MASH Units: Separating Fact From Television

A MASH unit during the Korean War. (Photo via National Museum of Health and Medicine)

On this date in 2006, the last American mobile army surgical hospital was deactivated.

Here are some things you may not have known about MASH units.

The inspiration for MASH units came during World War II. At the time, the U.S. military used a system that required injured troops to be transported long distances to receive surgical treatment. MASH units allowed surgical intervention to happen much closer to the front lines, helping to save many lives.

Casualties were first treated by buddies or by unit medics. If they needed further help, they were sent to a battalion aid station to be stabilized. From battalion aid, patients were sent to MASH units. The system was very effective. Injured troops who made it alive to a MASH unit during the Korean War had a 97.5 percent chance of survival. During World War II, the rate was 96 percent, and in World War I, it was 92 percent.

One of the hallmarks of the MASH unit was the triage system. The system allows doctors and nurses to establish a patient’s condition and prioritize them, getting the most severely injured into surgery as quickly as possible.

Patients received one of four tags denoting their condition. Red was for those in the most urgent need of treatment; yellow was for patients that weren’t in immediate danger, but needed treatment; green tags were for patients who weren’t completely disabled by their injuries; black tags were for patients who were deceased or had no chance of surviving.

MASH units also served in Vietnam, the Gulf War and the Iraq War. The last MASH unit in South Korea was deactivated in 1997. Several cast members from the television series “M*A*S*H” attended the deactivation ceremony. The television show was based on the 1970 movie of the same name. Both were based on the 1968 novel “MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors.”

One of the more notable difference between real-life MASH units and those of television is the size of the unit. Real MASH units were about twice the size of the one depicted in the television series.

The last MASH unit, the 212th, served its last deployment in Pakistan following the 2005 earthquake in Kashmir. The U.S. State Department bought the unit’s tents and equipment from the Department of Defense and donated it to the Pakistani military.

The MASH unit was replaced with combat support hospitals, and forward surgical teams.

Our question: Which two regular cast members of “M*A*S*H” served in the U.S. Army in Korea following the Korean War?

Today is unofficially National Almond Day, and National Innovation Day.

It’s the birthday of actor LaVar Burton, who is 60; actor and rapper Ice-I, who is 59; and tennis player John McEnroe, who is 58.

Because we featured a year from the mid-2000s earlier this week, we’ll spin the wheel to pick a year at random.

This week in 1982, the top song in the U.S. was “Centerfold” by The J. Geils Band.

The No. 1 movie was “On Golden Pond,” while the novel “The Hotel New Hampshire” by John Irving topped the New York Times Bestsellers list.

Weekly question: In what city was UPS founded?

Submit your answer at and we’ll add the name of the person with the first correct answer to our winner’s wall … at We’ll have the correct answer on tomorrow’s episode.



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