The Real MASH



The Real MASH traces the original stories and people that inspired the fictional TV series and feature film about the Korean War.  Both pushed buttons on cultural and social frontiers but real life MASH (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) units were actually more like renegade units onto themselves and early indicators of the social turmoil and tensions that were to unfold later in the USA.  


Interviews with MASH actors, including Jamie Farr, Loretta Swit and Gary Burghoff, co-creator Gene Reynolds, surgeons, doctors, nurses, pilots and enlisted men who served in the war blend with dramatic recreations, archival film and rare photographs to tell the true stories behind the MASH entertainment franchise.


M*A*S*H the TV series ran for eleven seasons (1972-1983) and has become one of the most celebrated television series in the history of the medium. The motion picture M*A*S*H (1970), directed by Robert Altman, was one of the most successful films of the decade.


Both the TV series and the film trace their origins to the semi-autobiographical book, 'M*A*S*H' written by Richard Hornberger (who died in 1997) under the penname Richard Hooker. As Willy Hornberger, Richard's son, explains in The Real MASH, it is ironic that the show and the film were interpreted as anti-authoritarian left-wing creeds but the book that started it all off was written by a man with starkly conservative views. Richard Hornberger would later go on to publicly decry the TV series as 'communist dribble' and distance himself from the show's pointed social critiques.


War is infamous for throwing unlikely bedfellows under the same roof. But MASH units pushed those boundaries even further. Female nurses worked on the front-lines for the first time. African-American nurses, surgeons and medics staffed the MASH unit. The make-up of MASH units anticipated wide spread social changes that would shake the status quo back home decades later.


Threaded throughout the book, the film and the TV series were the sexual hijinks between men and women at the MASH units. Our real veterans speak candidly to the reality of the MASH social scene.

The Real MASH brings forward the voices of the surgeons and nurses who staffed the groundbreaking MASH units during the Korean War. MASH units used helicopters as ambulances to taxi the wounded from the frontlines to the MASH operating rooms. The immediacy of the transport and subsequent medical attention insured unprecedented high survival rates. One unit, the 8055th enjoyed a 98% success rate with the cases that flowed through their tents.


The M*A*S*H TV series lasted three times longer than the actual war it portrayed. The Korean War is often referred to as the 'Forgotten War' and even a hit TV series set in that war did little to lift the war from history's shadow. Many fans mistakenly assume the show was set during the Vietnam War. One day, all that may remain in popular memory is the TV show M*A*S*H. Possibly a mistaken rewrite of history for some veterans and for others, a plausible side-account of what truly happened by the 38th Parallel.


When asked how authentic the show was in portraying the reality of life on the frontlines in a medic station, the oft heard response is that, though well researched, the show was entertainment, whereas war was a horror-show.