When a box filled with POW support bracelets is found in an abandoned drug den, Det. Rush re-investigates the 1973 shooting of Carl, a Vietnam War veteran.
August 16, 1972. It is all joy as a house party is underway to welcome home Carl Burton, a POW that has just returned from Vietnam after five long years in a prison camp. To welcome him home, his son Ned has prepared a special gift for him: a box full of POW bracelets that everyone wore when Carl was in Vietnam. A man walks through the door and asks who the boy is. He tells him he's his father, and Ned says you dont look like the picture. He gives his father the box. On a rainy, stormy night the body of Carl Burton lies in the road with a gunshot wound to his stomach and a pistol nearby. A detective files away his cold case box: April 1973.
Stillman, Lilly and Scotty enter a raided drug house and meet Kat Miller, narcotics detective. She called them because the police found some interesting things in the house: POW bracelets of Carl Burton, a Navy pilot and a Vietnam War hero, found behind the water heater in the cellar. Stillman remembers the case well. He wants Scotty and Lilly to treat the Burton case like family.
Stillman, Scotty and Jeffries go over Carl’s case in the vault. He was 35 years old, shot down during his 23rd bombing mission and spent five years in a prison camp, only to return home and die months later. He was last seen at the funeral reception for another POW, Rex Potter. He was seen a mile away with the gun only a few feet from him and a bag of marijuana in his pocket. Unfortunately the rain washed away any fingerprints.
Lilly and Jeffries talk to Carl's widow, Janet, who has no idea how the bracelet wound up where it did. She had lost track of them. Carl also didn’t seem like the type to get involved with drugs, but she’d rather remember Carl the way he was before he went off to Vietnam: a strong hero. But in the end she wouldn’t have known if Carl did end up getting involved with drugs. They really tried, but they just never got to know each other again.
Flashback Upstairs in the bedroom, Carl and Janet share a drink and start to dance, reminiscing about times before the war. When Carl winces in pain, Janet is afraid to continue dancing but Carl wants to pretend that everything’s fine and forget about the fact that his arms have been broken four times. After his outburst, Carl leaves to go for a walk, telling his wife not to wait up for him.
Flashback to Present Carl would go for walks for hours but nobody knew where. Janet admitted they stayed together in the hopes of finding what they had lost. But before they could, Carl was gone again. Scotty and Jeffries visit Carl and Janet's son, Ned, in his research lab. Though he was only seven when his dad came back, he doesn’t ever recall his father behaving as if he was a drug user. Ned said he’d still wake up early every morning, exercise best he could and start his day. The first week Carl was back he put away the bracelets so Ned has no idea how they ended up where they did. However, Ned does remember someone who got in the way.
Flashback Carl and Ned are at the zoo and Carl explains that the people he was with wouldn't let him write letters. Carl is trying to explain to Ned how he communicated with the other prisoners: through Morse code. After he spells out Ned’s name, Carl spells out ”bear” and asks Ned if he wants to see the bears next. Ned says that whenever he comes to the zoo with Ken, they see the lions first. Ned tells his father that Ken is his mom’s friend, the kind that takes him to the zoo and her out to dinner.
Flashback to Present Ned regrets telling Carl about Ken. Ned never heard about his dad following up with Ken, but Scotty and Vera know they would have followed up in his situation.
At the station, Lilly and Stillman are discussing new developments in the case when Vera stops them. Back in 1973 the drug house still had renters, and one of them was Ken Westin, Janet's Ken. Ken admits that he stole the bracelets the day Janet broke up with him in order to make him feel better. He knows that was a low move; he was in Vietnam for 11 months himself. He was at Smokey's bar the night Carl was shot. When Carl came back he wasn’t exactly making friends. He was unstable.
Flashback At the car dealership where he works, Carl asks his boss to take down the huge signs about him being a POW and war hero but his boss refuses since its good for business. While pretending to be a potential customer, Ken and Carl discuss a vehicle before Carl notices a teenager washing cars in the back garage and excuses himself. His name is Daniel and he’s washing cars for free in order to ask Carl about his father. Carl yells at Daniel to get out, there are some things he’s better off not knowing. They exchange words and Daniel storms off.
Flashback to Present Janet tells the detectives that Ken Westin was a mistake to keep her company, but she knows confrontation wasn’t his style. Lilly tells her that Ken was the one who stole the bracelets. Janet tells them Daniel Potter was the son of Rex Potter, a POW with Carl who didn’t make it home. Daniel was constantly hounding Carl to get info about his father, but Carl never talked about the stuff he saw in the prison camp. Daniel even went so far as to throwing a rock through their window. Daniel, however, assures them that the anger stopped with the rock through the window He knew Carl was only protecting him by withholding information. Carl caught him throwing the rock through the window red-handed, and gave him what he wanted.
Flashback Carl catches Daniel after he threw the rock and agrees to tell him what he wants to know. His dad is still in prison in Vietnam. There’s not a lot to eat, contaminated water, the guards are monsters. But Carl assures Daniel that his father will live: he’s one of the strongest people Carl has ever met. Carl admits that Rex is brave, but Carl himself is a coward.
Flashback to Present Daniel saw Carl a few times after that encounter, but he could always feel that something was eating him up. Looking through Carl’s military records the team doesn’t find anything strange until Stillman notices that Carl took early release. Since the code of conduct among POWs was that the sickest and longest held prisoners were released first, Carl couldn’t have left the prison camp under honorable circumstances. Stillman explains he would have had to tell the enemy guards what they wanted to hear and let them use him as propaganda. Those who did manage to leave under honorable circumstances would not have been fans of Carl’s. Coincidently, a group of POWs arrived back one week before Carl was killed. Only one came back to Philadelphia, Roger Raitt, a Navy commander who served with Stillman. Stillman goes to visit Raitt at his office. Stillman’s not much for the reunions and neither is Roger, except keeping in touch is the key especially when he’s working in the defense industry. Raitt confesses he didn’t really respect Carl’s decision to leave early, he understood that Carl had reached his breaking point in the prison camp. Everyone knew that Carl’s worst punishment would be living with the decision he made.
Flashback At the funeral, everyone is listening to the story of how Rex was captured by the Vietnamese when Carl quietly slips in with Ned. Angered, Rex's wife Ruth Potter confronts Carl, asking him how he can show up when he betrayed everyone, including Rex. With no other choice Carl apologizes and leaves with Ned. Roger suggests it would be better for Carl not to attend the reception, and Carl asks Roger to tell the other guys that he died over in Vietnam, and he’s already a ghost.
Flashback to Present Roger thought Carl suffered so badly that he committed suicide. Even though the gun was five feet away from Carl, Roger reminds Stillman how long it takes a man to die from a gunshot. But Stillman is still skeptical; since it is unlikely anybody would commit suicide by shooting themselves in the stomach. Roger reminds him that Carl’s arms didn’t work anymore; maybe he had been aiming for his heart. Kat Miller meets up with Stilman and Vera and asks for an update on the Burton case. Stillman asks how she likes it in narcotics and she tells them she's keeping her cop options open. Ned remembers the day of Rex Potter’s funeral. From the moment they walked into the door, he could see all the POWs there hated his father. Though Ned is shocked to hear of the suicide theory, he knows he was probably the reason why his Carl committed suicide.
Flashback Carl takes Ned to the local diner. He apologizes to Ned for all the yelling at the funeral and the two exchange ”I love you’s”. The waitress recognizes Ned as the little boy who came into the diner with his father last year. Carl is heartbroken to find out Ken was the one who took Ned to the diner and used Carl’s identity, right down to being a soldier who had been to Vietnam while Ken never was a P.O.W.
/Flashback to Present Even though Ned knew it was wrong at the time, he still let Ken pass himself off. After the diner, Carl had marched him home where he spent some time down in the basement before leaving the house. At the station, Jeffries arrives with the lab results. There was no trace of lead on Carl’s clothes, ruling out suicide. They have evidence that Carl did indeed show up at the funeral reception, despite Raitt’s recommendation. Ken also knew the Potters, so he would have had been at the reception too. Ken had been in the army in ’71 and had a nervous breakdown and was discharged from the army before he would have been shipped out to Vietnam. Stillman talks to Ken, and dives into a bit of his own history in Vietnam. He switches up his story about where he was that night. Stillman puts a gun on the table, making Ken uneasy. He asks for a lawyer. Ken knows he told a bad lie, but he didn’t hurt Carl.
Flashback Ken is sitting outside the reception telling tall tales to a group of young boys when Carl shows up with the box of POW bracelets and shoves them into Ken’s arms. Since Ken used his wife and his kid, he’s giving Ken the bracelets so he’ll have everything that is meaningful to Carl. A drunken Daniel stumbles out and calls Carl a fraud, throwing a beer bottle at him before storming away. A minute later Carl walks away himself.
Flashback to Present Ken admits that Daniel left the house a few minutes later and went after Carl. Lilly and Scotty question Daniel. Daniel said he understood how complicated Vietnam was with POWs getting tortured and America saying this war was a mistake. He was angry that the government had blacked out half of the one and only letter his father sent him. Finally, Daniel admitted that he thought Carl could help him know more about his dad, but in the end, he realized Carl was right all along: he didn’t want to know. But they know that point of view is the point of view of an adult, and not the point of view of a 15 year old Daniel.
Flashback Carl makes his way down the street with Daniel closing in. Unable to take it anymore, Carl turns around only to realize that Daniel is stoned. A search reveals a packet of marijuana and Carl warns Daniel not to get into drugs, it is only bad news, but Daniel wants Carl to answer truthfully about his dad this time. He wants to know if it was true, that Carl abandoned his dad and left him there to die. All the other POWs also heard Carl on the loudspeaker saying that the war was wrong, they were war criminals and the Vietnamese saved them. Carl admits he said things he didn’t mean because he wanted to get home. They had managed to break him the prison camp. Angered with the possible thought that his dad didn’t want to see him, Daniel pulls out a gun, demanding the answer. Carl tells Daniel that his dad was crazy about him, but he was a tough guy and could stick it out. Hysterical over the thought that his dad thought the war and the soldiers were wrong when they really weren’t, Daniel fires a shot and hits Carl. He's upset, he didn't mean to. With the weight of everyone's hate of him and understanding Daniel's pain, Carl tells Daniel to run and the boy takes off down the street. Carl manages to crawl a few feet before dying in the street.
Flashback to Present Lilly and Scotty take down Daniel’s statement. Stillman watches Ken leave the headquarters in the elevator, head bowed in shame. Jeffries files away Carl’s closed case box. Roger Raitt leaves the Veterans reunion and sees Stillman’s name tag still sitting on the table. Lilly, Stillman, Ned, and Janet go to Carl’s grave where Ned places a bracelet on his father’s grave. Before Stillman leaves, he sees Carl and the two exchange a salute.
- Kathryn Morris as Lilly Rush
- Danny Pino as Scotty Valens
- John Finn as John Stillman
- Jeremy Ratchford as Nick Vera
- Thom Barry as Will Jeffries
- Tracie Thoms as Kat Miller
- James Handy as Roger Raitt (2005)
- John Allsopp as Carl Burton
- Christopher Cousins as Ned Burton (2005)
- Brynn Thayer as Janet Burton (2005)
- Michael Mantell as Ken Westin (2005)
- Michael Welch as Daniel Potter (1973)
- Skyler Gisondo as Ned Burton (1973)
- Whitney Allen as Janet Burton (1973)
- Larry Dorf as Ken Westin (1973)
- Sara van Horn as Lady Neighbor (1973)
- John Dalesandro as Wes Messina (1973)
- Christopher Hoffman as POW Eulogist
- Catheryn J. Brockett as Ice Cream Lady
- Rachel Quaintance as Ruth Potter (1973)
- Jeff Campbell as Roger Raitt (1973)
- Elton John "Rocket Man"
- Bread "Baby I'm-a Want You"
- Jackson Browne "Doctor My Eyes"
- Tommy James & The Shondells "Draggin' The Line"
- Leon Russell "Stranger in a Strange Land"
- MasterSource Music Catalog "Rock 'n Roll Star"
- Closing Song: Gordon Lightfoot "If You Could Read My Mind"