Ask Rufus: M*A*S*H Recall – The Dispatch

Neighborhood Rufus

September 17 will mark the 50th anniversary of classic television show M*A*S*H. It was first a book, published in 1968 by Dr. Richard Hornberger in collaboration with sports writer WC Heinz, under the pseudonym Richard Hooker. The book became an Oscar-winning movie in 1970. The award-winning, long-running television series first aired on September 17, 1972. One of my all-time favorite books, movies, and TV shows, M*A*S*H is the fictional story of 4077 Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) during the Korean War.

However, many people don’t realize that the story was based on the real 8055th MASH which had ties to Mississippi. Although this is a fictional story, it is based on Hornberger’s experiences while serving as a surgeon at the 8055th Army Mobile Surgical Hospital during the Korean War. When Captain Hornberger served with her in 1951 and 1952, the unit had 25 doctors, 30 nurses, and technical and support staff numbering about 150. The commander and surgeon-in-chief was Major Henry Holleman, a medical of Columbus.

During World War II, Holleman served as a medic in the Medical Detachment of the 314th Engineer Battalion, 89th Division, 3rd Army under the command of General Patton. He was present at the liberation of the Ohordurf concentration camp in Germany, where he witnessed firsthand the horrors of Hitler’s “Final Solution”. After the war, he had a private practice in Columbus and served as medical detachment commander of the 31st Division Artillery Brigade, Mississippi National Guard.

Dr. Agrippo Kellum of Tupelo and Lt. Claude Lollar of Columbus, who was an administrative staff officer, also served with the 8055th. Others from the Columbus area served, but I don’t know their names.

According to Dr. Holleman, the idea for a MASH arose from military medical studies after World War II. Its concept was to be a highly mobile surgical hospital in tents that would be located within three miles of the front lines and move with the battle front. Seriously injured soldiers would be brought in by helicopter, greatly reducing the time between injury and treatment.

The 8055th showed how effective a MASH could be in saving lives. Dr. Holleman wrote in his autobiography, An Unbroken Chain, that during his year-long tour as unit commander, over 5,000 casualties were treated with a 97% survival rate. Dr. Holleman had nothing but praise for the professionalism of the doctors, nurses and staff on the unit. I remember Dr. Holleman putting real names on the characters portrayed in M*A*S*H, saying that the main characters in the book and film were mostly based on individuals or composites of individuals. Duke Forrest was based on Dr. Kellum and Colonel Henry Blake was based on Dr. Holleman.

Occasionally, the TV show’s producers would call Dr. Holleman for suggestions on incidents he remembered that might make for good TV. One of his stories reminded me of one of the TV episodes I watched. Holleman recounted the time he and another officer were driving to Panmunjon in a jeep and took the wrong turn at an unmarked junction. After a while, they came across Marines in fortified burrows. He said he stopped the jeep and asked the Marines where they were and were quickly told they were at the front, and only about 300 yards from enemy lines. Holleman said they quickly got back into the Jeep and as they drove off the enemy “greeted” them with an artillery shell which exploded nearby.

The novel M*A*S*H opens in November 1951. Dr. Holleman had assumed command of the 8055th in September 1951. Hornberger and Kellum had arrived in November. The three doctors remained good friends after leaving the service and stayed in touch. In his foreword to M*A*S*H, Hornberger wrote about real MASH surgeons. He felt they were “perhaps too young to do what they were doing” but “achieved the best results up to that time in the history of military surgery”.

In real life, the 8055th MASH was actually at the forefront of trauma medicine. The unit pioneered triage procedures and vascular surgery in a trauma center. It also helped develop a way to stabilize damaged kidneys until a patient could be transferred to Korea’s only army hospital with an “artificial kidney,” the prototype of today’s dialysis.

Dr. Holleman completed a one-year tour of duty and returned home. He had only been home for six months when he received a letter from the Royal Awards Department in London, England, stating that Queen Elizabeth II had awarded him the Order of the British Empire in recognition of the care given to British soldiers by the 8055th MASH when he commanded it. . At an award ceremony at the British Embassy in Washington, Dr. Holleman received a medal and the award document signed by Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip.

Rufus Ward is a local historian.

Rufus Ward is a Columbus native a local historian. Send your local history questions to Rufus at [email protected]

Quality and thorough journalism is essential to a healthy community. The Dispatch brings you the most comprehensive reporting and insightful commentary from the Golden Triangle, but we need your help to continue our efforts. Please consider subscribing to our website for only $2.30 per week to help support local journalism and our community.

Comments are closed.