The Real stories of MASH and disease-fighting Armed Forces medical scientists

April 9, 2014
TV Week final episode cover depicting M*A*S*H television show cast

TV Week final episode cover depicting M*A*S*H television show cast. Did you know that the character of MASH 4077th’s head nurse “Hot Lips” Margaret Houlihan was inspired by two real-life Korean War Army MASH head nurses “Hotlips” Hammerly and Janie Hall?

The music starts. The lyrics to the haunting song “Suicide is Painless” play in your head. The sound and sight of helicopters enter and then you are looking down from the helicopters view on a village of tents and red crosses. The television series M*A*S*H, based on the 1970 movie that was set during the Korean War at the fictitious 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital or M*A*S*H, established itself as one of the greatest shows in history. The show was on air from 1972-1983, and it still lives on today in syndication.

The series finale was broadcasted on February 28, 1983 to 105.9 million viewers, becoming the most watched television broadcast of all time. The record held for nearly three decades until the 2010 Superbowl surpassed M*A*S*H’s record with 106.5 million viewers. The show had the ability to make you cry from both a comedic and emotional standpoint striking a unique balance unlike many shows.

But sometimes real life can be as fascinating as fiction. Learn about the real-life exploits of a genuine Army MASH unit and of brave medical researchers fighting tropical diseases in southeast Asia with two recent Armed Forces medical history publications from the U.S. Army Medical Center and School’s Borden Institute.

Skilled and Resolute: A History of the 12th Evacuation Hospital and the 212th MASH, 1917-2006 ISBN: 9780160922534Skilled and Resolute: A History of the 12th Evacuation Hospital and the 212th MASH, 1917-2006 follows the 90-year history of a medical unit, the 12th Evacuation Hospital and its successor the 212th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, which served in military engagements from World War I to Operation Iraqi Freedom as well as many peacekeeping and humanitarian missions. The unit’s goal is to be trained, equipped, and deployable at a moment’s notice.

There are some gruesome pictures in the Vietnam War section, but overall the book is a fascinating read about how medical techniques evolved with warfare practices in makeshift hospitals close to front lines. In 2006, the unit transformed once again to the 212th Combat Support Hospital and was deployed to Afghanistan.

Lt. General George S. Patton visits the US Army 12th Evacuation Hospital (MASH) to award decorations to the World War 2 wounded. (Photo courtesy U.S. Army Medical Department, Office of Medical History)

Lt. General George S. Patton visits the US Army 12th Evacuation Hospital (MASH) to award decorations to the wounded. Patton would later infamously get in trouble for slapping a soldier at another World War 2 hospital who was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or combat stress reaction (CSR), which was called shell shock starting in WW 1.  (Photo courtesy U.S. Army Medical Department, Office of Medical History)

The photos in the book look like scenes out of the M*A*S*H television series; you can picture Radar turning is head to the side, pausing to listen and exclaiming “Choppers!” to be followed by the sound of helicopters.

Getting the sick and wounded from the front to a MASH unit during the Korean War. (Image courtesy http://www.koreanwar60.com/army)

Army helicopters were critical for evacuating the sick and wounded from the front to a MASH unit ambulance during the Korean War. (Image courtesy http://www.koreanwar60.com/army)

The Armed Forces Research Institute of Medical Sciences (AFRIMS), 1960-2010: a 50th Anniversary Photographic History ISBN: 9780160918315The Armed Forces Research Institute of Medical Sciences (AFRIMS), 1960-2010: a 50th Anniversary Photographic History is a lean coffee table book organized by decade. The black and white and color photographs tell the story of AFRIMS – a medical military partnership between the United Sates and Thailand that was founded in response to a cholera epidemic in Thailand in 1959. Within 10 years, a laboratory was built and AFRIMS established the reputation of being a major force in tropical medical research. In the 1970s, the lab played a crucial role in researching and developing treatment for tropical diseases inflicting the military serving in the Vietnam War.

Technology advancements in the 1980s were adapted by AFRIMS and helped with storing and organizing research. In the 1990s and the first decade of the new century, AFRIMS conducted trials impacting the research on vaccines for hepatitis A, malaria, and HIV. The photographs are very compelling and effectively share history while showing the way they conducted research and interacted with the Thai community.

AFRIMS Captain Michael "Mike" Benenson (future USAMC director)  returns a “wai” while the study team prepares medications in the 1973 malaria drug prophylaxis study. (Photograph courtesy of Dr. Michael Benenson)

AFRIMS Captain Michael “Mike” Benenson (future USAMC director) returns a child’s “wai” greeting while the study team prepares medications in the 1973 malaria drug prophylaxis study. (Book photograph courtesy of Dr. Michael Benenson)

HOW DO I GET A COPY OF THESE BOOKS?

About the author: Our guest blogger is Emma Wojtowicz, Public Relations Specialist in GPO’s Office of Public Affairs. 

Additional images and content provided by Government Book Talk Editor Michele Bartram is Promotions and Ecommerce Manager for GPO’s Publication and Information Sales Division in Washington, DC, and is responsible for online and offline marketing of the US Government Online Bookstore (http://bookstore.gpo.gov) and promoting Federal government content to the public.


Navy and Marine POWs in Vietnam

May 2, 2011

For some time now, the Naval History & Heritage Command has been producing concise studies of the Navy’s role during the Vietnam War. In previous posts, I’ve blogged about Navy Medicine in Vietnam and The Approaching Storm, the latter covering the decade-long run up to the introduction of combat troops in 1965. Today’s subject is The Battle Behind Bars: Navy and Marine POWs in the Vietnam War. The author, the late Stuart Rochester, was particularly well qualified to write on this subject, since he was the co-author of what must be considered the definitive account of POWs in Vietnam – Honor Bound: American Prisoners of War in Southeast Asia, 1961-1973 – published by the Army’sCenter ofMilitary History.

A personal note:This is the first time I’ve written about a book whose author I knew personally. Stuart and I worked together for years, on and off – he as deputy and then chief historian at the Pentagon’s Historical Office and me as a GPO marketing contact for his office’s books. We talked mainly by phone, although we did meet in person a couple of times. He was great to work with, a fine scholar, and I regret he wasn’t able to enjoy his position of chief historian longer before his untimely death from cancer in 2009.

The Battle Behind Bars, as the subtitle indicates, focuses on Navy and Marine POWs. Most of the Navy personnel captured during the war were pilots, so they formed a close-knit group of like-minded individuals. One exception was Seaman Apprentice Douglas B. Hegdahl, who was swept overboard from the missile cruiser Canberra and picked up by North Vietnamese fishermen. In a terrific sidebar, the book describes the incredulity of Hegdahl’s captors when he told them how he had come to be swimming in the Gulf ofTonkin – they understandably found his story so incredible that they assumed he was a spy! Once they accepted that he was a raw recruit, an enlisted man, and had trouble seeing due to the loss of his glasses in the water, he became a kind of camp mascot, perceived as not that bright. In realty, he was smart, alert, and able to serve as a secret mailman for other prisoners under the noses of the guards. He also had a retentive memory that let him memorize a huge amount of information about other POWs, which he revealed to the Navy after his early release by the Vietnamese.  

Another sidebar discusses the use of a “tap code” by Navy POWs to communicate via their cell walls. Initially a simple code, it was changed often to prevent detection, to the point where Defense Intelligence Agency personnel had difficulty in decoding some of the samples the prisoners brought back after their release.

It wasn’t all movie derring-do, however. The book details the poor conditions, attempted ideological indoctrination, and sometimes brutal treatment of prisoners in North Vietnam and the even worse situation of POWS in the South, where they shared the miserable living conditions of their Viet Cong captors. The author is fair-minded enough to point out instances, such as in the area of medical treatment, where the Vietnamese often did provide decent care, albeit under primitive conditions. Overall, though, captivity in Vietnam was a prolonged ordeal which, even as conditions eased after 1970, meant years of misery for American POWs.

This is a fine study of a controversial subject and a fitting capstone to the career of a talented scholar. You can get a copy of The Battle Behind Bars here or find it in a library here.


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