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A Picture From History: MASH

Crews and medical personnel display their equipment — including a Bell H-13 — at the headquarters of the 8225th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) in Korea on October 14, 1951. (National Archives)

M*A*S*H is one of my favorite TV shows, a staple of my TV watching since I was a kid.

While loosely based on the Army Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals of the Korean war, M*A*S*H is more accurate than most people realize.

MASH units were Army medical units that acted as mobile hospitals in combat areas. First established in 1945, the Army would use MASH units until 2006 when they were succeeded by Combat Support Hospitals.

28th Army Combat Support Hospital
28th Army Combat Support Hospital, Ft. Bragg

The Korean war was an interesting and transformative time for MASH units due to the revolutionary technology of helicopters and the meat grinder style of combat.

Casualties would receive first aid through members of their unit or army medics during a fight. They would then be sent to Battalion Aid Stations for emergency surgery just to stabilize them for transport to a MASH unit.

Sent to MASH via ambulance or helicopter, once casualties reached a MASH unit they had a 97%+ chance of surviving. 

If you’ve seen M*A*S*H then you’ve seen a lot of truth in fiction.

The conditions MASH units were kept in were horrible.

They had to be mobile and prepared to relocate with 24 hours, so MASH units consisted of tents.

Paul Laird at aid station 385w
Dr. Paul Laird at aid station

Floors, even in the surgical wards, were almost always dirt. This lead to muddy conditions that made it difficult to stand while operating. 

The doctors of MASH units, while excellent medical professionals, were not soldiers.

After WWII, the U.S. government cut funding to army medical units.

As a result, the army was massively unprepared for the Korean war, without enough doctors.

To fill their need, doctors were drafted directly out of their residencies, given little military training, and sent overseas to MASH units, battalion aid stations, and other medical units.

The doctors and nurses of these units were not the only heroes, though. Pilots were in short supply. They were directly responsible for saving thousands of lives.

Capt. John W. Hammett poses with one of the Bell H-13 helicopters the solo pilots used to move patients injured in Korea. Hammett was commander of the 49th Medical Detachment during the Korean conflict.

Normally flying Bell H-13 helicopters came fitted with casualty transport pods that looked like coffins. These single-pilot helicopters would carry the wounded from aid stations to MASH units.

There are dozens of stories of bravery and loss that we could cover about these units. And it’s a topic I shall revisit soon, but for now, keep these numbers in mind.

In a three-year period, the United States suffered over 36,000 dead and 92,000 wounded.

A bugler blows a song as tribute amidst a row of white crosses marking the graves of the lives lost at the Chosin Reservoir while soldiers from the First Marine Division pay their respects.

5 million people died in the Korean war with over half of that number being civilians, a higher rate than either WWII or the Vietnam war.

This is a new style of article for Pew Pew Tactical, if you liked it — let us know in the comments! If you didn’t enjoy it…well phooey. To catch up on previous Pictures From History, click on over to our History Category.

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15 Leave a Reply

  • John Paradis

    Yes! Keep the history articles coming!

    May 22, 2021 6:47 am
  • Yogi

    The civilian to soldier death rate ratio in WWII has shown to be as high as 67% by some estimates.

    May 17, 2021 2:50 am
  • Ivanator

    I liked it!

    May 16, 2021 8:12 pm
  • Ken

    Keep it up. A good read and a great story.

    May 16, 2021 7:00 pm
  • Orlando

    Great historical account. Loved it!! Thank you.

    May 16, 2021 6:35 pm
  • Claud D Wolf

    yes, I love the content! Keep with this in addition to the pew pew stuff.

    May 16, 2021 6:21 pm
  • William Krieg

    Nice read. Keep it up

    May 16, 2021 5:36 pm
  • Mike Cataldo

    M*A*S*H* the book and Emergency, the TV show, two reasons I joined the Army in 1974 as a medic. Very nice article.

    May 16, 2021 4:57 pm
  • Mike Woods

    Really like the history segment! keep it up!

    May 16, 2021 4:37 pm
  • Ty Mathews

    This is history needing to be told ,love history unfortunate some never learn by it ... Keep it coming...!!!

    May 16, 2021 3:45 pm
  • Al

    I like very much . Wish the article was longer but good for a quick summary. Please continue writing.

    May 16, 2021 3:43 pm
  • N.S.

    Great article! I consider M*A*S*H one of the reasons I went into Anesthesia, and one of the reasons I’m now in the US Navy, joining at age 52, and attached to an Expeditionary Medical Facility with the US Marines. While that might not make sense to some, it makes sense to me! I wanted to make a difference in the lives of sailors/Marines/soldiers, and now I can.

    May 16, 2021 3:43 pm
  • JH

    Great article. My brothers and I loved MASH as kids. Did not realize the Korean War had so many casualties.

    May 16, 2021 5:33 am
  • Truth and Tech

    As a young firearms enthusiast with no previous or future military experience, I enjoy these articles. It helps people like me better understand previous military engagements and the sacrifices made at a level I can only appreciate, but never truly understand. Keep them coming please!!

    May 15, 2021 3:24 am
  • Werner Biedermann

    I want to thank-you for the MASH article. I am a 30 year veteran of a volunteer EMS and a ten year veteran of full time paramedic. This is a nicely written article and I appreciate seeing it. Also, I enjoy keeping up with all the stuff you folks post! Please keep up the great work.

    May 14, 2021 1:58 pm
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