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MASH: An Army Surgeon in Korea

Otto F. Apel
Pat Apel
Copyright Date: 1998
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-7057-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
    (pp. IX-XV)
  4. Maps
    (pp. XVI-XVIII)
    (pp. 1-17)

    Korea was a long time ago. Korea was a mountainous country far away and the war there happened a long time ago. Even now, time and distance separate us. Korea was far from my mind on a recent autumn evening as I drove from my office in the Ohio River town of Portsmouth, out the rural roads into the hills and farms and communities, to my home back up the county road away from everything. In the Appalachian foothills of southern Ohio in the fall, when the leaves turn colors and the weather cools and the geese flock south, the...

  6. 2 “THE SPIRIT OF ’76”
    (pp. 18-42)

    In the late spring and early summer of 1951, the 8076th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) was a dreary formation of tents in the linebacker position behind the 2d, 7th, and 24th Infantry Divisions and the 2d and 6th Republic of Korea (ROK) Divisions. It also supported elements of the 1st Cavalry Division, the 25th Infantry Division, and a smattering of United Nations troops near Chunchon, Korea. I boarded a rickety old C-23 at Osaka, Japan, for the short lift to the airstrip at Pusan on the southern tip of Korea. Several other officers and noncommissioned officers (NCOs) made the...

    (pp. 43-65)

    When I came out of the operating tent, Choi was there. It was daylight, about four in the afternoon, and he waited. Even in the heat of the summer, he wore the rumpled army fatigue jacket over his strong shoulders and an army fatigue cap over his jet-black hair.

    “Hi, Lieutenant,” he said with a Korean accent. “You come with me:”

    “Where?” I said.

    He had started to walk away but turned and gazed at me with an amused smile that we would come to know well. He would shake his head and we knew he was thinking, “These Americans...

    (pp. 66-90)

    The wounded came to us every way they possibly could. It was always a race. Some came in army ambulances driven helter-skelter the few miles over the hills and gullies and dusty roads. Some hitched rides on the backs of jeeps or trucks that had delivered cargo to the front and had been commandeered to backhaul the injured or the prisoners or those replaced for rest and recuperation (R&R). Some of the wounded scooted off the hills on litters lugged by weary, staggering comrades. Some walked under their own power or with improvised crutches or on the shoulder of a...

    (pp. 91-125)

    Korea was a young person’s war. In 1950 the cadre of the army was left over from World War II and, like the army’s equipment, had aged markedly in a few years. The officers and commanders at the beginning of the war were, by army standards, quite seasoned. Gen. Douglas MacArthur hovered near seventy at the time of the Inchon invasion. Maj. Gen. Edward “Ned” Almond, MacArthur’s chief of staff, was fifty-eight years old. Gen. Walton Harris Walker, commander of the U.S. Eighth Army at the outbreak of hostilities, was born in 1889. Down through the corps, divisions, regiments, and...

  10. 6 IN THE OR
    (pp. 126-148)

    The nerve center of the MASH, the very reason for our existence, was the operating tent. In the flux of mobility and the rapidity of case flow, the operating room became the test tube for innovation. In addition to helicopter evacuation of the wounded from the battlefield, several advances in emergency medicine came to fruition in the MASH in Korea: the treatment of blood-loss shock, the widespread use of antibiotics, early ambulation, and techniques in arterial repair. Other advances, in the areas of neurosurgery and initial psychiatric treatment, were pioneered in the MASH units. The neurological work was done primarily...

    (pp. 149-177)

    Doctors in nearly all the states today are required to take a certain number of hours of continuing medical education annually. That is usually done by attending seminars offered in the doctor’s field at the university and research centers around the country. In recent years I have regularly attended three that have become my favorites: the International Breast Cancer Conference sponsored by the University of Miami Medical Center and held in various locations in Florida, a second at the Medical College of South Carolina in Charleston, and a third at the American College of Surgeons meetings held around the country....

    (pp. 178-202)

    In the spring of 1952, the USO advertised the coming performance of Danny Kaye and his traveling show. Flyers came in the military mail. Armed Forces Radio dotted its daily menu of the new songs and the jazz of the swing bands of the forties with excited utterances of comedy and music from the great Danny Kaye. An air of enthusiasm surrounded the Danny Kaye show. It was like working hard every day knowing that you are going on vacation, and that sense of relief lightens you when you leave work Friday afternoon. The Danny Kaye show gave us a...

    (pp. 203-216)

    Twelve months in Korea—and my rotation date—rolled around; this time there were no letters asking me to stay, no offers of a regular army commission. This time only a sheet of paper ordering me to return to the United States for duty at the U.S. Army Hospital, Fort Monroe, Virginia. When the final day drew near, I began to pack my bags and make arrangements to ship my goods back to the United States. At the MASH the custom was to paint a large sign in honor of the departing comrades. I was rotating out with three other...

    (pp. 217-219)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 220-223)