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Feature   Know Your Military

M*A*S*H’s Alan Alda Was an Army Officer in Korea and Played One on TV

Dec. 15, 2021 | BY David Vergun , DOD News

Six-time Emmy Award-winning actor Alan Alda is most likely best known for playing an Army field surgeon, Capt. Benjamin "Hawkeye" Pierce, in the TV series M*A*S*H, which aired on CBS from 1972 to 1983. It's often noted that the series lasted longer than the war itself.

Five men and one woman pose for a photo in a jeep.
MASH Cast
Cast of the TV series "M*A*S*H" pictured in a 1974 season premier photo. Alan Alda is the jeep driver.
Photo By: Courtesy CBS
VIRIN: 741001-O-D0439-001A

Coincidentally, Alda was actually an Army officer, serving in South Korea from 1956 to 1958, not long after the Korean War ended on July 27, 1953.

After attending ROTC and graduating from Fordham University in 1956, Alda was commissioned in the Army Reserve. He was stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia, and then spent six months as an artillery gunnery officer in South Korea before receiving an honorable discharge.

Two men pose for a photo.
Father and Son
Actor Alan Alda, left, is pictured in 1975 with his father, actor Robert Alda, who made a cameo appearance in a TV series M*A*S*H episode.
Photo By: Courtesy of CBS
VIRIN: 751001-O-D0439-001A

Alda said his Army experience and the soldiers he met who had been in the war helped shape his TV character and the direction of the show, mixing the right balance of humor with what were truly traumatic experiences troops experienced in Korea and then in Vietnam.

The TV series M*A*S*H was based on the Army's Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals, abbreviated MASH.

Three men and a woman pose for a photo in front of a tent.
M*A*S*H Cast
Cast of the TV series "M*A*S*H" pictured in a 1972 season premier photo. Alan Alda is left center.
Photo By: Courtesy CBS
VIRIN: 721001-O-D0439-001

The first MASH units were established in 1950 at the start of the Korean War, to treat casualties close to the front lines of the fighting. Helicopters were used to medically evacuate the injured.

MASH units were also in use during the Vietnam War, the Gulf War and during the early years of the war in Iraq. The last MASH unit was deactivated in 2006. The frontline surgical hospitals are now called combat support hospitals.

People pose for a photo in front of a helicopter and ambulance.
Mobile Hospital
The 8225th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital is pictured in Korea in 1951 during the Korean War. The TV series "M*A*S*H" was based on MASH units.
Photo By: Army photo
VIRIN: 511001-O-D0439-001A
Soldiers move a patient into a tent.
Moving Wounded
Personnel assigned to the 8225th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital in Korea move a wounded soldier, during the Korean War, Sept. 1, 1951.
Photo By: Army photo
VIRIN: 510901-O-D0439-001E
Medical personnel perform surgery inside a tent.
Performing Surgery
Personnel assigned to the 8209th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital in Korea operate on a wounded soldier in 1952, during the Korean War. The TV series "M*A*S*H" was based on MASH units.
Photo By: Army photo
VIRIN: 521001-O-D0439-001C

Some interesting facts about Alda and M*A*S*H:

  • Alda was born Alphonso Joseph D'Abruzzo on Jan. 28, 1936, in the Bronx, New York. His adopted surname, Alda, is a portmanteau of the first parts of his first and last names. Alda's father, Robert Alda, born Alfonso Giuseppe Giovanni Roberto D'Abruzzo, also used the surname Alda.
  • Costar Jamie Farr, who played Army Cpl. then Sgt. Maxwell Q. Klinger, is a Navy veteran. McLean Stevenson, who played Army Lt. Col. Henry Blake, was also in the Navy.
  • The idea for the M*A*S*H TV series came from the 1968 book "MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors," by Richard Hooker. That novel also spawned the 1970 film "M*A*S*H."
  • The Feb. 28, 1983 final M*A*S*H episode, "Goodbye, Farewell and Amen," was the most watched TV program in American history, not including the Super Bowls, with 106 million viewers.