Challenge - Goodnight Saigon

Plot: Vietnam War. A bitter soldier is leaving for his third Tour of Duty, not planning on returning. A relatively innocent girl sits down and talks to him a few days before he has to leave and convinces him to write to her. A series of letters pass between the two. Months later, she is notified that his status has changed to MIA (Missing in Action). And you can take it from there. :)


1) Angst. Tears. Lots of it.

2) Must be somewhat historically accurate. This will be towards the later stages of the war, so the time period is late 60s, early 70s.

3) Minimum word count: 10,000 words

4) An allusion to Billy Joel. Or if the timeline isn't working for you (his first hit single was in '73 so he might not be a popular name yet in your story), just anyone named Billy.

5) Use a line from the song "Goodnight Saigon" by Billy Joel. No:

- political commentary. Although passing comments can be made, there shouldn't be any long paragraphs about how war is stupid, etc. Focus on the plot and character development.

Hint: Listen to the song "Goodnight Saigon" by Billy Joel if you want a bit of inspiration.

Goodnight Saigon

Mr. and Mrs. Chappel hosted a neighborhood going away party for their son and that's how Liz ended up sitting next to Staff Sargent Brad Chappell on his parent's couch on a cold December evening in 1973. She was nearly five years younger than him, a senior in high school – she was still in Junior High when Brad shipped out for the first time in 1968.

Liz remembered Brad mostly as a friend of her older brother, Jimmy. They both played high school sports together and Brad hung around the house sometimes. Ironically, Jimmy was now serving in the Peace Corps!

Liz found Brad – the Staff Sargent - to be fascinatingly worldly, interesting, mature, handsome and exciting. He was in the Marines! He definitely looked like a Marine. Short sandy blond hair, bulging muscles, square jaw, and a serious look on his face. Liz melted just looking at him. He was a real man as far as she was concerned.

Liz didn't pay much attention to politics or the war. The evening news bored and frightened her and she hated the nightly count of war dead and injured that flashed across the screen at the end of every Walter Cronkite report. She concentrated on her school activities without worrying about what was taking place on the other side of the world. She was content on watching Sonny and Cher, The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family, Happy Days, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show and Carol Burnett because those shows made her laugh and feel good.

She was telling Brad all of this as they sat on the couch with various neighborhood guests standing and sitting around the living room and elsewhere celebrating Brad's service and honoring his uniform (even though tonight he was wearing jeans and a gray sweatshirt with an MARINES emblem on it. Liz noticed Brad's soured faced kid brother Don sitting on the stairs glaring at her and his brother. He was a moody sophomore and Liz rarely gave him the time of day except to ask how his brother was doing!

"You should be watching M*A*S*H*," Brad told her. "It's set in the Korean War but it's really a commentary on Vietnam."

"I don't like war. Too depressing."

"This is a comedy," Brad explained. "There's a guy who wears a dress, a bumbling camp CO, and some wacky doctors, plus a guy who can hear the helicopters coming before anybody else."

"I'll give it a look," Liz promised.

"What about songs?" Brad asked. "What kind of music do you listen to?"

"I think my favorite song right now is You're So Vain by Carly Simon," Liz said proudly, brushing her hand through her long auburn hair. "I also love Killing Me Softly With His Song by Roberta Flack, You are the Sunshine of My Life by Stevie Wonder, My Love by Wings, and The Morning After by Maureen McGovern from The Poisden Adventure."

"Don't you listen to The Doors or Stones or Zepplin or Pink Floyd or The Dead or The Who - that kind of stuff?" Brad asked with disappointment.

"Not really," Liz admitted. WGRN plays mostly pop stuff. I thought of you whenever Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Ole Oak Tree by Tony Orlando and Dawn came on this summer though."

"Come with me," Brad said, getting off of the couch. "I want you to listen to something." He motioned with his chin to follow and she did - down the cellar stairs to the remodeled cellar that served as a family room.

Brad went to the stereo system in the corner of the room and looked through the stack of albums underneath the table. Liz noticed that Donny hadn't followed them into the cellar and she was glad for that. The kid spying on him made her nervous.

"This is a relatively new guy," Brad said, pulling an album out of the stack. "Wait until you hear this song. It will knock your socks off."

He placed the album on the turntable and put the needle on a particular track before leaning against the back of the couch and watching Liz as the song played.

It's nine o'clock on a Saturday

The regular crowd shuffles in

There's an old man sitting next to me

Makin' love to his tonic and gin

He says, "Son, can you play me a memory
I'm not really sure how it goes
But it's sad and it's sweet and I knew it complete
When I wore a younger man's clothes."

la la la, di da da
La la, di di da da dum

Sing us a song, you're the piano man
Sing us a song tonight
Well, we're all in the mood for a melody
And you've got us all feelin' alright

Now John at the bar is a friend of mine
He gets me my drinks for free
And he's quick with a joke and he'll light up your smoke
But there's some place that he'd rather be
He says, "Bill, I believe this is killing me."
As his smile ran away from his face
"Well I'm sure that I could be a movie star
If I could get out of this place"

Oh, la la la, di da da
La la, di da da da dum

Now Paul is a real estate novelist
Who never had time for a wife
And he's talkin' with Davy, who's still in the Navy
And probably he will be for life

And the waitress is practicing politics
As the businessman slowly gets stoned
Yes, they're sharing a drink they call loneliness
But it's better than drinkin' alone

sing us a song you're the piano man
sing us a song tonight
well we're all in the mood for a melody
and you got us all feeling alright

It's a pretty good crowd for a Saturday
And the manager gives me a smile
'Cause he knows that it's me they've been comin' to see
To forget about their life for a while
And the piano, it sounds like a carnival
And the microphone smells like a beer
And they sit at the bar and put bread in my jar
And say, "Man, what are you doin' here?"

Oh, la la la, di da da
La la, di da da da dum

sing us a song you're the piano man
sing us a song tonight
well we're all in the mood for a melody
and you got us all feeling alright

Liz listened to the uniquely different song that featured a sad melody with a lonely voiced singer.

"There's a piano, harmonica, bass, acoustic guitar, accordion, mandolin and drums accompanying the song," Brad reported, reading from the back of the album cover.

"Oh," Liz said.

"What do you think?" Brad asked with interest when the song finished. He took the needle off of the album and anxiously awaited Liz's review.

"It's not something I've heard before," she admitted.

"This guy is going to be an amazing songwriter and performer," Brad predicted, holding up the album cover for her to see. "He's name is Billy Joel, from Long Island. The Piano Man!"

"Oh," Liz said, more fascinated with Brad's reaction to the song than she was with the song itself.

"He had another song out last year," Brad said. "She's Got A Way. Ever hear of it?"

"Maybe," Liz shrugged. "I'm not sure."

"You need to broaden your horizons," Brad said, stepping away from the couch and approaching her. "Different music. Different experiences."

Liz nodded, feeling kind of foolish realizing that he was a man of the world and she was just some clueless high school girl listening to pop music and watching mindless television.

"What kind of movies do you like?" Brad asked, coming closer.

"Oh, I loved American Graffiti!" Liz beamed. "And Paper Moon! And The Way We Were. And Jesus Christ Superstar!"

Brad had stopped approaching and he was looking at her with a bewildered look on his face. "Did you happen to see The Last Detail?" He asked. "That at least had military guys in it."

"No, wasn't that rated R?"

"Forget it," Brad sighed, starting to turn away from her. "I forgot you're just a kid."

"No I'm not!" Liz said defensively. "I'm a senior and I've been dating a football player and I'm going to Green College next year."

"Okay," Brad said, stopping and facing her again. "That's great."

"Are you going to be in the Marines for life like Davy in the Navy?" Liz wondered.

Brad laughed, amused by her question. "I've got two years left on this enlistment. War's winding down." He stepped closer to her again. "I'll probably get out and come back and work for the old man fixing cars."

"Hillsboro's not a bad place to live," Liz said.

"Not if you're still here," Brad replied, swooping her into his arms before she realized what he was doing but she didn't protest when he pulled her close to him.

"Oh," Liz said with surprise, feeling his muscular body pressing against hers.

"You serious about this football guy?" Brad wanted to know.

"It's just a high school thing," she said, liking the feel of having a Marine holding her. "When are you leaving?"

"Couple of days," Brad sighed.

"Before Christmas?" Liz pouted. "That's so unfair."

"I'm relieving a guy at the Embassy," Brad explained. "This will be cake duty after the shit I've been through. This will be my third fuckin' tour."

"Brad!?" It was Mrs. Chappell calling from the top of the stairs causing Liz to break away from him. "You down there?"

"Yeah, Mom," Brad called back.

"Your guests are missing you."

"Be right up," he said before returning his attention to Liz. "Do you want to hang out together before I go?"

Liz was thrilled by the proposal but she hesitated knowing how strict her parents could me. "I'm not sure if my folks would give me that much free reign," she sighed with disappointment.

Brad nodded with understanding. "We'll let Donald Duck tag along," he said. "As a front."

"You mean your brother?" Liz asked with confusion.


"Sure," Liz replied, suddenly tickled that a guy like Staff Sargent Brad Chappell, United States Marine Corps, would be interested in spending time with her.

He leaned in and gave her a strong and impressive kiss. "Great!" He said before turning and trotting up the stairs while Liz tried to catch her breath.