M*A*S*H was an edgy comedy in the time of conflict.
The Vietnam War was ongoing when the show premiered in 1972, but series creators highlighted what happened more than two decades before, when the United States sent its troops to Korea.
And two M*A*S*H cast members had real-life Army experience in the Korean War, although no one served in a medical/surgical unit.
Alan Alda, who starred as Dr. Benjamin “Hawkeye” Pierce, served six months. Alda survived polio as a child, when his parents used the then new-age physical therapy methods of an Australian nun. Alda graduated from Fordham and was in ROTC. After he got out of school, he was sent to Fort Benning and then to Korea.
“I see you read Wikipedia. My Wikipedia page says I served in the military as a gunnery officer, but that’s actually not true. I served briefly in the Army Reserve, and was deployed for about six months. They had designs of making me into an officer but, uh … it didn’t go so well. I was in charge of a mess tent. Some of that made it into the show.”
Although the M*A*S*H star downplayed his service, he’s listed on Military.com as a famous veteran. However, he did serve after the cease-fire in 1953.
Jamie Farr Was Another M*A*S*H Star Who Served
Jamie Farr, who played Max Klinger on M*A*S*H, had a far different experience in the Korean War than Alda and the mess tent. Farr already had started his acting career before the U.S. Army drafted him into service. Like Alda, he also served after the cease-fire.
A request from a famous comedian changed Farr’s military career. Red Skelton, who Farr called a “second father,” asked that Farr be his assistant when he did a tour through Korea to entertain the troops. Skelton already had gifted Farr a St. Christopher’s medal to wear while he was in the Army.
Farr recently talked about his memories of Skelton and his military service with the site We Are the Mighty.
“After Red’s son passed away, he wanted to do a tour to entertain troops,” said Farr, whose time with M*A*S*H was supposed to be a single episode. “And he wanted to do his shows with me. We flew on a United Nations airplane just me and him. I had VIP status which surprised me. We went to every encampment all the way up to the DMZ in Korea.”
Other M*A*S*H cast members served in the military. McLean Stevenson (Henry Blake) and Wayne Rogers, (Trapper John) were in the Navy. And Mike Farrell (B.J. Hunicutt) was a Marine.