The Korean War: MASH And Vascular Surgery

June 2017

DOCTORS OPERATE on a wounded soldier at a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital. Korea’s MASH units were adaptations of systems devised in World Wars I and II, in which surgical teams were sent forward to clearing stations to stabilize the condition of severely wounded men before sending them to the rear for definitive care. At first Korea’s MASH units moved with the Army; as the war settled down, they tended to remain stationary. The 8209th MASH, pictured here, was the home of an Army medical department clinical research program—formal recognition of war’s role as a laboratory of science. Researchers studied wound infection, dehydration, and kidney problems, and a team of highly trained vascular surgeons instructed less specialized MASH doctors in new ways of repairing arterial wounds, reducing the need for amputation.

The first artificial kidney machine to be brought into a combat zone was used to treat kidney failure in cases of severe shock, and on patients with hemorrhagic fever—an infectious disease later shown to be caused by a virus carried by small rodents.

As in other wars, the climate presented medical challenges. Korea’s severe cold led to advances in the prevention and treatment of frostbite. Twenty years after the Korean War ended, millions of Americans were introduced to the subject of military medicine by the extraordinarily successful television program “M*A*S*H*,” which ran from September 1972 to February 1983. It was, comedic effects aside, a reasonably accurate portrayal.