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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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‘Experience’ looks back at Vietnam War

Kevin McDonough United Feature Syndicate

The excellent and thoughtful series “American Experience” (9 p.m., KSPS,) returns for a new season with “Two Days in October,” a harrowing look at the Vietnam experience.

Presented as two parallel stories, “Two Days” recalls a tragic military debacle and an early student protest that spiraled into unexpected violence. Participants, now well into middle age, remember how each event changed them forever.

The first story concerns the Black Lions, a special Army unit under the command of Lt. Col. Terry Allen. Allen, the son of a decorated World War II general, was under pressure from Army brass to search for and destroy Viet Cong troops. He was also reeling from his wife’s decision to divorce him – a decision, we learn, that stemmed in part from his young wife’s disenchantment with the Vietnam War.

Back home in Madison, Wis., some students decided to stage a sit-in to prevent Dow Chemical, then known for its manufacture of deadly napalm, from recruiting students on campus. While some students were inspired by anti-war sentiment, the vast majority remained completely oblivious to the protest, and possibly to the war itself.

In an eagerness to engage the enemy, Allen sent his two units of Black Lions, the Alpha and Delta companies, into an area of known enemy activity. Many questioned his tactics, including Delta Company commander Clark Welch, who, now well into his 60s, still sports a crew cut and maintains a military bearing.

Allen’s decision would result in an ambush and the loss of 64 of the 142 Americans sent into battle.

Shot three times, Welch remembers how that day turned his feelings against the way the war was being waged. He also recalls Allen’s blundering leadership with great and mixed emotions.

Welch was standing next to Allen when he was shot to death by an enemy sniper. Allen was clutching a photograph of his three children.

Concerned about the student protests, the University of Wisconsin president called in police from Madison. Deeply resentful of students they considered both spoiled and unpatriotic, the local police reacted with clubs and tear gas, turning a localized protest into campuswide chaos.

One woman remembers waking up that morning a patriotic, pro-war student concerned only about her upcoming exams. By nighttime she had been radicalized, ready to devote her time and energies to protesting the war.

“Two Days” also hears from the sister of a soldier killed with Allen, several professors on different sides of the Wisconsin riots, and two Madison policemen with no qualms about their actions. We also hear from Allen’s widow, who regrets her hurtful, impetuous statements to her husband but who never changed her mind about her decision to leave him or to question the war that claimed his life.

Having sent up nightly news with “The Daily Show” (11 p.m., Comedy Central), Stephen Colbert now parodies pompous punditry with “The Colbert Report” (11:30 p.m., Comedy Central).

Other highlights

A local deli names a sandwich after Deacon, making Doug jealous on “The King of Queens” (8 p.m., CBS). A story notable only for its similarity to the plot of a recent “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”

St. Louis and Houston tangle in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series (5 p.m., Fox).

Flower power hits the glass ceiling on “Wife Swap” (10 p.m., ABC).

Ed gets a prescription for relaxation on “Las Vegas” (9 p.m., NBC).

The Colts host the Rams on “Monday Night Football” (6 p.m., ABC).

Alexandra Paul (“Baywatch”) and Gabrielle Carteris (“Beverly Hills 90210”) star in the 2005 thriller “A Lover’s Revenge” (9 p.m., Lifetime).

A pool boy skims his last drowned fly on “CSI: Miami” (10 p.m., CBS).

Recurring dreams of teenage friendship on “Medium” (10 p.m., NBC).

Cult choice

A he-man of yore (Paul Telfer) must complete 12 heroic labors in the 2005 fantasy “Hercules” (7 and 9 p.m., Sci Fi), featuring Sean Astin, Leelee Sobieski, Elizabeth Perkins and Timothy Dalton. Produced by special-effects wizard Robert Halmi Sr.

Series notes

A missing pet raises larger questions on “Surface” (8 p.m., NBC) … Arnaz becomes jealous on “One on One (8 p.m., UPN) … Lucy’s hidden agenda on “7th Heaven” (8 p.m., WB) … Separate libations on “How I Met Your Mother” (8:30 p.m., CBS) … Couples counseling on “All of Us” (8:30 p.m., UPN) … Charlie ponders his shortcomings on “Two and a Half Men” (9 p.m., CBS) … William must face his distant father on “Girlfriends” (9 p.m., UPN) … Reluctant roomies on “Out of Practice” (9:30 p.m., CBS) … A matchmaking conflagration on “Half & Half” (9:30 p.m., UPN).

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