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Littlejohn and BillyThe Boy Next Door Goes to War

A character sketch of Billy Nelson
by Othello

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 Extraordinaire.

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. You’d think such eager innocence would be pounded out of a guy the first time he’s 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 doesn’t 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 Hunt’s 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, Billy’s 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. She’s 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 (don’t ask) all get cut off by Krauts. It’s Christmas Eve and everyone’s 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 d’ya 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 what’s 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 weapon."

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.

 

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