from Jan about the previous day’s casualties. Instead, she warns McMurphy about beginning relationships with “geographic bachelors” like married doctors. At the beach, K.C. tries to rescue a despondent Boonie when he walks into the ocean. She is saved by him when she struggles in the waves and punches him in the face when he chastises her for following him in. The two spend the night together, interrupted by a bombing, and K.C. comforts Boonie when he has a panic attack during it. He admits that the experience in Laos has changed him and he no longer wants to return to combat; K.C. uses her new leverage with the commander to have Boonie reassigned to China Beach’s lifeguard post. The morning after the bombing, Tommy dies in McMurphy’s arms; she sobs over his body bag and records a message to Nellie in Germany where she says choosing to go to Vietnam was a mistake and she feels she is not cut out for it. Singer tells McMurphy that Jan had a patient like Tommy when she first arrived at China Beach who died and devastated her too. When a game of volleyball is broken up by the sound of evac helicopters, McMurphy sprays herself with perfume and heads to the ward with a newfound determination.
China Beach Series
You can find a full index and overview of China Beach here.
Production & Filming Details
- Release Date: 16 April 1990.
- Running Time: 46-47 minutes.
- Rating: Unknown.
- Country: US.
- Language: English.