MASH: An Army Surgeon in Korea
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When North Korean forces invaded South Korea on June 25, 1950, Otto Apel was a surgical resident living in Cleveland, Ohio, with his wife and three young children. A year later he was chief surgeon of the 8076th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital constantly near the front lines in Korea. Immediately upon arriving in camp, Apel performed 80 hours of surgery. His feet swelled so badly that he had to cut his boots off, and he saw more surgical cases in those three and a half days than he would have in a year back in Cleveland. There were also the lighter moments. When a Korean came to stay at the 8076th, word of her beauty spread so rapidly that they needed MPs just to direct traffic. Apel also recalls a North Korean aviator, nicknamed "Bedcheck Charlie," who would drop a phony grenade from an open-cockpit biplane, a story later filmed for the television series. He also tells of the day the tent surrounding the women's shower was "accidentally" blown off by a passing helicopter. In addition to his own story, Apel details the operating conditions, workload, and patient care at the MASH units while revealing the remarkable advances made in emergency medical care. MASH units were the first hospitals designed for operations close to the front lines, and from this particularly difficult vantage, their medical staffs were responsible for innovations in the use of antibiotics and blood plasma and in arterial repair. On film and television, MASH doctors and nurses have been portrayed as irreverent and having little patience with standard military procedures. In this powerful memoir, Apel reveals just how realistic these portrayals were.
industrial center near the 38th parallel, had suffered severe damage during the early part of the war. Several small factories had been gutted, and only shells of twisted steel remained. Bomb and artillery craters pocked the roads and streets and fields in and around the city. But the once proud city of Chunchon had licked its serious wounds and was continuing with life until the armies came back to destroy it again. I had never seen a MASH before. I thought I had an idea of what to expect, but
the ridge to a first aid station in preparation for transport by ambulance to the MASH. But the helicopter could bypass all that and cover miles in no time at all. On one occasion, a corps surgeon called the 8193d Helicopter Detachment with a message that a soldier had been seriously wounded and was expected to die within the hour. Because of the weather and the terrain, they could not move him by ambulance or litter. The unit called for copters, but the cloud ceiling was right down on the ground
mind, the thought of service far away, the thought of another challenge, the thought of doing a doctor’s duty. I was, of course, over the age limit. But for a fleeting second as I held the letter in my hands, I entertained the idea of reliving those days in the 8076th. I too had almost forgotten. I am talking about a sense that was completely lost in the transition from real life to the film and the television series on the MASH. It was lost because it cannot be easily conveyed in those media.
penetrating wound of R.L.Q. and was admitted 4 hours after injury. On examination he presented positive signs of intraperitoneal hematoma filling the entire right gutter and pelvis. This was explored over the path of the iliac and a large tear was found in the common iliac vein extending from the bifurcation of the vena cava tangentially down to the bifurcation of the internal and external iliac veins, where the shell fragment was lodged. There was also a 2 cm linear tear in the iliac artery at
Korea and the Koreans, we came to know something more of ourselves. I was inspired by an article by journalist and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, who contrasted the purposes of the Vietnam War and the Korean War. Writing at the time of the dedication of the Korean War Memorial, Krauthammer highlighted the similarities and the dissimilarities between that memorial and the Vietnam Memorial. The Vietnam Memorial, he noted, is a wall with three soldiers in the background. “At the Korean