Airing from 1972 to 1983, the hit American TV series, M*A*S*H, offered a bit of comic relief in the face of war. Short for “Mobile Army Surgical Hospital,” the show focused on the surgical staff of an Army hospital during the Korean War. Its main characters, albeit talented surgeons, were also quite impish. Characters like Capt. Benjamin “Hawkeye” Pierce and Capt. “Trapper” John McIntyre often fell into booze-and-women-related antics, clashing with their strict superior officers.
The Biggest Fans Were the Ones That Lived Through the War
In an exclusive interview with MeTV, actors Wayne Rogers and Gary Burghoff spoke about how M*A*S*H portrayed the Korean War.
Rogers fulfilled the role of Trapper John, one of the more mischievous and nonconformist officer in the bunch. He spoke to “the insanity of behavior” of the characters to MeTV, stating “You could make the most outrageous thing you want to say, and if I’m saving a life, that’s acceptable.”
Rogers goes on to point out the irony of the show’s premise: “These people were saving lives. War was about killing people, and they were about trying to save people.”
However, the true reflection and greatest compliment of the show’s impact and portrayal of battle came when a Korean war veteran approached Gary Burghoff, who played Lt. Radar O’Reilly on M*A*S*H. One of the softer characters, Radar O’Reilly was among the favorites with viewers. While out to dinner in Wisconsin, Burghoff said a man that stopped him in the parking lot.
He recalls, “[The man] said ‘I was in the trenches in Korea… When I came home in 1952, I was changed, and my wife knew I needed to talk about it. And I couldn’t bring myself to talk about it.” When M*A*S*H aired twenty years later, Burghoff said the man was finally able to reach out to his wife and say, “‘See honey? That’s the way it was.’”
Burghoff added, “We always tried to tie the entertainment value into the reality as much as we possibly could in our small way.”
The Impact of ‘M*A*S*H’ on Its Own Cast
When it finally came to a close after 11 seasons, M*A*S*H had just as strong an impact on its actors. In another interview with MeTV, Mike Farrell, who played B.J. Hunnicutt, recalled the emotional effect that the last day of filming had on the cast.
“At one point,” Farrell said, “I think it was the director, who said I’ve never had to tell actors to not cry so much in my life. Stop. Crying.”
Since its airing, M*A*S*H has continued to entertain, remind and commiserate with its viewers about a period in time that can be better felt than explained.