Tuesday night’s new episode of This Is Us was technically called “Vietnam.” Yet, it could have easily been titled “18.” The number comes up multiple times throughout the hour, as we learn Nicky Pearson (Michael Angarano), late brother of Jack Pearson (Milo Ventimiglia), was born on October 18, 1948. The alleged super lucky date, and number, is spoken about at length by the nurse who delivered Nicky.
That’s why it feels appropriate to go over the 18 most interesting facts “Vietnam” taught us about Jack, around whom the entire episode is built. As the episode title suggests, we take a trip to the eponymous island during Jack’s time fighting the Vietnam War. It’s a harrowing and illuminating episode. Not only do we learn what Jack actually did while at war, but all the little moments that lead him to the South Pacific as well. That means we get some very telling details about Nicky, the Pearson boys' father Stanley (Peter Onorati), and even their never-before-seen grandpa.
Keep reading to find out what we mean.
1. Jack Was A Mechanic — But Not During The War
Back when This Is Us began sowing the seeds of its looming Vietnam storyline, Jack announced he was “just a mechanic” during the war. Eventually we realized he was lying thanks to a flashback of the Pearson dad jumping out of a helicopter while brandishing a military grade weapon (decidedly not the actions of a simple mechanic).
“Vietnam” confirmed Jack actually was a mechanic at one point: right before Nicky was sent to war, when the Pearson brothers worked together.
2. Jack Actually Had A Fairly High Rank In Vietnam
“Vietnam” quickly announces Jack was a staff sergeant in charge of a large group of soldiers. The question remains, what tragedy befell Jack in Vietnam that it became too painful to talk about these men?
3. The Story Behind Jack’s Fear Of Explosives
In “Katie Girls,” a 1980s Jack has an emotional reaction to young Kevin (Parker Bates) screaming “Fire in the hole!” and pretending to detonate an explosive. By “Vietnam,” Jack’s obvious PTSD makes sense — he was surrounded by deadly explosives during the war.
One fight was so intense that an explosive blew off the foot of one of Jack's soldiers, Willie (Mo McRae). It is suggested Willie is the same vet (Charles Robinson) that Kevin (Justin Hartley) contacts in the present day to find out about Jack’s time in Vietnam (the actor finds the man's photo in a box of his dad’s possessions). Like “Vietnam” flashback Willie, that present-day vet is missing his original foot. He now has a prosthetic one in its place.
4. Jack Learned His Calming Head Ritual At War
Speaking of Willie, he is the person who taught Jack the trick of lightly placing your hands on the back of someone’s head and reminding them to breathe as a way of helping them relax. It is a ritual Jack would use on his anxiety-prone teen son Randall (Niles Fitch) and an adult Randall (Sterling K. Brown) would use to ease his biological father’s fears about death.
Willie learned the practice from his mother since Willie — just like Jack — had an abusive father.
5. Jack Always Had A Heart Problem
This is one of the most important details of “Vietnam.” During Jack’s pre-enlistment trip to the doctor, we find out Jack had dealt with heart problems since his childhood. He had tachycardia, which is an irregularly fast heartbeat.
All of a sudden, Jack’s terrifying-sounding, deadly “widowmaker heart attack” following the “Super Bowl Sunday” fire makes more sense. Jack was already dealing with a compromised cardiovascular situation; the smoke inhalation only exacerbated an existing issue. It’s possible Jack would have suffered the heart attack whether he re-entered the house to save Kate’s (Hannah Zeile) dog or not, simply for being in a fire in the first place.
Someone needs to tell Kate (Chrissy Metz), who has blamed herself for Jack’s death for two decades, immediately.
6. Jack Wasn’t Going To Go To War Originally
Due to the tachycardia, Jack was never going to be drafted into the war. But, he joined — and hid his health complication — just to be in Vietnam after Nicky sent home an alarming letter.
7. Both The Pearson Brothers Almost Avoided The War
Once Nicky was drafted in 1970, Jack planned to get Nicky to Canada, where he could dodge forced enlistment. But, Nicky ran away in the middle of their trip and joined anyway, effectively sending them both to war.
8. How Jack Learned His “Job” Of Taking Care Of Nicky
Throughout This Is Us, we hear Jack announce it’s his “job” as a big brother to protect Nicky. We’re meant to assume Jack’s innate goodness led to this decision. That’s incorrect.
Instead, Jack’s dad Stanley, who viewers have only seen act in an abusive and cruel manner, is the one who planted that idea in Jack’s head. When Nicky was born in 1948, Stanley told a young Jack, “Now remember, big brothers look out for their little brothers. That’s their only job.”
Those are words of wisdom that would eventually send Jack to Vietnam.
9. Jack’s Dad Didn’t Always Drink
If you’re surprised Stanley could be so thoughtful, don’t be. We see a completely different Stanley in the 1948 flashback — he’s a sweet, supportive, and loving father. He doesn’t even drink, as he tells his own father while waiting for Nicky to be born.
10. Jack’s Grandpa, However, Did
Jack’s unnamed grandpa arrives at the hospital during Nick’s birth as gruff as Stanley usually is in flashback. It’s obvious a very sober Stanley feels inadequate and uncomfortable in the face of his own cold father. The mystery Pearson elder offers Stanley a swig out of his flask before leaving the hospital without meeting his newest grandchild.
It’s suggested Stanley’s dad also abuses alcohol.
11. There Is A Mystery Around What Happened To The Pearsons Between 1948 & 1956
In 1948, Stanley is a sweet man who loves his children. In 1956, he’s a domestic abuser with an alcohol addiction. We’re left wondering, what happened.
Likely, the Korean War happened. The war occurred between 1950 and 1953, when Stanley was a prime fighting age, smack dab in the middle of these two flashback years.
It’s suggested throughout “Vietnam” that Stanley is a veteran, as he tells Nicky after his draft announcement, “Make me proud son.” When Nicky worries Stanley will never speak to him again for draft dodging, Jack tells his little brother, “It’s not your job to fight his demons.”
The ghosts of Korea are probably those demons.
12. Stanley Resented Nicky Before He Resented Jack
Throughout This Is Us, Stanley’s anger at Jack over Nicky’s death suggests the late Pearson kid was his dad’s favorite son. Well, he wasn’t .When Nicky was still alive, Stanley dragged his younger son, saying things about him like, “God forbid he learns to look out for himself.”
With Nicky dead, his ire turned to Jack.
13. Nicky Was Lucky “Just By The Skin Of His Teeth”
Many of the “Vietnam” conversations about Nicky predict he won't be drafted because of his “lucky” October 18 birthday. But, as the nurse who helped deliver Nicky says, he only locked down an October 18 birthday “by the skin of his teeth” with an 11:58 p.m. delivery. That suggests Nicky couldn’t remain lucky forever.
14. The Importance Of Superman To The Pearson Brothers
Superman is a running theme throughout Nicky and Jack’s relationship. Nicky refers to his brother as “[his] own personal Superman.” When Nicky is at war, Jack finds a Superman figurine in his brother’s room. In Nicky’s letter about nixing the draft dodging plan, he calls Jack “Superman” and signs it “CK” for Clark Kent.
The brothers’ “Superman” connection goes back to childhood when Jack explained to Nicky he’s Clark Kent — secretly tough behind the glasses.
15. There Is A Remaining Mystery Around Nicky’s Death
This Is Us has repeatedly shown a flashback of Jack at war, cradling a fellow soldier. We were led to believe that soldier was a dying Nicky. But, “Vietnam” reveals the injured vet is a young Willie. So, how did Nicky die?
16. There Is Also A Mystery Around How Jack Became Staff Sergeant
By the time we meet Jack in the “present” timeline in Vietnam, he has been there less than 14 months. Yet, he’s already a staff sergeant, which is a fairly high rank for a newbie. Even Jack admits he was promoted very quickly.
Expect a flashback to reveal the story behind Jack’s rank in some heroic, over-the-top way.
17. Jack’s Talent For Gambling Goes Back Further Than We Realized
A major plot point in Jack and Rebecca’s love story is that Jack won a major game of poker before a bunch of shady men stole his winnings. “Vietnam” makes a very subtle reference to that storyline when Jack brings a crate of beer and cigarettes to his soldiers. When they ask how such good luck befell their sergeant, Jack quips, “Still want to play me in high-stakes poker?”
Jack has always been amazing at poker.
18. As Usual, Jack Is The Best
Jack continues to be a shining pillar of a man in “Vietnam.” While his fellow soldiers want to speak ill of a child for being Vietnamese, Jack is more than happy to accept a fish from a super cute kid.
This Is Us would never let Jack say a racist word about anyone — especially not a 4-year-old.
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