A window of opportunity: A history of the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital in the first half of the Korean War
The Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH), designed to provide immediate emergency surgical care to the wounded, was first used in Korea and lasted in its original form approximately eighteen months before its mission was changed to reflect the changing tactical situation. Organized in the days after the North Korean invasion, three MASH units were quickly deployed to Korea. Two more MASH units followed in the next six months. These five mobile hospitals soon encountered problems faced by the entire medical corps in Korea. The drain of experienced medical personnel from the army at the end of World War II left the medical ranks understrength, the lack of training failed to acculturate the new doctors and nurses to the military ways, and the intensity of the combat revealed war in a way seen by few hospital personnel. Living conditions in the MASH, as in other combat units, were primitive at best. Yet, the MASH was the crucible for several innovations in emergency surgical care. In Korea, these obstacles encountered by MASH personnel created an environment conducive to medical innovation. During the life of the MASH, significant advances were made in arterial repair, the transport of wounded by helicopter, the use of antibiotics, the distribution and use of blood plasma and Type O blood for the treatment of blood loss shock, and early ambulation of the wounded. The life of the MASH in its original form was very short. After the first year and a half of the war, the tactical situation stabilized and the MASH units stabilized also. No longer was mobility a factor or a necessity in the war. The MASH units became de facto field hospitals and, in 1952, the nomenclature changed to reflect the changing mission of the hospital.