Rod Serling was no stranger to war, having served three years in the paratroopers in the Pacific Theater during World War II. He knew first hand of the horrors that war brings. The 14 episodes outlined below depict war and the sorrow that it inflicts, along with a myriad of other emotions and feelings, including guilt and despair.
Nothing good comes from war; this is evident in these stories. But lessons are learned, ones that last a lifetime. The war episodes cover every conflict that the nation has been involved in during its existence, except for the Revolution and the Korean conflict.
They all share similarities in tone and sentiment. War is never a good thing, no matter what era is happened or what type of armaments were used. In every story you can feel the exhaustion, the desire to be done with it and to move on with life, along with the underlying question of why did this war ever have to take place at all.
It’s vital to remember that most people viewing these stories had lived through the World War II era and might have been veterans of it, too. The war had only been over for about 15 years when these stories aired.
Still Valley (3) It’s the end of the American Civil War. The South is suffering greatly. A scout brings back strange information. He’s seen Union troops that appear to be immovable, as though their frozen in place. On further investigation in a nearby town, the Confederate soldiers discover everyone in there is motionless and the cause is the spells placed on them by a warlock named Teague. Teague offers his book of magic spells to the soldiers and tells them they can win the war by using it. The Confederate commander decides that it would be better for the South to die an honorable death than to sell their soul to the devil. The Confederate officer refused to use witchcraft to further their cause.
The Passersby (3) Again, it’s the very end of the Civil War. A Confederate sergeant is walking along a road and comes upon a once-beautiful Southern home. The woman sitting outside says she is waiting for her husband to return from battle. As more soldiers soldiers pass by, she realizes that they have all passed away. Then the last person comes by, Abraham Lincoln. He’s the last victim of the war.
World War I
The Last Flight (1) This is a time travel story, starting out with a fighter pilot in World War I who is brought forward in time to the present day, March 1959, where he lands at an American airbase in France. The pilot, Terry Decker, discloses that he was afraid and was flying away from the battle he was facing. He realizes that if he doesn’t go back and defend his comrade, he will die. The pilot is able to escape and get back to his plane, taking off into the sky. The comrade that he went back to save, now arrives at the airbase. He is asked about Terry Decker and reveals that Decker did indeed save him from the enemy pilots, although Decker lost his own life. The twist is that Decker had left all of his identification at the American airbase, but before it had never been recovered.
World War II
The Purple Testament (1) In the South Pacific, an American Army lieutenant sees an odd purple glow on the faces of people who are about to die. In the end, he sees his own reflection in a mirror with the same purple glow. The inevitability of death during war and the fatigue of becoming numb to it is well played out.
A Quality of Mercy (3) It’s the end of World War II. A gung-ho lieutenant has arrived to command a weary band of soldiers who are just tired of killing and seeing their buddies being killed. Lt. Katell wants to go by the book and take out a group of wounded Japanese soldiers who have hunkered down in a cave. Suddenly, the lieutenant is at Corregidor, earlier in the war when the Japanese were bearing down on them. He feels what it’s like to be the hunted instead of the hunter. Coming back to the present, his men tell him that the atom bomb has been dropped and they are to fall back. After living three years of war in a few moments, he is more than relieved to comply with the orders. Mercy has trumped over aggression, even if only on this one remote island, in one small cave.
The Thirty-Fathom Grave (4) This is a story of guilt and retribution. Set in a submarine off Guadalcanal, a sunken submarine has been discovered by a Navy destroyer. In 1944, the sub had been attacked by the Japanese and destroyed, in large part due to the negligence and mistakes by one of the crewman. That same crewman, now the Chief on the destroyer, was the only survivor. Now there are strange noises being heard in the submarine. Is it hammering? The Chief knows that the noises are the hammerings of his fellow crewmen who demand that he join them in their watery graves.
Post World War II
King Nine Will Not Return (2) This is another story of guilt. This time a pilot who is stunned to learn that the plane he flew was found in the north African desert. This time, however, the pilot, Captain Embry, was not on the fateful flight that crashed, having been sidelined by illness. Embry has to be hospitalized due to his shock at the discovery. During that time, he finds himself out in the desert, looking for his crew who aren’t there. He awakes from his nightmare in his hospital room. The twist? There is sand in his shoes.
Deaths-Head Revisited (3) This story is an attempt to make an evil Nazi captain realize the horrible torment he inflicted on the Jewish prisoners in the concentration camp he commanded. Captain Lutze decides to return to the camp to relive his glory days and it met with the ghosts of the prisoners that he tortured and murdered. He is driven insane and taken to an asylum for the rest of his life.
Judgment Night (1) Another retribution story, this time it’s a Nazi Navy captain who is doomed to relive the night he sunk a civilian passenger liner for all eternity. Both of these episodes, Deaths-Head and Judgment Night, tell what should happen, what we wish would happen.
He’s Alive (4) This story is more of a warning about what could happen if we don’t learn from war, and the hatred and violence that spawned. A young man who is in charge of a neo-Nazi group, is getting assistance from a man who is later revealed to be Adolf Hitler. Again, remembering the time that the original series aired, Hitler actually could really have been alive. It was 18 years since he died in the bunker in Berlin, but perhaps he escaped. That’s the pretense here and the lesson, sadly, is that people will never learn their lesson, that the evil that started wars will always lurk and look for another opportunity.
National Guard maneuvers
The 7th Is Made Up of Phantoms (5) Here we have a time travel story where three National Guardsmen are out on maneuvers in Montana close to Custer’s battle at the Little Big Horn. The war here is the Indian wars.
In Praise of Pip (5). This story isn’t about the Vietnam War, but about the very beginning of the tragedy it wrought in America. Jack Klugman plays Max Phillips, whose son is wounded in Vietnam. Max makes a deal with God to take his own life if he will let Pip live. This is said to be the first mention of the war in Southeast Asia on American television.
Futuristic Apocalyptic War
Two (3) The ruins of war are the backdrop for this story. A nuclear holocaust has destroyed everything and most everyone. We see two survivors, a man and a woman. Ever so tenuously, they decide not to view each as combatants, but to forge a friendship, and perhaps in so doing a new world. There may be hope for the human race after all.