Yes, Jack lied about "just being a mechanic" in Vietnam. As Season 3 of This Is Us jumps into Jack's past, including his combat service during the Vietnam War, viewers might find themselves wondering if the show accurately captures life for American servicemen during one of the longest conflicts in US history. And here's the answer, according to Vietnam vets and historians: This Is Us gets many things right, but a few major things wrong.
Over the course of This Is Us, the show has offered glimpses into Jack Pearson's past, and Season 3 reveals how Vietnam shaped the rest of Jack's life. Just like Agent Orange continues to harm Vietnam vets and civilians, the conflict's emotional impact lasted long after combat ended in 1975. And as usual, the team behind This Is Us explored the emotional impact of Jack's time in Vietnam just as much as the physical toll his service took. From boot camp training to sending a crew to Vietnam, This Is Us worked hard to realistically portray Vietnam. But the show still slipped up a few times. Do the historical inaccuracies change your view of the Vietnam story arc?
While many praise This Is Us for capturing the anxiety of serving in Vietnam, others question the accuracy of the show's combat scenes. Stephen Maxner, director of the Vietnam Center and Archive at Texas Tech University, describes the combat scenes as the least accurate part of the Vietnam scenes.
Maxner points to the costumes and props as not exactly right: “The uniforms, the equipment, the way the soldiers look in the field: it doesn’t ring true."
On the other hand, Maxner says the character's use of silent hand signals and their patrolling scenes were very similar to real conditions in Vietnam.
One of the most heartbreaking moments in Jack's Vietnam scenes comes when his friend Charlie Robinson loses a leg. But according to Stephen Maxner, director of the Vietnam Center and Archive, the men would have known to avoid trails through the woods several years into the guerilla combat that defined Vietnam.
“That was a big no-no,” Maxner explains of platoons following trails. “Unless you wanted to be engaged - and you wanted to potentially get shot - you just didn’t use trails." Obvious paths could easily lead to ambushes or other traps. Maxner added, "That was kind of far-fetched.”
While some of the Vietnam War scenes in This Is Us are anxiety-provoking and heart wrenching, one of the lighter moments didn't hit the right note. In short, Jack's platoon definitely wouldn't be picking up a football for a quick game. Vietnam expert Stephen Maxner explains that six years into the war, when the scene was set, American soldiers had packed away the footballs. It was simply too dangerous to engage in that type of activity.
“That’s pretty late in the war for soldiers to be conducting themselves like they don’t know what they’re doing,” Maxner explains.
Football, or other loud games, could easily endanger the entire platoon by alerting Vietnamese patrols. By 1971, when Jack and his friends tossed the pigskin, the Army had clamped down on any activity that could lead to greater casualties, including football.
In This Is Us, Nicky gets drafted, so his older brother Jack decides to enlist to join his brother. But there's one problem with the storyline: Jack's irregular heartbeat, which already exempted him from service.
Could Jack still have enlisted, in spite of his heart condition? Vietnam expert Stephen Maxner says it's possible, but only if Jack was able to sneak through the medical screening. It's also possible that Jack's plan to do push-ups before the test might have worked.