“M*A*S*H” famously lasted longer than the Korean War it covered. But two actors on the show actually served in the Army during the war.
Both Alan Alda, who played Hawkeye, and Jamie Farr, who portrayed Maxwell Klinger, served during the Korean War. But neither actor saw conflict while in South Korea. Both served in the days after the 1953 cease fire. Farr got his start in acting as a child. But the military later drafted him into the Army. The actor served first in Japan at Camp Drake before finding himself in South Korea.
“Fifteen years before I played the fictional Corporal Max Klinger on the long-running TV series ‘M*A*S*H’, ‘I was a real Soldier in the U.S. Army. Just like Klinger, I was drafted. But I wore a regulation uniform, not a dress, and I served two years on active duty and six in the Army Reserve without trying to get a Section 8 discharge,” Farr said.
Meanwhile, before he joined “M*A*S*H,” Alda volunteered with the Army Reserve. He spent six months in South Korea as a gunnery officer. The actor had a brief tour overseas. But his interactions with his fellow soldiers haunted Alda for the rest of his life.
“They had designs of making me into an officer but, uh … it didn’t go so well,” he told an audience in 2013. “I was in charge of a mess tent. Some of that made it into the show.”
Alda often interacted with 200 plus soldiers in the mess tent. Many of the returning troops looks so shell shocked that they barely even ate. Alda remembered the bizarre sense of normalcy mixed with the threat of living in a war zone. It created a weird contrast for the future actor.
“M*A*S*H” Honored Soldiers in South Korea
When it came time to make “M*A*S*H,” Alda admitted he was hesitant to star in the sitcom. He wanted to honor the soldiers he met overseas. And he didn’t want to make a wacky comedy about a very real war. But creators Gene Reynolds and Larry Gelbart were veterans themselves, and they had no intention of making an ordinary sitcom.
That experience overseas ended up factoring into Alda’s and Farr’s performances.
“I understood just from doing that that when you’re in a war, it’s real. It’s the real thing. People are going to get killed or lose their arms and legs,” Alda told NPR. “And when we did ‘M*A*S*H,’ I wanted to make sure that at least that understanding that I had came out — that that’s what we dealt with, and that we didn’t gloss over that and make the show about how funny things were in the mess tent.”