Why is 'This is Us' portrayal of Vietnam so real? Because it's told by a real vet

Phil Briggs
October 16, 2018 - 12:11 pm

Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC


Like many veterans, Jack Pearson (Milo Ventimiglia) on NBC’s family drama "This Is Us" has shown us a man who is the ultimate dedicated father, husband, and hero to his kids.

The very-real portrayal of a combat veteran with emotions bottled deep inside has been building over 3 seasons, however, the show has yet to reveal any details about his days in the military.

The dramatic fourth episode will follow Jack into Vietnam, but more than just TV war drama, this episode has been shaped by a veteran who was actually there.

Before becoming the best-selling author of the Vietnam novel, “The Things They Carried”  Tim O’Brien served as a Sergeant with the US Army’s 23rd Infantry Division.  He survived some of the fiercest combat of the war in the area known for the My Lai Massacre.  O’Brien once told the NY Times, “'When the unit I went in with got there in February of 1969 we all wondered why the place was so hostile. We did not know there had been a massacre there a year earlier. The news about that only came out later, while we were there, and then we knew.''


TIU’s "Vietnam" episode that follows Jack and his younger brother Nicky Pearson (Michael Anganaro), was heavily influenced by O'Brien's days in the My Lai combat zone which he described to the NY Post as an area where “Landmines were prevalent …and eighty percent of the casualties came from men having their feet and legs blown off."

Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC

Show creator Dan Fogelman told the NY Post how O’Brien’s real-world experience added realism to the scenes, “A little moment, like a hand on the face that stays with you for decades. It’s very much how our story has evolved.”

Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC

As TIU fans follow this story for the intriguing new details about one of their most beloved characters, the real surprise may be how enlisting a true Vietnam veteran improves the story.  As O’Brien once wrote in his 1973 memoir “If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home" "Can the foot soldier teach anything important about war, merely for having been there? I think not. He can tell war stories."

Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC

This Is Us airs on NBC Tuesdays at 9p / 8 Central

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