The Boy Next Door Goes to War
A character sketch of Billy Nelson
In liberated Paris, he goes to the Moulin Rouge
just to hear the orchestra ... honest to gosh!
Think Audie Murphy without the freckles and killer instinct.
Think All-American boy. Think gee-whiz, kid-next-door naivety the kind that shouts
out, "Please, go ahead and cook those eggs in my helmet!" Think all that, and
you have Billy Nelson ... Young Man Extraordinaire, Soldier Somewhat Less Than
Make no mistake he has been seen to kill Germans,
yes indeed-ee. He has also been known to hump bicycle tires on patrol (all in the name of
friendship) and volunteer his helmet for KP duty every time some Joe wants to make coffee
or eggs. He who is surrounded by death still shudders at the thought of killing a chicken.
Youd think such eager innocence would be pounded out of a guy the first time
hes shot at in combat, but not so with Billy. He has this strangely refreshing
quality of being in the war but not of it a G.I. with a rifle, yes. But one with a
face that almost out-goshes a young Mickey Rooney; a face that makes you want to feed him
massive amounts of milk and apple pie. How does a kid this nice exist in a situation so
infernally ugly? I can explain it only by saying that Billy somehow represents our desire
for ourselves, or our sons and brothers the desire that, if we were in the same
circumstance, we would, like Billy, still retain a self somewhere that war could not
touch. Perhaps this doesnt actually happen. Perhaps Audie Murphy, or Saunders for
that matter, is closer to reality, and the true combat soldier leaves one hundred percent
of his old self behind the first time he kills to avoid being killed. But Billy is still
the hopeful ideal.
For who, after all, could fathom any group of G.I.s without a
Billy Nelson in it? The creators of Combat! never resorted to flag-waving because
they never had to, not in words or overwrought images. Billy is the walking embodiment of
Americana. Pinch him and he exudes Norman Rockwell. He can spout baseball statistics like
Red Smith rattling off the numbers from the back of a bubblegum card. His anguished
expression (wounded G.I.) in the pages of Eleanora Hunts World magazine
probably generates more Red Cross donations from sympathetic moms and sisters than a whole
year of government appeals. And, like any good all-American boy of not-quite-twenty, he is
adorably naive (even after hanging around Kirby, if you can imagine that) about the finer
details of s-e-x, at least when it comes to the protocol of Army marriages in which the
She outranks the He.
Yessir, Billy Nelson, with his boyish enthusiasm and gee-whiz
charm, is a one-G.I. poster for Victory. This, not so coincidentally, is the subject of
the heretofore unknown Lost Episode. Yes, Combat! fans, I have recently discovered
through reliable sources that there is an as-yet- unseen episode of the show sitting
someplace in an ABC vault. Said ep, titled "Blitzkrieg by Billy and Evelyn," was
originally scheduled to air during the Christmas season of 1963.
In this episode, Billys Missouri girl Evelyn (a dead ringer
for Judy Garland), having signed up with the U.S.O. just to follow her sweetheart across
Europe, shows up in France. Shes reunited with Billy-o when her jeep driver gets
lost. This joyous moment is interrupted when the squad, Evelyn, jeep driver, and one
U.S.O. goat (dont ask) all get cut off by Krauts. Its Christmas Eve and
everyones down-as-hell. Oops. Make that down-as-heck. Caje is missing the holiday
dinner he was invited to by a French family. Kirby is missing a hot date or so he
says with the blonde who sells tickets at the local train station. ("Hey,
Caje, how dya say Honey, you can punch my ticket any time? in
French?") Littlejohn is fretting that he will not get back in time to open his
Christmas present from Ma, even though he already knows whats inside the package
(mooshed fruitcake and fresh socks ... hopefully not in the same batch).
Evelyn, sensing a morale disaster in the making, persuades Billy
to help her put on a show for the troops. ("Sure we can!") Billy out-Bings der
Bingle in a rendition of "Swingin on a Star." And then, Christmas miracle
of miracles, the Germans are so impressed, they surrender to these nice Americans!
But the real story comes out as they are leading their prisoners
back to the American lines. Seems the German looie tells Brockmeyer he and his men threw
down their weapons just to get Billy and Evelyn to stop singing. Brockmeyer relates this
to Saunders. Whereupon the Sarge, looking around at the strange procession, gives an
almost-grin and does his famous helmet tip: "I think we just found ourselves a secret
Jawohl, mein Feldwebel. Der Reich ist kaput. Billy und Evelyn, der
amerikanisch "Dynamic Duo," sind hier.
Copyright © 1998 by Dorothy Spangler. All rights reserved.
Characters from the television series COMBAT! are the property of ABC-TV.