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An Army Surgeon in Korea

Otto Apel

Publication Year: 1998

" 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.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky


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pp. ix-xv

One great irony of warfare is that the more humanity increases its proficiency to inflict injury upon human beings-through technology, tactics, and psychological manipulation-the more humanity must advance its capability to deliver emergency medical care to the swelling number of casualties...


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pp. xvi-xviii

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1. From the Gridiron to the Iron Triangle

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pp. 1-17

Korea was a long time ago. Korea was a mountainous country far away and the war there happened a long time ago. Even now, time and distance separate us. Korea was far from my mind on a recent autumn evening as I drove from my office in the Ohio River town of Portsmouth, out the rural roads into the hills...

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2. "The Spirit of ' 76"

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pp. 18-42

In the late spring and early summer of 1951, the 8076th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) was a dreary formation of tents in the linebacker position behind the 2d, 7th, and 24th Infantry Divisions and the 2d and 6th Republic of Korea (ROK) Divisions. It also supported elements of the 1st Cavalry Division...

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3. The MASH in Action

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pp. 43-65

When I came out of the operating tent, Choi was there. It was daylight, about four in the afternoon, and he waited. Even in the heat of the summer, he wore the rumpled army fatigue jacket over his strong shoulders and an army fatigue cap over his jet-black hair. "Hi, Lieutenant," he said with a Korean accent. "You come with me:' "Where?" I said...

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4. The Mechanized Angels

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pp. 66-90

The wounded came to us every way they possibly could. It was always a race. Some came in army ambulances driven helter-skelter the few miles over the hills and gullies and dusty roads. Some hitched rides on the backs of jeeps or trucks that had delivered cargo to the front and had been commandeered to backhaul the injured or the prisoners or those replaced for rest and recuperation (R&R). Some of the wounded scooted off the hills on litters lugged by weary, staggering...

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5. Where We Lived

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pp. 91-125

Korea was a young person's war. In 1950 the cadre of the army was left over from World War II and, like the army's equipment, had aged markedly in a few years. The officers and commanders at the beginning of the war were, by army standards, quite seasoned. Gen. Douglas MacArthur hovered near seventy at the time...

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6. In the OR

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pp. 126-148

The nerve center of the MASH, the very reason for our existence, was the operating tent. In the flux of mobility and the rapidity of case flow, the operating room became the test tube for innovation. In addition to helicopter evacuation of the wounded from the battlefield, several advances in emergency medicine came to fruition...

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7. "We're Going to Be Court-Martialed"

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pp. 149-177

Doctors in nearly all the states today are required to take a certain number of hours of continuing medical education annually. That is usually done by attending seminars offered in the doctor's field at the university and research centers around the country. In recent years I have regularly attended three that have become my favorites: the International Breast Cancer Conference sponsored by the University...

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8. The Friends We Left Behind

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pp. 178-202

In the spring of 1952, the usa advertised the coming performance of Danny Kaye and his traveling show. Flyers came in the military mail. Armed Forces Radio dotted its daily menu of the new songs and the jazz of the swing bands of the forties with excited utterances of comedy and music from the great Danny Kaye..

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9. Rotating Out

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pp. 203-216

Twelve months in Korea-and my rotation date-rolled around; this time there were no letters asking me to stay, no offers of a regular army commission. This time only a sheet of paper ordering me to return to the United States for duty at the U.S. Army Hospital, Fort Monroe, Virginia. When the final day drew near...


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pp. 217-219


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pp. 220-223

E-ISBN-13: 9780813170572
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813120706

Page Count: 248
Publication Year: 1998