Most of us have watched the TV series “M*A*S*H” (1972-1983); some have seen the 1970 film of the same title. A few of us have read Dr. H. Richard Homberger’s (pen name Richard Hooker) dark satire on which the two were based.
Dr. Hornberger was a physician in a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the Korean War, and retired attorney Ben Hiser of Piqua, a medic in the Korean War, can validate that “M*A*S*H” is realistic. Imagine the following scenes as part of an episode or two on television.
Unemployable because he was a reservist after a stint (1948-1950) in the Army, Hiser was advised to get a discharge and re-enlist . It was on to Fort Knox, Ky., for reassignment where he, “Sat on the back of a garbage truck with a 12-gauge sawed-off shot gun monitoring GIs who had been court martialed and were assigned garbage detail on the base.”
Next were orders to go to the Far East via Fort Lewis, Wash., where he was issued an M-1 carbine, semi-automatic rifle, given a tag and told to write his name and address on it and put all of his belongings, except his field uniform, in a duffle bag for shipping back to Piqua.
His next stop was McCord Air Force Base in Tacoma, Wash., where he boarded a Canadian Air Force C-54 headed north over the Canadian islands. That hop was short as a flight engineer left his seat and told those aboard , “Keep your eye out for oil. I think one of the engines is losing oil.” It was, so that engine was shut off, and they landed at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Ark., to have the engine replaced.
The next stop was Shemya for refueling and to take on provisions before finally arriving at Camp Drake in Tokyo.
There Hiser was a part of a medical unit dispensary adjacent to a fire station manned by Japanese. The barracks at the camp were two-story, made of wood, and a fire hazard. He was an ambulance driver, and one of his jobs was to follow the fire truck over narrow roads with ditches on either side when there was a fire and get the seriously injured to Yokohama to 361st Station Hospital or to Tokyo Army Hospital.
Hiser says, “We gave first aid that was primitive by any standard. We tried to stop bleeding, splint fractures, transport the patients without doing further damage, and get them to the closest medical facility. Life can be really boring when you are waiting to be needed, and there was an excellent and popular rifle range at Drake that had been built by American POWs. We’d go out there and wait for someone to shoot himself or someone else. It was going to happen, and it was just a matter of when.
“At the dispensary when college boys were rotated in, the lieutenant colonel in charge was promoting them over us, and I got pretty irritated and told him, ‘I want to go to Korea.’”
And he went: to Wonju at the Eleventh Evacuation Hospital where his new title was surgical technician.
He laughs, “What did I do as a surgical tech? How had I been trained? According to the Army, ‘Hit don’t make no never mind.’ I carried patients in and out, cleaned up after them, cleaned syringes which we reused, and was a member of the penicillin team to go to the wards and administer this scarce commodity to the patients.
“Then I learned my brother, Harold Louis, also a medic, had been drafted and sent to Korea as a member of the 40th Infantry Division, 160 Regiment 81 mm mortar platoon at Sniper Ridge.”
Arriving at the 40th Hiser says, “It was like a scene out of ‘Apocalypse Now.’ I tried to tell the personnel officer that I didn’t want to be a medic, but I might as well have been talking to the coal oil lamp hanging over our heads. He assigned me as a medic to Nine 81st Field Artillery Regiment Aid Station, a tent the size of a two-car garage. I arrived, saluted the commanding officer and said, ‘Corporal Hiser reporting for duty.’ He never looked up and said, ‘Do you play bridge?’”
Hiser said, “No, sir,” and was sent to Battery A, where Americans were shooting 155-millimeter guns at thousands of Chinese and North Koreans.
He pauses, “ Remember those helicopters delivering the wounded to the “M*A*S*H” doctors? That’s the way it was, doing our best to get the seriously wounded to a doctor to stabilize them and trying to get the guys living in holes in the ground to not urinate and defecate in those holes and cause sanitation problems. I did very well with some cases, and some I wish I had done a lot better.”
At sick call, Hiser had elixir of Terpene Hygrade, Codeine, APC (a pill of aspirin, pheniticin and caffeine), paregoric for GI issues, and DDT for body lice.
Hiser says, “One day my commanding officer approached me and said that I had 36 points and could rotate home.”
Hiser exited the war. At the dock in Oakland, CA, he was greeted by a fifteen- piece band and a girl singing “My Hero” from “The Chocolate Soldier.”
Of “M*A*S*H,” Hiser says, “That son of a gun (Dr. Homberger) was there. He knew.”
Note: On Nov. 10 at noon, a program to commemorate Korean War Era veterans will be held at Edison State Community College.
Vivian Blevins is a consultant for the Training Solutions Group Inc. who teaches courses in writing and literature for major telecom company employees. Reach her at (937) 778-3815 or [email protected]