M*A*S*H celebrates 50 years

H. Richard Hornberger Jr. took his experiences serving in a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) during the Korean War and turned them into a blockbuster novel, film and television series.

Published in 1968 under the pen name Richard Hooker, M*A*S*H: A Novel about Three Army Doctors, chronicles Hornberger’s time in the war with the Army Medical Corps. The irreverent character of Captain Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce, he based on himself.

Cover of M*A*S*H*: A Novel About Three Army Doctors

The son of distinguished faculty members Heister and Verona Hornberger, Richard attended Bowdoin College, then Cornell Medical School, and became a thoracic specialist, practicing in Maine.

He worked for a dozen years on the book, receiving many rejections from publishers until William Morrow agreed to publish it. Hornberger was surprised by the book’s popularity. “I just wrote a book about some people I knew in Korea and made some of it funny,” he said.

When Robert Altman directed the film and it was released in 1970, Vietnam War protests made the movie timely for its perceived anti-war themes. By the time the movie was turned into the renowned television series from 1972-1983, the author said, it was a far departure from his original. He felt viewers read too much hidden anti-war meaning into it.

“I intended no messages in the book. I am a conservative Republican,” he told The Peddie News in 1996. “I don’t hold with this anti-war nonsense.”

That rare interview — he eschewed publicity — is believed to be his last before his death of leukemia in 1997.

Although as a Peddie senior Hornberger quipped in The Peddie News that the best thing about the school was its
vacations, he remembered Peddie well in his later years.