A major missing piece of Jack’s story was revealed as the Pearson patriarch enlisted in the war and viewers met the adult version of his brother, Nicky, for the first time during the Tuesday, October 16, episode of This Is Us, titled “Vietnam.”
Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) was a staff sergeant in the Vietnam War in 1971 when the episode opened. His troop was ambushed one night, with some dying and another man (Mo McRae) — the Mr. Robinson who Kevin (Justin Hartley) reached out to in a previous episode — losing his foot to a land mine. Robinson was the one who taught Jack the move he often used on his kids in tough moments: holding their faces in his hands as he reminded them to breathe.
After the assault, Jack and his squad were given a lighter detail, at which time he asked his commanding officer if he could visit his brother (Michael Angarano), who was stationed nearby. Jack made his way to Nicky, and they were standing face to face at the end of the hour.
Brothers in Arms
In flashbacks, we learned why Jack enlisted in the war in the first place. When Nicky was born in 1948, Jack’s father (Peter Onorati) told the elder sibling his only job was to look out for his little brother. Jack took that to heart, protecting him from their abusive father — who was seemingly mistreated by his own dad — and earning the nickname “Superman.”
Jack was exempt from the draft because of an irregular heartbeat, but Nicky was sure his birthday would be called in December 1969. When it was, Jack immediately suggested that his brother flee to Canada. As he and Jack headed to the border, Nicky noted how disappointed their dad would be if he avoided the service, and he wondered what was next for him.
Jack and Nicky got a hotel room nearby and decided the youngest Pearson would cross the border the next morning. However, when Jack awoke, his brother was gone, and he had left a note saying it was his turn to save the day.
Nicky, who was taking pills and drinking heavily, later sent a desperate letter home to his family explaining that he was in trouble for endangering himself and his fellow soldiers. He told them he was going to die in Vietnam, but he wanted to do it on his own terms. Jack, who was able to hide his irregular heartbeat, then chose to enlist because he wanted to be in the same place as his brother.
This Is Us airs on NBC Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET.
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