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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.

The reader is spared nothing, and at times I shared with the authors an understanding of the emotional effect medical work in a war zone can cause. -- BMJ

The great difference between the MASH on TV and the MASH on the battlefield, Apel and his collegues later felt, was that the latter had casualties -- Booklist review

A superb book. . . . Reading this fine nonfiction account of an army surgeon in the Korean War will make you wish you had been there treating casualties. It did me! -- Journal of the American Medical Association

Well written and researched, this book provides entertainment as well as historical value. -- Library Journal

Most readers will find Apel's memoirs fascinating, horrifying, humorous, and heartbreaking. -- Library Lane

One of the most readable memoirs that I have come across. A real contribution to the history of the Korean War. -- Mac Coffman

This memoir is about war, but it addresses a different aspect of war: the struggle of men and women in the U.S. Army who were called upon to expend their efforts and their lives preserving human life during this vicious combat. -- McCormick (SC) Messenger

His descriptions are full of detail, often vivid, regularly most critical of the US Medical Corps. -- Medicine, Conflict, and Survival

The authors have skillfully blended the surgeon’s personal experiences into the bigger picture of military medicine, providing the reader with an informative and interesting account of the MASH and its impact during the Korean War. -- Military

Exposes the true nature of the Korean conflict from a medical perspective. . . . An excellent account of the history of MASH units and how they operated in Korea. -- Navy Medicine

Apel shows the true side of the Army hospitals. -- Ohio Today

The book is a wonderful paean to all our men and women who served in Korea. -- Ohioana Quarterly

Provides a close look at the way a MASH functioned. . . . The Apels have produced a well written and useful book. -- Southern Historian

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY






Otto F. Apel, Korean War, Mobile hospitals, Army surgeons


Military History

MASH: An Army Surgeon in Korea
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