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 1988, the veterans of China Beach attend a reunion in Youngstown, Ohio. The party is attended by Boonie, Linda, and Karen, who conducts interviews during the reunion; McMurphy, Joe, and their two-year-old daughter Maggie; Beckett and his teenage son Malcolm; Dodger and Archie; Lila and Sarge Pepper; Frankie; Wayloo Marie, now a famous daytime talk show host; and Dr. Richard and Colleen, who tells Karen in an interview that she suspects Richard of having an affair with his receptionist. Karen is disappointed when K.C. skips the reunion, despite being invited by McMurphy. During her interview with Karen, McMurphy recalls her final day in Vietnam, when she gathered sand from the beach and a tank crashed through the front of the hospital ward. She bonds with an injured soldier nicknamed Lurch (guest star Neal McDonough), who they determine will quickly bleed out and die once the pneumatic pants he is wearing are removed. Richard discusses his love for McMurphy and how his career feels insignificant compared to the time he saved lives in Vietnam, reminiscing to a moment when he, Beckett, and McMurphy buried unidentified body parts in a ceremony on the beach (first seen in “Juice”). Wayloo Marie says she is grateful for her experience, as it changed her for the better. Dodger, still in love with McMurphy, recalls her departure in 1977 and joins Frankie on-stage to sing “When a Man Loves a Woman.” Sarge Pepper compares his experience in World War II among educated and well-off enlisted men to his time in Vietnam, spent entirely alongside drafted soldiers from poor and destitute backgrounds. Lila, who talks about the strength of their marriage, reveals Sarge Pepper has terminal lung cancer. Dodger and Boonie are interviewed together, but Dodger inadvertently insults Boonie when he makes light of Boonie’s accident and his belief that there were no heroes in Vietnam. Later, he tells Boonie and McMurphy that he feared attending the reunion, worried it would stir up bad memories, but he understands now that those memories – and his friends – are always present and will always be a part of him.
As the reunion ends, the group decides to travel to Washington D.C. to visit the Vietnam War memorial. While driving to Washington, Karen asks McMurphy about the soldier she treated on her final day; McMurphy recalls transcribing his emotional final letter and kissing him before he died, then departing the next day and realising that nothing had changed. The group arrives at the Vietnam memorial, stirring deep emotions. Boonie visits K.C., now a Washington-based executive of a company with business interests in Asia. K.C. asks him if he needs money, but he says he no longer needs her help and implores her to visit Karen. K.C. tells him Karen was better off with Boonie, but he responds that it was always about what K.C. wanted, never about Karen, and he hoped she found what she had been looking for. As the group shares an emotional set of goodbyes, K.C. appears and reunites with Karen. The two briefly talk, with Karen asking her to keep in contact and if she got everything she wanted, to which K.C. replies that she got “most of it.” The two share a hug and K.C. departs again. McMurphy brings Maggie to the memorial wall and pours out the sand from China Beach. Finishing her interview with Karen, she remembers the name of the dying soldier from her memory, Lawrence F. McClintock of Littleton, Colorado, just like he said she would. In her last words, she tells Karen, “I couldn’t save them all, but I saved some.”
The finale is intercut with clips from previous episodes illustrating the memories and monologues of each character.
The finale was split into two parts in syndication, but returned to a single episode in the 2013 DVD release.
China Beach Series
You can find a full index and overview of China Beach here.
Production & Filming Details
- Release Date: 22 July 1991.
- Running Time: 46-47 minutes.
- Rating: Unknown.
- Country: US.
- Language: English.