43d PORTABLE SURGICAL HOSPITAL



Source:  U.S. closes MASH unit that inspired movie, TV show (CNN article)

June 11, 1997
Web posted at: 10:27 a.m. EDT (1427 GMT)

CAMP HUMPHREYS, South Korea (CNN) -- The Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, the U.S. military unit that inspired the book, classic movie and long-running television series "M*A*S*H," officially disbanded in South Korea Wednesday.

And just like on TV, it was a little zany and a little sad as a color guard retired the unit's flag during the deactivation ceremony.  The "M*A*S*H" theme song, played by an Army band, carried across the grassy fields of Camp Humphreys.

"Today you are joining us in making history ... saying farewell to America's MASH," unit commander Col. Ronald Maul said at his camp 35 miles south of Seoul.

Maul's 43d MASH unit was among only four left in the world that are being phased out to make way for what the military says is a smaller, faster, more efficient medical group called the Forward Surgical Team.

Attending the ceremony, and later signing autographs and cutting the farewell cake, were three actors from the television series, which ran from 1972 to 1983 and is still shown in reruns and dozens of languages around the world.

Larry Linville, who played the fraternizing, whining Maj. Frank Burns, was awed by Wednesday's closing.

"It's an epic event, and I sit here in absolute humility," he said.  "We were like a plastic representation of the real people -- and these are the real people."

Added "M*A*S*H" writer-producer Larry Gelbart: "Coming back here has put us all in touch with reality."

Also on hand was David Ogden Stiers, who played the wealthy and often snotty Maj. Winchester.

Wacky humanity.

The show, filmed in Southern California, touched a chord with civilians and soldiers alike with its portrayal of wacky humanity in the midst of mayhem.

Though Hollywood named its medical team the 4077th MASH, the real unit was the 43d.  The unit included 100 soldiers who staffed two operating rooms and a 36-bed hospital -- often packing them up in 39 vehicles and moving them closer to the battlefields to provide lifesaving medical help.

The 43d unit was formed in 1933 and saw service in Algeria, India, Burma and Japan before arriving in Korea in 1950.  Of the three MASH units remaining in the world, two in the states will be deactivated this year and one in Bosnia will likely continue as long as a U.S. presence remains there.

But not all was sad Wednesday at the closing ceremony.  The stars of the TV show and the real soldiers played out some of the show's antics, wheeling stretchers across a field in a bizarre race.

It also had a more serious note, including a visit by some to the heavily fortified demilitarized zone -- a sobering reminder that the drama MASH portrayed has yet to end.

"The TV show portrayed exactly what it's like to be in MASH," said Sgt. Alex Price.  "I've been to war and seen lots die.  Times have changed and the equipment has changed, but the people are the same."


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