Americans love them some Navy crime drama. Nothing shows more evidence of that than the success of the Emmy-winning, long-running show, JAG. If the show’s 227 episodes weren’t enough proof, consider that this show also spun off an even more popular show, NCIS, and its own spin-offs.
That’s right, JAG has grandchildren.
But the show wasn’t going to survive on mundane drama — no one cares if Petty Officer Valle was late coming back from LIBO — it needed some real juicy crime drama. The show was among the first to use “ripped from the headlines” plots — and no one can garner headlines like the U.S. military.
The show ran from 1995-2005 and, along the way, it covered some very interesting moments in U.S. Navy history. Now, JAG has finally found a home on cable television on WGN America, so you can experience these classic episodes and many, many more.
“Valor” – Season 6, Episode 17
This episode from 2001 features a character who was found aboard a boat laden with explosives. Terrorists captured a U.S. Marine and coerced her into helping them use the boat to hit an American destroyer. The Marine in question is held as the JAG officers try to determine if she was forced to assist the terrorists or if she had been turned by them.
The terrorist plot depicted in “Valor” is based on the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole while it was refueling in Yemen’s port city of Aden. Unlike the boat in the episode, the boat that attacked the Cole was completely destroyed and had no potentially traitorous Americans aboard.
The real bombing killed both boat drivers, along with 17 sailors. The blast wounded 39 more U.S. troops.
“Defensive Action” – Season 1, Episode 13
In the 1990s, the U.S. was heavily invested in the Balkan Conflict of the former Yugoslavia, especially the areas around Bosnia. So it makes good sense that conflict found its way onto the show. On a mission to return a Hind helicopter to Serbia, a Navy F-14 Tomcat malfunctions and explodes and the Serbian Hind begins strafing the ejected pilots. The Tomcat’s wingman lights up the Hind, earning a court-martial in the process. One of those ejected Tomcat pilots survives and evades Serbian patrols on the ground until he’s eventually rescued.
This is in reference to the rescue of U.S. Air Force pilot Scott O’Grady, who was shot down in an F-16C by Bosnian Serb SAM batteries. O’Grady evaded Serbian patrols for a solid week until he was rescued behind enemy lines by a force of United States Marines.
“Clipped Wings” – Season 3, Episode 22
During an exercise in the Mediterranean, an F-14 Tomcat collides with an Italian civilian helicopter, killing six people. The Italians demand to prosecute the pilot, and the Italian people are outraged. The pilot swears there was another aircraft he was avoiding when he ran into the helicopter.
In the real world, a Marine Corps aircraft did kill a number of Italian tourists as an EA-6B Prowler cut the cable of a cable car while flying lower than it should have been near Cavalese, Italy. The falling gondola killed all 20 people aboard, and the crew of the Prowler was put on trial for involuntary manslaughter, of which they were acquitted.
“Into the Breach” – Season 5, Episode 12
On April 19, 1989, a 16-inch gun turret aboard the USS Iowa exploded, killing 47 sailors and damaging the turret. The Navy concluded that one of the crewmen purposely caused the explosion. Congress, however, hated the Navy’s explanation and sent the GAO in to do an independent review. The GAO’s scientists found that an overram of powder bags was the likely explanation for the explosion.
In this episode, Harm and Mac are working an old case for law students in a mock trial — a case in which 29 sailors were killed when a disgruntled gun captain exploded his own turret. In the process of reviewing the old case, however, the two JAG officers find new evidence and new witnesses – enough to retry it.
“The Court-Martial of Sandra Gilbert” – Season 3, Episode 2
In this episode, Sandra Gilbert is a top-rated Cobra pilot who was suddenly grounded and charged with conduct unbecoming and disobeying orders when she begins an illegal relationship with an enlisted man, a Gunnery Sergeant. As it turns out, however, the Gunny is a married man. So, Harm has to defend Gilbert as the Corps tries to railroad charges against him.
A similar incident happened to U.S. Air Force Lt. Kelly Flinn, the first female B-52 pilot in Air Force history. In 1997, Flinn was discharged from the Air Force as a result of her adulterous affair with an enlisted subordinate’s husband, lying to Minot AFB officials about the affair, and then disobeying her superior’s order to break off the relationship.
As you can imagine, the media had a field day with the news.
So, if you’re in the market for heart-pounding drama and high-stakes operations, look no further than JAG.