Thursday, February 28, 2019

A Look Back At Richard Hornberger, The Author of 'MASH'

I first saw the film MASH in 1971 when I was an 18-year-old sailor serving on the USS Kitty Hawk as the aircraft carrier performed combat operations on “Yankee Station,” in the South China Sea, off the coast of North Vietnam. 

A lot of the older officers and senior enlisted hated the film, as they saw it an anti-Vietnam War message, even if the film portrayed the Korean War. 

Although I was a fervent anti-communist and supported the Vietnam War – I thought we should have gone all out to win the war – I loved the film. I thought it was funny and irreverent, like other service comedies that preceded it.      

I bought the book, MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors, soon after we returned home from Southeast Asia. I liked Richard Hornberger’s classic satirical novel even better than the film. 

Richard Hornberger (seen in the below photos) wrote the slim novel under the pen name Richard Hooker in 1968. He served as an Army doctor in a MASH unit during the Korean War, and according to those who knew him, he based the wise-cracking and irreverent character Hawkeye Pierce on himself. 

Richard Hornberger, who died in 1997 when he was 73, liked the film, and he liked actor Donald Sutherland’s portrayal of Hawkeye Pierce, although he hated the actor’s long hair, which a soldier in the Army would not have. 

He disliked the TV series, as actor Alan Alda and the producers used the comedy show as an antiwar allegory against the Vietnam War - even more than the film. The author, a political conservative, said he was not against the Korean War (or the Vietnam War), but as a doctor and draftee, he laughed at the nonsense he encountered in the Army. 

I watched the TV show, as it was often funny (I loved Harry Morgan's Colonel Potter character), but I too disliked the cheap shots at the U.S. military, while they never condemned the brutal and dictatorial North Koreans (or the North Vietnamese, for that matter) who invaded South Korea and started the war.

You can read about Richard Hornberger, his novel and his accomplishments as a surgeon at via the below link:

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