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A real M*A*S*H unit


January 15, 2014

After the evening news, my kids have been watching re-runs of the old TV show M*A*S*H on channel 38 from Scranton, one of the few channels that comes in via antenna on our 12-inch set (a set bought back before the end of the Cold War).

We’ve yet to evolve to a flat screen with a plethora of cable channels, so perhaps it is fitting that we’re still watching MASH, the 1970s-era classic depicting the 4077th MASH (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) unit stationed near the front during the Korean War.

For Christmas, my kids received a collection of DVDs of the show so now we can watch the antics of Hawkeye, Klinger, Rader, “Hot Lips” Houlihan and the rest of the characters of the 4077th in back-to-back episodes from the show’s 11 season run. Its 1970s anti-war theme has held up well.

Watching the show with my kids has brought back a lot of memories for me. For instance, my junior high chorus sang the MASH theme song for a school concert. The lyrics include the line “But suicide is painless…” which I remember provoked a certain amount of parental grumbling about school-appropriate songs.

Mostly though, I have been thinking about my mother who, as a nurse during World War II, worked in hospitals and MASH units (as part of the 125th Evacuation Hospital) in Europe.

I showed my kids the snapshots my mother took of the Red Cross-emblazoned hospital tents set up near München-Gladbach, Germany in April, 1945, part of the detailed scrapbook she kept of her military service in Europe. There are many photos of the places she worked and her nurse friends. There are also typical tourist shots of the Eiffel Tower, the Vatican, and the Swiss Alps. There is a photo of nurses and doctors sunbathing on the banks of the Nahe River in Bad Kreuznach, Germany and another of a wartime wedding at which my mother was the maid of honor.

My mother was 47 years old when I was born, and I got used to people mistaking my grey-haired mother for my grandmother. It may have been the ‘70s, but my mother’s sensibilities were firmly in the ‘30s and ‘40s.

I grew up hearing her hospital stories. We slept with the army blankets she brought home on our beds, and I wore her green army T-shirts. She sang all the old ‘40s songs like “Sentimental Journey” and the German love song “Lili Marlene” (alternate lyrics went: “Please Mr. Truman why can’t we come home…”). She had a heavy, wool nurse’s cape that she sometimes wore in the winter. And, to my annoyance, she constantly lamented the loss of her army boots, which she insisted were the best fitting shoes she ever owned.