Every This Is Us viewer has been distracted by the one big shadow hanging over Season 2 — how does Jack die, and what happens after? Now that viewers have seen both Jack’s death on This Is Us and his funeral, we can get back to the real storytelling. For instance, the show touched on Jack’s time during the Vietnam War, but then it shied away in order to favor his death plot line. What happened to Jack in Vietnam? This Is Us finally has the time to tell this story in full.
Jack and Rebecca met when Jack was 28 and freshly back on American soil after fighting in the Vietnam War. He told people that he was just a mechanic, but clips of Jack in combat show that he was really more in the thick of things than he ever let on. Rebecca changed Jack’s life, and she made him happy, and he seemingly let go of some of the things that happened to him in Vietnam. Except, Jack’s brother, Nicky, died in Vietnam. Jack and Nicky were, as Jack says, inseparable. They were two of a kind, brought together by the need to overcome their father’s drunkenness and their mother’s depression. They needed each other, and Nicky didn’t come back.
The way Jack feels about brotherhood is apparent — every time Kevin and Randall fight (which is, uh, all the time), he gives his sons a lecture about how siblings are the only people you can count on in your life. It took 20 years, and the men (sort of) get it now, but Jack spent a lot of time fighting for them to just open their eyes and realize what was in front of them. Jack probably wishes that he didn’t have to parent like this, that he could have his own brother there to lead his sons by example and not speeches. Now that Jack’s death has been settled, This Is Us seems like they’ll swing into exploring Jack’s prior life — including what Vietnam was like for him — when the show returns from its Olympics hiatus. Previews for upcoming episode show Jack in a helicopter, floating above the trees. What did he see while he was over there?
If Milo Ventimiglia, who plays Jack says viewers will see more of Nicky on This Is Us. In an interview with Esquire, Ventimiglia teased all of the Jack-related info that’s about to come out in the latter half of the season and beyond. “There are so many questions with Jack. His upbringing, what happened to him in Vietnam, what happened to him after Vietnam before he met Rebecca?" he said. "His brother, I think is something that’s going to come up relatively quickly, and play out over the next season or so."
War can do terrible things to a person, and though Jack doesn't talk about it, he still clearly has scars from his time overseas. Ventimiglia told Entertainment Weekly:
“Jack is holding onto a lot. Anyone who is in the theater of war is experiencing things that a civilian on the streets has no idea about. War is horrible, and if you’re right there in the middle of it to see the atrocities, you can’t not be impacted by it. So only getting a glimpse of Jack hopping out of a helicopter with an M16 rifle ... he wasn’t just a mechanic ... I think Jack in his younger years saying he was just a mechanic is just a way to put off other questions, because Jack had adjusted his own perspective on life post-war and moved forward. And man, that’s just God-given grace if anything. It’s nothing anyone can ever expect to have, but Jack was fortunate enough to have a clean perspective moving forward and manage whatever emotional distress he experienced while he was over in Vietnam.”
But did Jack really make peace with what happened in Vietnam? When he came back from war, he was angry and, frankly, a troublemaker, and it was only meeting Rebecca that set the course of his life in a different direction. Jack's Vietnam years are an important part of his life, and it's important that This Is Us will explore them sooner rather than later.