Pilot for the TV series introduces the people of the 510th Evac Hospital at China Beach Vietnam, 1967 who include cool but compassionate Army nurse Colleen McMurphy, naive Red Cross newcomer Cherry White, singer Laurette Barber, and cynical civilian worker/prostitute K.C. Koloski trying to deal with the horrors of war which are never far away from the base and dealing with their own individual lives.
Cherry learns the difference between a clean wolf and a sweaty, battle-weary gentleman. Austin calls McMurphy out at her going-away party. He seems to speak for all of her guy pals and friends when he says words to the effect, "...even though all this nuts is going on, I want to see the real you, the sexy side, any side...but you've gone all robot." Laurette, still full of joie de vivre, entices McMurphy into being one of her backup singers; the catch is Laurette has to help McMurphy on HER last shift Laurette has no clue what McMurphy even does, except it's full of "...
K.C. agrees to ask about Cherry's missing brother as she sets up a deal on the local black market to buy a priceless antique vase. At Lila's request, Laurette prepares to perform for visiting brass at a 1940's nostalgia party. Later that night, Lila, K.C., McMurphy, Laurette and Cherry share confidences in a bunker as they wait out a mortar attack together.
In an attempt to understand Boonie, Laurette volunteers to accompany Lila and Cherry on a mission in the Central Highlands. When their helicopter is shot down, they are rescued by a squad of GIs supposedly being led by the legendary Captain Osborne whom Lila has come to meet. At China Beach, Dr. Richard is wounded before his R&R while operating on a wounded GI with a live mortar shell inside him, while K.C. and a frightened Boonie prepare to mount a rescue mission to locate Lila, Laurrette and Cherry.
Cherry is taken in by a deserter who claims have information on her missing brother's whereabouts, and who is pursued by a determined officer from the CID. Meanwhile, Laurette and Boonie try to help a stressed out Beckett get some sleep.
Beckett joins the company of two fellow black servicemen who preach brotherhood, only to deal with the pressure of their racial prejudice and financial coercion when he discovers his new friends using the body bags in his morgue for drug smuggling. Meanwhile, Dodger helps Cherry find her long-lost brother, Rick, who is a spaced-out black marketer working in the sordid underworld of Da Nang. Also, Laurette faces in important audition with laryngitis. Dr. Richard returns from his R&R in Hawaii disillusioned by the perceived changes with his wife.
When a celebrity USO tour starring Nancy Sinatra and Johnny Grant arrives at China Beach, Laurette sees this as her chance to make it big and with McMurphy's help, she joins the tour and leaves China Beach for good. Meanwhile, McMurphy misplaces the body of a young soldier which gets her suspended from the hospital, while at the same time, she finally gives into Natch's moves towards her.
An effort to both promote and clean up China Beach results in the arrival of Airman Wayloo Marie Holmes, a former TV weather girl from the Armed Forces Service in Saigon to handle her first journalism assignment, and K.C. being ordered by Lila to leave the base. Meanwhile, McMurphy sets herself up for a fall when she goes to Da Nang in order to work out of her relationship with Natch, who is revealed to be married, and Dodger returns to the bush to fight. Also, Cherry shows around the new Red Cross volunteers and accompanies them to a fire base outpost.
Frankie Bunsen, a black female army private, arrives at China Beach looking for an assignment while K.C. gets ready to leave. Meanwhile, McMurphy gets a double dose of grief when she learns that Natch has become an MIA when his jet is shot down, and Dodger returns from a patrol critically wounded by a VC booby trap. Also, Wayloo becomes smitten with Dr. Richard after she's slightly wounded during a mortar attack as she continues filming her journalism assignment.
McMurphy maintains a bedside vigil for Dodger while smuggled crates of penicillin create a shortage of antibiotics which could be fatal to him. K.C. agrees to get Boonie some black market penicillin for Dodger in exchange for his help in building her a beauty salon on the base. Meanwhile, Lila goes on a hunt to find a certain 'Karen Koloski' among the service personnel to deliver bad news of her father's death, not realizing that it's K.C.
While most of the staff is on leave during Christmas Eve, McMurphy, Dr. Richard, Lila and others left behind become deluged with scores of casualties, both military and civilian, including a machine-gun toting St. Nick. Dr. Richard becomes understandably grumpy when he learns that his wife is dating another man back home. Meanwhile, Frankie helps Beckett in the morgue where he meets a grief-stricken Vietnamese woman, named Mai, who's cousin, an officer in the ARVN, has just been killed.