Harry Morgan died yesterday at 96 and took me back to the movie that came out in 1970 while I was stationed aboard the U.S.S. Oklahoma City. Our home port was Yokosuka, Japan, where my wife lived while I was out at sea on Yankee Station just off of Da Nang, Vietnam. One of the things we enjoyed doing while in port was going to the movies at the base theater. Early 1970 when the movie M.A.S.H. came out the Navy refused to show it at the base theater. They claimed that it would have a negative effect on us because it showed a lack of respect for the military. There was some scuttlebutt about it actually being closely related to what was going on in Nam at that time.
The film came from a 1968 novel about three U.S. Army doctors assigned to a M.A.S.H Unit in Korea during the Korean War. If you’re too young to know what the Korean War was or a M.A.S.H Unit was please look it up. Harry Morgan played Colonel Sherman Potter, Commanding Officer, who came to the television series at the end of the third season replacing McLean Stephenson, who played, Lieutenant Colonel Henry Blake. Roger Bowmen actually played Lieutenant Colonel Henry Blake in the movie.
Morale was getting lower and lower as the war in Vietnam progressed, especially for those of us that were there. It was the longest war that the U.S had been in, up to that point in our country’s history, was not supported by most of the population of the U.S. and the longer it went on the less the troops believed in what they were fighting for. They needed and deserved a good laugh. M.A.S.H. was the laugh that they needed. It only took about a month before they gave in to all the troops and their families demanding to see it. Everyone had heard about it from the folks back home. Many of us thought it was just one more right that they were taking from us. Just plain censorship.
Going to that movie was one of the first things we did after I got into port after it finally was shown on base. M.A.S.H. was the best movie we had seen in a long time and none of us ended up being any more disrespectful of anything or anyone in service than we were before we saw it. There was so much more truth in it than met the eye. It also brings to mind another movie, “Good Morning Vietnam.” Different but similar in so many ways and worth seeing, especially if you were there.