WASHINGTON – Saturday is the 60th anniversary of the end of the Korean War, and two people believed to be last surviving members of the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital or MASH unit that inspired the movie and TV show of the same name are retelling their story.
Dr. Dale Drake and his wife Cathy Drake met while serving in the surgical unit near the 38th parallel.
“As you watch the TV series, the operating room setup, we were all tents. Everything was tents. And we had, I think, seven operating room tables, and the table were, you used the horses like the carpenters use. And then you just bring the stretcher in and put them on that and that’s the way we operated,” says Cathy, who first went to Korea in 1950 and served there as a nurse.
She says sometimes the wounded would flood the unit.
“You hated to have all these casualties, but again you were busy and the worst thing was on your off time there was nothing to do. We did play bridge, but not very many even played bridge. I only played with two doctors and a chaplain. So that was the hard part about being in Korea.”
But it was in Korea was where she met her future husband Dale.
“I arrived in Korea in January of ’52 I believe, and my sweet wife Cathy McDonough, maiden name McDonough, she was there and we got to know each other for about four months only. And then we would correspond for the next year or so until I got back to the states and then we got married at Walter Reed,” Dale says.
Another member of their MASH unit, H. Richard Hornberger, wrote the book that became the “MASH” movie in 1970.
Later, Cathy believes a real-life story that she shared with the producers of the TV series inspired the unforgettable fictional character named Cpl. Maxwell Klinger.
“I’m probably responsible for Klinger because we did have a Halloween party and nobody had costumes, but this one doctor who didn’t really associate with any of us – he just worked, ate and worked – and he came to the Halloween party dressed up as a woman, and his wife sent him all these clothes and even a wig. He was the life of the party,” she says.
Cathy says strong bonds were forged during wartime.
“The friends that you meet in a combat zone and where you’re so restricted, they remain your friends as far as I’m concerned until they’re deceased. And that’s what is sad for us because all of our friends are gone.”
Cathy Drake is now 88 years old, and her husband Dale is 87.