The Ottumwa Courier


December 5, 2005

‘Radar’ has come home

OTTUMWA — “Radar O’Reilly” has come home.

Native Ottumwan Don Shaffer, 76, has retired to the city and claims he’s the reason Ottumwa is the fictional Radar’s hometown. And, he can’t help but notice other similarities between Radar and himself.

Walter “Radar” O’Reilly is a company clerk at a United States Army Mobile Army Surgical Hospital a few miles from the battle front during the Korean War (1949-52). O’Reilly is one of several characters from “M*A*S*H: A Novel About Three Army Doctors,” published in 1968 by Richard Hooker.

The first page and half of Hooker’s book tells of O’Reilly who, “just out of high school, left Ottumwa...”

“Richard Hooker” was the pen name used by Dr. H. Richard Hornberger, a retired Army surgeon who died Nov. 4, 1997, at age 73 of leukemia. Shaffer is convinced the doctor was his colonel in Korea.

“Hornberger knew I was from Ottumwa. If you’re in the same unit, you know everybody’s hometown,” Shaffer said. “It’s your ‘home of record.’”

Shaffer was Hornberger’s corporal at the 171st Evacuation Hospital in Pyongyang, North Korea, which wasn’t as close to the front lines as a MASH unit. After Shaffer wrote to Hornberger about his connection to O’Reilly, he received an answer from his retired colonel’s lawyers. They said “the MASH characters are fictional.”

In his novel’s foreword, Hornberger noted, “The characters in this book are composites of people I knew, met casually, worked with, or heard about. No one in the book bears more than a coincidental resemblance to an actual person.”

On July 29, 1989, The Courier printed Hornberger’s answer to a Courier reporter’s letter about Radar and his hometown. The article was one of many related to the 1989 M*A*S*H Reunion in Ottumwa.

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