Korean War: The flag on the nurse’s shoulder is not American. (Photo: Public Domain)
Written by Sean Munger, first published on seanmunger.com.
Now here’s an interesting picture with some cultural baggage. Did you watch the show M*A*S*H in the 1970s or 80s?
Nearly everyone who grew up in that time did (the M*A*S*H finale in 1983 was one of the most-watched TV programs ever). A lot of people probably know that the TV sitcom was a spin-off of a Robert Altman film made in 1969; fewer still know that that film was based on a novel by “Richard Hooker,” actually H. Richard Hornberger.
Before all that, though, M*A*S*H was a real thing in the real world, specifically in the Korean War, and also the tail end of World War II, Vietnam and the first Gulf conflict. The acronym stands for Mobile Army Surgical Hospital. What you probably did not know, and I did not know until I found this 1951 photo, is that one of them was run by…Norwegians?!
Yes, that is very clearly a Norwegian flag on the right shoulder of the nurse in this picture. While the United States carried most of the brunt of the fighting on the Korean peninsula between 1950 and 1953, after Communist North Korea attempted to take over South Korea, it was technically an international effort run by the United Nations, and various other countries, including Norway, participated in various ways.
This M*A*S*H hospital was administered by the Norwegian Red Cross and was officially known as NORMASH. According to the U.S. Department of Defense, the nurse in this picture is named Petra Drabloe (ThorNews’ note: Petra Drabløs), who worked for the Norwegian Red Cross, and the wounded soldier is Lance Corporal M.R. Stevens, actually a Canadian, not an American.
But the tent setting, figures in the background, etc. should be very familiar to any viewer of the old show. M*A*S*H units, which reflected the great increase in battlefield medical care that occurred during World War II, were vitally important in saving thousands of lives that would have been lost in earlier conflicts.
The ability to do surgery quickly, right off the battle lines, made the difference for tens of thousands of soldiers and kept battlefield death rates declining during 20th century conflicts. As the show depicted, though – not visible in this sanitized photo – they were also the scenes of terrible horror and suffering.
A total of 79 Norwegians served at this hospital in the Korean War. One can imagine Scandinavian versions of Hawkeye Pierce and Trapper John milling about, cracking wise in Norwegian to a canned laugh track. Or maybe not; in real life the Korean War wasn’t very funny.
Sean Munger is a historian, teacher and author. He is probably most well-known for his “historical horror” novels.