The Light from the TV Shows: This One’s for the Veterans – 20 Military-Set Sitcoms

With Veteran’s Day coming up quickly – it’s on Sunday, Nov. 11, in case you don’t tend toward looking at the calendar – now seems like a perfectly appropriate time to take a look back at some of the many sitcoms set in the world of the military. Granted, not all of these are necessarily what you’d describe as military sitcoms, per se, nor is this intended to be perceived as a comprehensive list, but everything that’s on here does feature the military in a significant capacity. Just call it our little tribute to the men and women who’s fought for our country…and to the ones that made us laugh, too, of course.

The Phil Silvers Show (1955-1959): Otherwise known as the adventures of notorious US Army con-man Ernie Bilko, who regularly pulled the wool over the eyes of the perpetually befuddled Col. Hall while trying to earn a fast buck whenever possible. Although consistently ranked as one of the greatest sitcoms of all time, Silvers’ show had such an extensive ensemble cast that it was also one of the first series to get the axe not because it didn’t get ratings but because it was simply too expensive to maintain.

Ensign O’Toole (1962-1963): Starring future Disney staple Dean Jones as the title character, who was stationed aboard the U.S.S. Appleby. Although it only lasted for a single season, the series had a heck of a cast, featuring former “Phil Silvers Show” regular Harvey Lembeck as well as Jack Albertson and a very young Beau Bridges.

McHale’s Navy (1962-1966): Kids, if the only version of Lt. Commander Quinton McHale you know is the one played by Tom Arnold, you really don’t know “McHale’s Navy” at all. Head for the nearest wayback machine and check out the original series, starring the recently-departed Ernest Borgnine and the still-alive, still-hilarious Tim Conway. With a supporting cast that includes another future Disney stalwart, Joe Flynn, as well as noted prestidigitator Carl Ballantine, the show has, aside from the occasional – and, given the era, somewhat inevitable – politically-incorrect moments, held up well over the years.

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Friday Video – Billy Joel, “Goodnight Saigon”

Click here to listen to Billy Joel’s The Nylon Curtain on Spotify

Admittedly, this is not much of a happy hour song, but it’s Veteran’s Day – there aren’t a whole lot of upbeat songs about war veterans and what they endure in order to preserve freedom for the rest of us. Whatever your feelings about war, we should all thank our lucky stars that there are men and women who are willing to do the unthinkable so we can tweet from the safe zone about how miserable our meaningless little lives are. Just sayin’.

While we had our choice of songs on the subject, we went with Billy Joel’s “Goodnight Saigon” for a number of reasons. For starters, it’s one of his best songs, with an unforgettable climbing piano progression. Second of all, he describes the vibe of the soldiers like he was there. Unbridled enthusiasm and naivete became fear, panic and the kind of mental scarring that does not fade with time. He even brings in what are clearly Vietnam veterans to sing the simple but devastating chorus of “And we would all go down together.” Joel has written some enduring work, but this is his most powerful.

For those unfamiliar with this song, may we suggest that you hunt down The Nylon Curtain, the album from which it came, at once. (To make this easier, we included a link to the album on Spotify above.) It is, in our opinion, Joel’s best album by a country mile. Think of it as a giant tribute to the Beatles, and a dark, angry tribute at that.