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Literature / M*A*S*H

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MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors — the original novel that inspired the film M*A*S*H and TV series M*A*S*H and AfterMASH — was written by H. Richard Hornberger (himself a former military surgeon) under the pen name Richard Hooker, and was about a fictional U.S. Mobile Army Surgical Hospital in Korea during The Korean War. It was originally published in 1968.

Hooker followed the novel with several sequels, most of them ghostwritten.


Plot summary

Radar O'Reilly, while playing poker, listens in on a conversation between Colonel Henry Blake and General Hammond and announces the forthcoming arrival of two new surgeons. Captains Duke Forrest and Hawkeye Pierce share a jeep to MASH unit 4077. On the way, they also share a bottle and discover that, although they come from different parts of the U.S., they have much in common. Upon arrival, rather than report to the commanding officer, they have lunch in the mess tent, where they run into Col. Blake anyway. They are assigned to work the night shift, and billeted with Major Jonathan Hobson, a Midwestern preacher and surgeon.

The two new surgeons exhibit exceptional work and gain the respect of their colleagues, however they become annoyed by Maj. Hobson's devotion to prayer, so they complain to Henry, who reluctantly agrees to have Maj. Hobson rebilleted. Seeing that Henry is a bit of a push-over, they also request a chest surgeon for the unit. Friction mounts between the major and the new captains. Major Hobson's prayers begin to annoy everyone and Henry arranges to have him sent stateside.


Weeks later, the new chest surgeon arrives, Captain John McIntyre. He evades everyone's attempts to get to know him, and stays hidden inside a parka stocked with cans of beer and martini olives. For days Hawkeye has a nagging feeling that he's met McIntyre before. McIntyre is a fantastic surgeon, but still won't talk to anyone until Hawkeye suddenly remembers playing football against McIntyre in college. Hawkeye introduces McIntyre to everyone as Trapper John.

The tent occupied by the three surgeons, known as The Swamp, becomes a popular hang-out, serving cocktails at 4. One of the regulars is Father Mulcahy, the Catholic chaplain. The boys aren't religious, but they like the Father, calling him "Dago Red" because of his red hair. However, as Duke is an avowed Protestant, he requests a Protestant chaplain. The nearest Protestant chaplain is Shaking Sammy, who lives in an engineering outfit, and is so named because he loves to shake hands. The Swampmen come to dislike him because he tends to send letters to the families of fatally wounded soldiers saying all is well. After one too many of these letters, they lash him to a wooden cross and make him believe they intend to burn him alive.


Captain Waldowski, the dentist known as the Painless Pole, who has a pool table and a poker table (open 24 hours), suddenly becomes depressed and decides to commit suicide. (He's chronically depressed and has a fit of depression every month.) Duke gives him a "black capsule" to knock him out, a mock Last Supper is arranged and everybody bids him farewell. The next day he is feeling better and ready for a game of poker.

The Swampmen begin to have personal conflicts with Captain Frank Burns, a rich, arrogant surgeon from the day shift. He trained for two years with his father, who, ironically, is not a trained surgeon. However he considers himself better than Hawkeye, and constantly harasses enlisted men. When one of his patients dies Frank says, as Duke puts it, "it's either God's will or somebody else's fault". He first blamed Private Boone for the death of a patient. These actions get him assaulted by Duke and then Trapper. The arrival of the new Chief Nurse, Major Margaret Houlihan, restores order at first. However, being Regular Army, she instantly dislikes the Swampmen and sides with Burns. Henry decides to appoint a Chief Surgeon, and the job falls to Trapper, being the best surgeon in the unit. Burns and Houlihan conclude that the Swampmen are evil and Henry their puppet. They prepare a report for Gen. Hammond and later get together in her tent, where Frank stays until 1:30 am. The next day the Swampmen tease Burns and Houlihan about their late-night meeting. Trapper John calls Houlihan "Hot Lips" and Hawkeye provokes Burns into a fight. Henry is finally forced to send Burns stateside.

Ho-Jon, the Korean houseboy working in the Swamp, is drafted into the South Korean army. He is subsequently wounded and sent back to the 4077th for treatment. After rehabilitation, he resumes his position as Swampboy. The Swampmen, who are very fond of Ho-Jon, arrange to have him sent to Hawkeye's old college. To raise funds, Trapper grows a beard, dresses up like Jesus Christ, and autographs thousands of photos which the Swampmen sell for a buck apiece.

Trapper receives orders to rush to Kokura, Japan for a medical emergency. Trapper and Hawkeye depart immediately with their golf clubs. The "emergency" turns out to be a routine operation; the anesthesiologist turns out to be "Me Lay" Marston, an old friend of Hawkeye who works at Dr. Yamamoto's Finest Kind Pediatric Hospital & Whorehouse ("Finest kind" becomes one of Hawkeye's catchphrases). The two Swampmen qualify for a golf tournament and play against a good-humoured British colonel. Trapper, still resembling Christ, attracts a lot of unwanted attention. After the tournament, they have dinner with Me Lay. Me Lay asks the boys to look at a sick baby, whom they take back to the army hospital. When the hospital's Colonel Merrill tries to get in their way, he is abducted, sedated and blackmailed. The baby, an orphan, is adopted by Me Lay.

Business picks up at the 4077th and Trapper and Hawkeye return immediately to find the unit overwhelmed with casualties. A constant flow of wounded soldiers pours into the hospital for two weeks and all personnel work around the clock performing operations far beyond their training. At the end of the two weeks everyone is exhausted and irritable. The unit's efficiency sags, and the tremendous loss of life begins to take its toll on the surgeons. They turn to heavy drinking and start harassing the nurses, particularly Maj. Houlihan. Fed-up, she again complains to the general, who comes down on Col. Blake. The Swampmen intercede on behalf of the colonel and smooth things over with the general.

Summer arrives and the 4077th is hot and overworked. The work slacks off and while Henry is sent to Tokyo for three weeks, Colonel Horace DeLong fills in. Col. DeLong finds Hawkeye at the poker game and demands that he start surgery on a patient in the preoperative ward. Hawkeye says that the patient is receiving blood and that he will do the surgery at 3:00am. At 2:45, while scrubbing for surgery, Hawkeye explains that the waiting period was necessary for the patient to become fit for surgery. When the Swampmen get bored, to get away for a few days they lead DeLong to believe they need psychiatric evaluation. At the 325th Evac, they escape and the psychiatrist, accompanied by Henry, finds them at Mrs. Lee's (a nearby whorehouse).

The Swampmen organize a football team to play against Gen. Hammond's team. They tell Henry to request neurosurgeon Oliver Wendell Jones, a pro ball player known as Spearchucker. Henry becomes the coach, certain that he'd be a better coach than Hammond. Spearchucker scouts Hammond's team and finds out the general has three pros on his team. They devise a plan to get the runner out of the game, and wear out the two tackles early in the game. Their plan is successful and they win the game 28-24, although only after devising a piece of subterfuge to score the winning touchdown and using Radar's phenomenal hearing to eavesdrop on the opponents' tactical discussions.

Time drags for Duke and Hawkeye as they wait for their commissions to expire. They start to disappear for days at a time. To keep them busy Henry has them train the new recruits, Captains Pinkham and Russell, in the short-cuts of "meatball surgery". The recruits do well, but Capt. Pinkham's wife has a mental breakdown and he is sent home.

When the time finally comes for Duke and Hawkeye to go home, everyone crowds into The Swamp for a farewell drink. The two continue to drink and cause trouble all the way home by feigning battle fatigue to scare new recruits, impersonating chaplains to get out of working short-arm inspection and harassing an airline stewardess. They part ways in Chicago and rejoin their families.


  • Corporal Walter "Radar" O'Reilly - from Ottumwa, Iowa, given his nickname for his extra-sensory perception
  • Brigadier General Hamilton Hartington Hammond - stationed in Seoul
  • Lieutenant Colonel Henry Braymore Blake - Commanding Officer, florid, balding, stutters when angry.
  • Captain Walter Koskiusko "Painless Pole" Waldowski - from Hamtramck, Michigan, Dental Officer
  • Captain Augustus Bedford "Duke" Forrest - from Forrest City, Georgia, age 29, under 6 feet tall, red hair, blue eyes, married with two daughters.
  • Captain Benjamin Franklin "Hawkeye" Pierce - from Crabapple Cove, Maine, age 28, over 6 feet tall, brown-blond hair, wears glasses, married with two sons, six brothers.
  • Major Jonathon Hobson - age 35, general practitioner from the Midwest, preacher, extremely unskilled as a surgeon.
  • Captain "Trapper" John Francis Xavier McIntyre - from Boston, Massachusetts, Chief Surgeon, skilled at thoracic surgery.
  • Captain "Ugly" John Black - chief anesthesiologist, limpid-eyed, dark-haired, handsome.
  • Father John Patrick "Dago Red" Mulcahy - from San Diego, California, Catholic chaplain, red hair.
  • "Shaking" Sammy - Protestant chaplain from nearby engineering unit, loves to shake hands, tends to send letters to the families of fatally wounded soldiers saying "all is well".
  • Sergeant "Mother Divine" - from Brooklyn, New York, mess tent cook, sells fake deeds of public landmarks to gullible soldiers
  • Captain Frank Burns - from Fort Wayne, Indiana, born to affluence, accustomed to authority, adept at cardiac massage, but inept at everything else
  • Private Lorenzo Boone - age 19, bumbling medical assistant
  • Major Margaret "Hot Lips" Houlihan - Chief Nurse, Regular Army, blondish, fortyish
  • Ho-Jon - from Seoul, age 17, houseboy and medical assistant, tall, thin, bright, Christian
  • Dr. James Lodge - from Crabapple Cove, Maine, Dean of Androscoggin College
  • Benjamin Franklin "Big Benjy" Pierce, Sr. - from Crabapple Cove, Maine, lobster fisherman
  • Colonel Ruxton P. Merrill - Commanding Officer, 25th Station Hospital, Kokura, Japan
  • Captain Ezekiel Bradbury "Me Lay" Marston IV - from Spruce Harbor, Maine, anesthesiologist, childhood friend of Hawkeye
  • Colonel Cornwall - British officer
  • Captain Bridget "Knocko" McCarthy - nurse from Boston, Massachusetts, age 35, 5'8.
  • Sergeant Pete Rizzo - medical assistant, athletic
  • Dr. R. C. "Jeeter" Carroll - from Oklahoma, surgeon, not very intelligent, 5'8, 150 lbs.
  • Roger "the Dodger" Danforth - surgeon, 6073rd MASH, trained with Ugly John
  • Colonel Horace DeLong - visiting officer, surgeon
  • Lieutenant Rafael Rodriguez - medic, Colonel Blake's secretary
  • Major Haskell - Chief of Psychiatry, 325th Evac
  • Sergeant Vollmer - from Nebraska, Supply sergeant
  • Captain Oliver Wendell "Spearchucker" Jones - from New Jersey, neurosurgeon, played football for Philadelphia Eagles, also threw javelin
  • Captain Emerson Pinkham - surgeon, Ivy League, book-smart but somewhat dense, has a wife who goes insane and is sent to an asylum
  • Captain Leverett Russell - surgeon, Ivy League, book-smart but somewhat dense

Changes in other media

See also Differences between book, film and TV versions of M*A*S*H.

As the novel was adapted into other media, first in the 1970 film directed by Robert Altman and then later in the long-running television series, many changes were made to the characters and general tone of the story.

For example, Hawkeye went from being a conservative to a liberal, as well as gradually losing his zany sense of humor as played by Alan Alda in the television series. The character was also changed from being married with children to a single mannote . Similarly, characters such as Hot Lips and Radar lost the edge they had in the novel, film and earlier episodes of the television series. Radar, in particular, suffered tremendously from Flanderization, going from a slightly naive, yet worldly character (one who played poker, drank Blake's whisky on the sly and smoked cigars) and into one who was little more than a sympathetic manchild (who blanched at the thought of smoking and drank only Grape Nehi).

Other changes by the time the television series became the most well-known version included writing Duke Forrest out of the story entirely, and replacing such characters as Trapper John and Henry Blake with newly created characters.


Hooker wrote the first sequel, M*A*S*H Goes to Maine, in 1972, covering the lives of the surgeons after they returned home from the war.

After the success of the M*A*S*H TV series, novels credited to Hooker and William E. Butterworth appeared, beginning with M*A*S*H Goes to Paris in 1974. Although credited to Hooker and Butterworth, they may have been ghostwritten entirely by Butterworth.

At this point, the novels largely left the original characters behind to focus on extraneous characters, mostly caricatures of public figures from the 1970s: for instance, operatic tenor Luciano Pavarotti is parodied in the form of a singer named "Korsky-Rimsakov", and news anchor Dan Rather becomes the egotistical "Don Rhotten". The tone of the Butterworth novels is also markedly different from Hooker's original books, being much more comical and less realistic.

After the conclusion of the "Butterworth" series with 1977's M*A*S*H Goes to Montreal, Hooker wrote a final "M*A*S*H" novel, M*A*S*H Mania, which jettisoned the plots of the intervening novels and picked up where M*A*S*H Goes to Maine left off.


by Richard Hooker

  1. M*A*S*H: A Novel About Three Army Doctors (1968)
  2. M*A*S*H Goes to Maine (1972)
  3. M*A*S*H Mania (1977)

by Richard Hooker and William E. Butterworth

  1. M*A*S*H Goes to Paris (1974}
  2. M*A*S*H Goes to New Orleans (1975)
  3. M*A*S*H Goes to London (1975)
  4. M*A*S*H Goes to Vienna (1976)
  5. M*A*S*H Goes to San Francisco (1976)
  6. M*A*S*H Goes to Morocco (1976)
  7. M*A*S*H Goes to Miami (1976)
  8. M*A*S*H Goes to Las Vegas (1976)
  9. M*A*S*H Goes to Hollywood (1976)
  10. M*A*S*H Goes to Texas (1977)
  11. M*A*S*H Goes to Moscow (1977)
  12. M*A*S*H Goes to Montreal (1977)


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