The personnel at the 4077 MASH unit deal with the horrors of the Korean War and the stresses faced in surgery by whatever means. The tone at the MASH is established by recent arrivals, surgeons Captains 'Hawkeye' Pierce, 'Duke' Forrest, and 'Trapper' John McIntyre - the latter who Hawkeye knows he's met somewhere, but Trapper who won't divulge where - whose antics can be best described as non-regulation, and in the negative words of one of their fellow MASH-ers: unmilitary. The unit's commanding officer, Colonel Henry Blake, doesn't care about this behavior as long as it doesn't affect him, and as long as they do their job and do it well, which they do. Their behavior does extremely bother fellow surgeon, Major Frank Burns, and recently arrived head nurse, Major Margaret Houlihan, who obtains the nickname 'Hot Lips' based on information they glean about her through underhanded means. Beyond their battles with Frank and Hot Lips, Hawkeye, Duke and/or Trapper help unit dentist Painless with a personal crisis, try to figure out if Hot Lips is a true blond, travel to Japan for a work and what they hope is a recreational trip, and hope to win big on a football bet against another unit in which they on the surface are the underdogs.
Based on the novels of Richard Hooker, this Richard Altman film follows the zany surgeons and other staff of the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital in Korea. Although the top-ranked series is based on this film, it was homogenated; most of the dozens of characters, amalgamated in the series, are depicted in the film just as they were in the novels.
Set during the Korean War, two surgeons, Captains "Hawkeye" Pierce and "Duke" Forrest, join the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH), located three miles from the front lines. Both are draftees and care little for military protocols and conventions. They are soon joined by surgeon even more anarchic and insubordinate in his attitude, Captain "Trapper" John McIntyre. The unit's commander is the laid back-yet-efficient Lt Colonel Henry Blake. He is assisted by Corporal "Radar" O'Reilly. Hawkeye, Duke and Trapper soon have the camp running to their rather non-military tune but run into Major Frank Burns and the new chief nurse Major Margaret O'Houlihan, both of whom being by-the-book permanent military types. Hawkeye, Duke and Trapper set out to undermine the pair. High jinks ensue.
Mobile Army Surgical Hospital. That's where two young surgeons, Duke and Hawkeye end up during the Korean War. There is no plot as such, but instead a series of episodes during which they put their stamp on the camp including a football game against a larger unit with thousands riding on it, a trip to Tokyo to operate on a congressman's son and play a little golf, and finding out if the head nurse is a natural blonde.
November, 1951. The 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital is shaken up by the arrival of Captains "Hawkeye" Pierce and "Duke" Forrest...crack surgeons but lousy soldiers. Joined by renowned chest-cutter "Trapper" John McIntyre, the surgeons set about dealing with the daily carnage of the war by raising hell. From getting rid of the idiotic Major Burns to helping the camp dentist commit "suicide", there's no lengths the Swampmen won't go to to distract themselves from the horrors of war.
The staff of a Korean War field hospital use humor and high jinks to keep their sanity in the face of the horror of war.
- It's August, 1951, the Korean War. Over the noise of incoming helicopters carrying wounded U.S. soldiers, Colonel Henry Blake (Roger Bowen), the commanding officer of the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (M.A.S.H.), located just three miles from the front lines, is shouting at Corporal Radar O'Reilly (Gary Burghoff), telling him to inform Major Frank Burns (Robert Duvall), that one of the day surgeons will have to stay over on the night shift. He also needs to get word to Brigadier General Charles Hammond (G. Wood), in Seoul, that the 4077th needs two more surgeons, as the patient load is getting overwhelming. Radar says out loud everything Colonel Blake is telling him, but a split before Blake says it. That's the first of many instances where Radar proves always to be one step ahead of his commanding officer. Another enlisted man is trying to write it all down, but misses most of it. Blake tells him that Radar has it.
Quotes pertaining to Korea, from both General MacArthur and General Eisenhower, scroll down the screen as Captain Hawkeye Pierce is shown exiting the Officers' Latrine in Seoul and approaching a Jeep for the next leg of his journey. He has just arrived in Korea for duty at the 4077th. He is originally from Maine.
The motor pool sergeant (Jerry Jones), struts up to Hawkeye and says, "What the hell do you think you're doing? Don't think that just because you're a captain, you run this place. I run this place!" He tells Hawkeye that his driver is having his coffee and will be along when he's ready. Hawkeye, who is in the process of removing his collar devices from his uniform, is shocked and disbelieving about how rude and insubordinate the sergeant is. He mutters "racist" to himself as the sergeant walks away (the sergeant is black).
Also newly arriving is Captain Duke Forrest (Tom Skerritt). He's from Georgia. He approaches Hawkeye, who is sitting in a Jeep, waiting for the driver. Forrest mistakenly thinks Hawkeye is his driver and, after confirming that the Jeep is headed for the 4077th M.A.S.H. unit, he orders Hawkeye to take him there. Hawkeye says ok, puts the Jeep in gear and roars out of the compound.
The motor pool sergeant watches as Hawkeye and Forrest tear out of the place and yells at two military policemen (MPs) to go get them. Something happens to the MPs Jeep, as there's a bang with smoke, and it stops, causing the sergeant to throw a fit and start punching and wrestling with the MPs.
Hawkeye & Forrest prove to have a lot in common, in that they are both rebellious, womanizing, and mischievous rule-breakers. They arrive at the Officer's Mess tent at the 4077th and decide to go in for some lunch. They are already making eyes at some nurses. One in particular, Lt. Maria "Dish" Schneider (Jo Ann Pflug), attracts their attention and they sit down near her.
Colonel Blake asks Captain Murrhardt (Danny Goldman) if he knows those two men who just came in. He does not. Another officer suggests they may be the new doctors, but the Colonel says that can't be, as the two new people are supposed to be really bright. He decides they are just a couple of moochers coming in for a free meal.
Forrest is staring at Lt. Schneider and says, "I think I am in love." He tells her he's new in town, with nothing to do, and asks her to show him around the place if she's not doing anything tonight. She stays quiet, smiles and holds up her left hand. Hawkeye tells Forrest that the lady is wearing a wedding ring, but he doesn't let that dissuade him.
Colonel Blake decides to go see what's up with these new guys. He learns that they are indeed the newest doctors assigned to his unit. The colonel tells Pierce that he'd received a message about him stealing a Jeep at Headquarters. Hawkeye tells the colonel that he didn't steal the Jeep, that it's right outside there. The colonel then sets about informing Forrest about the Army's regulations for proper reporting to a unit. Hawkeye is mostly interested in asking questions about how many people are on staff, especially nurses.
The colonel decides to introduce the new captains to the existing staff who are in the mess at that moment. They include the Irish Catholic Chaplain, Father John "Dago Red" Mulcahy (Rene Auberjonois); the dental officer, Captain 'Painless Pole' Waldowsky (John Schuck); the anesthesiologist, Captain "Ugly" John Black (Carl Gottlieb), a.k.a., the "gas passer"); Captain Dennis Patrick Bandini (Corey Fischer); and Corporal 'Radar' O'Reilly.
Radar tells the captains he will change the identification number on the stolen Jeep, just before Colonel Blake orders him to do that.
As Pierce and Forrest proceed with their check in, over near the officer's quarters and barber shop, they walk past a post covered with wooden arrows depicting the mileage and directions to various other cities in the world. Duke lays claim to a pretty blonde nurse who walks past, but after Radar whispers in Hawkeye's ear and Hawkeye in turn whispers in Duke's ear, he realizes that Colonel Blake's girlfriend, Lt. Leslie (Indus Arthur), is "hands off."
Radar leads them to their tent and inside is Major Frank Burns (Robert Duvall) and a South Korean boy, Ho-Jon (Kim Atwood), who works at the mess hall. Major Burns is teaching Ho Jon how to read, using the Bible. Major Burns will prove to be both a religious man and an inferior surgeon.
Captain Forrest slips Ho-Jon a girlie magazine, telling him that it helps when learning how to read to have some pictures to go along with the words. Ho-Jon avoids letting Major Burns see what Forrest gave him and he quickly excuses himself and leaves the tent with the magazine.
In the first of many scenes from the M.A.S.H. operating room, the new captains are performing surgeries on two patients. They both have a matter-of-fact attitude as they go about their life and death work, speaking and moving around much like a chef preparing a meal might do. Hawkeye is preparing to saw off a soldier's lower leg while Captain Forrest is hitting on one of the nurses.
Frequent announcements come over the camp public announcement (PA) system. They are usually given by SSgt. Wade Douglas Vollmer, (David Arkin), who can't read very well. The first announcement is for all non-commissioned officers to report for a short-arm inspection at 0400. (short-arm inspection refers to the medical inspection of male soldiers' penises, or "short arm", for signs of sexually-transmitted diseases and other medical problems).
Major Burns enters his tent to find Ho-Jon serving martinis to Pierce and Forrest. Burns lets them know how inappropriate he considers that to be and he grabs his Bible and starts praying. Ho-Jon escapes to go do some laundry. Pierce and Forrest waste no time in starting to tease and mock Major Burns about his obsession with the Bible and religion. They speculate that he suffers from some sort of syndrome and wonder if he's always had it or just since he arrived in Korea. Forrest asks how long "the show" is going to last and Burns says that it gets longer all the time, now that he has Forrest's and Pierce's souls to pray for. Hawkeye and Duke start singing, "Onward Christian Soldiers," as Burns keeps on praying. Soon, people outside the tent hear the singing and they join in, marching in a line as they sing.
Colonel Blake receives a report from Lt. Leslie about the status of the patients currently at the M.A.S.H. as he sits at his desk tying a fishing fly. Leslie also assists him by handing him various tools that he needs.
Hawkeye and Forrest come into the colonel's office and demand that he get the "Sky Pilot" Major Burns out of their tent (it's been one week). They also tell Blake that they need to have a "chest cutter" (thoracic surgeon) to properly tend to the injured soldiers. Blake tells them he'll have Burns out of their tent within 24 hours, and he'll try his best to get a chest cutter.
Colonel Blake seems to empathize with the fact that most of his men and women there at the 4077th are draftees, they have very stressful jobs trying to save lives, and therefore he does very little by way of asserting discipline to keep his staff at the mobile hospital in line with military regulations.
Father Mulcahy often hangs around surgery, either to administer last rites, pray, or sometimes assist the doctors. This particular time, he gets called over to administer last rites to a soldier who died on the surgical table, but gets interrupted and is asked by Duke Forrest to come over and hold a surgical retractor being used on another patient. When Mulcahy hesitates, Forrest apologizes, but points out to Dago that the first soldier is dead, while the one they are operating on is still alive.
Hawkeye is busy making out with Lt. Dish in the Officer's Club when Ho-Jon comes knocking at the tent door. He tells Hawkeye to come quick, that the new chest cutter has arrived. Hawkeye and the nurse separate, frustrated, but duty calls.
Forrest is sitting in his tent with the new chest cutter and complains to Hawkeye that all he has been able to learn is that the new surgeon is from "Bastin" (Boston) and has been in the Army for 2 months. As the new doctor is putting up a photo of a pin-up girl, Hawkeye attempts to find out more about him, but the new guy continues be very evasive. As they sit down to have some martinis, and the new doc produces a bottle of green olives from inside his jacket. Hawkeye is amused and impressed. He tells the new man that he looks familiar, but he can't quite place where he knows him from.
The new doctor's first operation in surgery attracts a sizable audience, inside and outside the operating room, as everyone is curious as to how he'll do. He does just fine.
Other than the frequent PA announcements, Radio Tokyo is often playing throughout the camp, with Japanese announcers and singers providing entertainment in broken English.
The staff frequently toss a football around between the tents in the compound and the play can be quite vigorous. One guy performs a flying tackle on the man with the ball, and they both splash down hard into a mud puddle. When the ball flies out of the hands of the man being tackled, it is caught by the new thoracic surgeon. He makes as though to fake a handoff to Duke, then rolls left while Duke runs behind and out the opposite side of a tent, with Hawkeye defending. The new surgeon lobs an off target pass and Hawkeye jumps up and intercepts it. That prompts an immediate recall in Hawkeye's mind. He now knows who the new guy is as he rushes forward, proclaiming it's "Trapper John McIntyre, former quarterback for Dartmouth University. Hawkeye played in a game for Androscoggin College, against Dartmouth and McIntyre, and he intercepted a pass thrown by Trapper John, enabling Androscoggin to win the game, 6-0.
Hawkeye also tells Duke that Trapper got his nickname as a result of cornering a girl in the restroom of a railroad car, and when the conductor caught them in there, the girl screamed, "He trapped me!'
The enlisted all line up outside the shower tent to get a peek at Dr. Captain "Painless Pole" Waldowsky as he's showering. The attraction is the captain's sexual apparatus, which is apparently of unusually large proportions. Corporal Judson, from Mississippi, takes his turn at the peephole. As he walks away, he says to a shocked looking Private Lorenzo Boone (Bud Cort), "Ah'd purely love to see that angry!"
A small group, led by Colonel Blake (in his civilian winter coat), goes out to meet an incoming helicopter. On board is Major Margaret Houlihan (Sally Kellerman), the new Chief Nurse for the 4077th.
Major Burns is tending to a male patient who suddenly goes into cardiac arrest. Burns calls for a nurse and proceeds to do a couple of unenthusiastic thumps on the patient's chest. When there's no nurse at hand, he directs Private Boone, who's just a teenage orderly, to go grab a cardiac needle and some adrenaline. Boone is hesitant, as he's not sure where to find those things, but he tries. The soldier dies right about then, and when Boone returns with a regular needle and hands it to Burns, Burns calls him an idiot and tells him he wanted a cardiac needle. Boone asks Burns if he wants him to get a nurse and Burns says, "it's too late, Boone, you killed him." Boone feels horrible and goes away in tears. Trapper observes all this and a short while later he approaches Burns and asks him if he's done for the day. When Burns says yes, Trapper says, "good, I just wanted to make sure you'll have time to sleep this off," and he lands a haymaker right hand across Burns' head. Burns crashes into some boxes of Tampax while Trapper grimaces in pain as he grips his right hand with his left. At the same moment, Colonel Blake and Major Houlihan pass by and are shocked at what they witness. They demand to know what's going on. Burns asks for them to leave he and Trapper alone and let them settle things, but Blake tells SSgt. Vollmer to arrest Trapper and confine him to his quarters.
Before happening on the fight between Trapper and Burns, Blake had introduced Major Houlihan (he called her "O'Houlihan") to the people in the operating room. Among those there are Captain Dana Murrhardt (Danny Goldman), Captain Black, Captain Judson Sax, Captain Scorch (Dawne Damon), and Captain Bridget "Knocko" McCarthy (Tamara Wilcox-Smith).
Henry wants to make Trapper the head surgeon, but feels the fight with Major Burns necessitates that he wait for a week or the new chief nurse will likely make a stink about it.
Blake and Lt. Leslie are out on a small stream near camp and he's flycasting. Vollmer runs up to inform the colonel that General Hammond can't answer the phone as he's at a football game. Blake complains that the generals have all the fun.
Margaret joins Hawkeye at his table in the mess tent. He asks her where she's from and she tells him she likes to think of the Army as her home. She then asks Hawkeye how he likes the nurses who work on his team. He tells her he likes them fine. She tells him that Major Burns does not think much of the nurses, to which Hawkeye responds that Burns is a lousy surgeon and an idiot. Margaret strongly disagrees. She thinks Burns is a fine doctor and military man. Margaret also think it's very unprofessional that people call Captain Pierce, "Hawkeye." Hawkeye tells Major Houlihan that she's what he and others call "a typical, uptight, career Army clown," as he loses his appetite and gets up to go to his tent.
On occasion, the lights in the operating room go out. When that happens, several enlisted staff position themselves with flashlights so the doctors can keep working. In one instance, the doctors and nurses started singing "When the Lights Go On Again," a song written in 1942, during WWII.
Blake leaves the camp overnight to go see General Hammond over at the 325th Evac Hospital and he leaves Major Burns in charge. There's a big party in the mess tent for Trapper, to celebrate his being named the camp's new chief surgeon. Margaret and Frank are not impressed, especially when Trapper calls out for Margaret, the "sultry bitch" to be stripped of her clothes and brought to him for sex.
Frank and Margaret collaborate on a typewritten letter to General Hammond, complaining about the lack of discipline and order at the 4077th. After they finish, Frank notes that it's dinnertime and Margaret asks if he's hungry. "For you, Margaret," and they attack each other with passion and engage in a dry hump, but only briefly.
There's a PA announcement that three cases of amphetamine sulfate (central nervous system stimulant) have disappeared and this is the third time this sort of thing has happened in the last month and it must stop by order of Colonel Blake's office. Burns escorts Margaret to her tent and offers to stop by and check on her later. She says that won't be necessary but she also says she'll leave the door unlocked. When he comes by later, they exchange empathy with one another for how poorly the others in camp treat them, and how disrespectful they are. Frank then says he thinks God willed them to find each other. Margaret throws open her pajama top, exposing her breasts and says, "His will be done," and Frank plants his face on her breasts and they fall onto the bed. As they struggle to get their clothes off, Radar lifts up the bottom of the tent and places the microphone to the camp's PA system under the bed. At first, the sounds are transmitted only to location of the PA equipment in Henry Blake's office, where a handful of people are listening in. Trapper then decides the rest of the camp should hear it and an enlisted man flips a switch to broadcast it.
Margaret is panting and tells Frank that her lips are hot, asking him to kiss her hot lips. Hawkeye, busy doing surgery, wonders what those sounds are and soon figures it out. He says, "it sounds like Frank Burns is doing a bit of dilitation and curretage." Before long, Margaret can hear her own voice over the PA system and that quickly brings the lovemaking session to an end.
The next morning in the mess tent, Forrest says, "well, hi, Hot Lips," as she gets all flustered and has to leave the tent. Hawkeye sits down across the table from Frank and taunts Frank by asking if he'd heard from his wife. About then, Colonel Blake returns to camp and Radar directs him over to the window of the mess tent, behind where Hawkeye and Burns are sitting. Blake peers in and it warms his heart to see the two finally sitting down together to have a talk.
Hawkeye says to Frank that he and the other guys wonder how Hot Lips is in the sack, "is she better than self-abuse?" He asks Frank, "does that big ass of her move around a lot, or does it just sort of lie there, flaccid? What would you say about that?"
Blake wonders what they are saying. Radar looks and says Hawkeye is making a point about human anatomy. Blake is impressed at how professional the conversation is, how they are exchanging ideas.
After Hawkeye asks if Hot Lips is a moaner or does she just lie there quietly, Frank launches himself across the table at Hawkeye and they fall to the ground, Hawkeye yelling for help. As they struggle, Trapper tells Hawkeye to look out for his goodies, as Frank is a sex maniac and he didn't think Hot Lips satisfied him. Several others in the area hurry to pull Frank off Hawkeye. Frank is put in a strait jacket and taken away by the MPs as Father Mulcahy attempts to read to him from a small scripture book. Frank won't be coming back, he's being shipped back to the states. Duke asks the colonel if he nails Hot Lips and punches Hawkeye, can he go home?
In surgery, Hawkeye has to move quickly to stop a soldier's spurting neck artery, as an announcement comes over the PA system about the American Medical Association declaring marijuana to be a dangerous drug.
Father Mulcahy tells Hawkeye that "Painless Pole" Waldowski has consulted him about a problem. Though Mulcahy feels unable to divulge any details (Waldowski had come to him in confession), he makes clear the severity of the problem. by explaining to Hawkeye that when one of the men asked for a ruling in the poker game they were playing, the captain said, "what does it matter, it's only a game?" Hawkeye wastes no time in going over to see Waldowski in his tent.
Waldowski confides in Hawkeye that he has suffered a "lack of performance" (impotence) with a visiting nurse after a sexual encounter. He tells Hawkeye that he's distraught over how he will ever be able to tell his three fiancées back home. Hawkeye tells Waldowski that occasional impotence is not a problem, and nothing for the "dental Don Juan" of Detroit to worry about. Waldowski tells Hawkeye that he's been reading up on it and Don Juanism is just a cover up. He thinks he's a fairy, a victim of latent homosexuality, and he can't deal with it.
The next day, the other doctors are sitting around joking about Waldoski's concerns. He enters the tent as they smirk and giggle and tells them all he knows they were talking about him. He announces that he's going to commit suicide. Bandidi jokingly asks Waldoski if he can have his record player. He says sure. Then he asks for suggestions about how best to go about killing himself. Trapper says, "the black capsule," which is what Adolph Hitler and Eva Braun used. Trapper claims to be able to provide a capsule for him.
Hawkeye asks Father Mulcahy to perform last rites for Waldoski . He's hoping that if they conduct an end of life ceremony for him, he'll get scared and decide he wants to live. The doctors, administrative officers, chopper pilots and enlisted men all form up for the ceremony, a replica of the Last Supper, with a coffin placed in front of the table. Someone plays a scratchy version of "Taps" on a violin. Dago Red performs a quick absolution and Trapper gives a black capsule (actually a sleeping pill) to Waldoski. Waldoski figures that he'd better go lie down in the coffin, since the pill is supposed to work pretty fast. He gets in and immediately swallows the capsule with some wine. Everyone one files by to say goodbyes or leave little mementos with Waldoski. Among the items presented to him are some poker cards, a fifth of scotch, some basic dental instruments and the photographs of his three fiancées. Finally, he goes to sleep as Corporal Judson (Timothy Brown) sings "Suicide is Painless."
A group of men carry the coffin to the Officer's Club and Waldoski is placed in a bed, complete with mood lighting. Hawkeye is outside making out with Lt. Schneider, who is scheduled to transfer out within 12 hours. Hawkeye asks her to do him a favor, to meet her professional obligations as a nurse, and go in and lie down with Waldoski, to help him with a potentially fatal psychological condition. She's not wanting to do it, but once she lifts up the edge of the sheet and sees what Waldoski has down below, she changes her mind.
Captain Waldoski was in a very good mood the next morning, a new and improved man, seemingly having forgotten he supposedly had died the night before, and Lt. Schneider flew out on a helicopter, with a big smile on her face.
Hawkeye and Trapper need some A-negative blood for a Korean prisoner of war with a chest wound they are operating on, but Radar said their requests for A-negative blood are never fulfilled. The operation proceeds and Radar goes to see a sleeping Colonel Blake. Radar sits next to the bed and monitors a tube extending from Blake's arm. A pint of blood is harvested from the colonel while he's sleeping (he's obviously type A-). Radar delivers a pint of blood to the operating room just as the surgeons were about to be forced to go on without it, at great risk to the patient.
During the operation, Trapper is being assisted by Margaret and he says, "Hot Lips, you may be a pain in the ass, but you're a damn good nurse."
Captain Forrest likes blondes, but strongly disagrees with Hawkeye who speculates that Duke is attracted to Hot Lips. Duke says he nearly pukes every time he sees Hot Lips. He thinks she's probably not even a true blonde and decides to bet Hawkeye $20 that she isn't. They conspire on a plan to isolate Hot Lips in the women's shower and then expose her so they can see what color her pubic hair is. Everyone in the camp, including a dog, take seats outside the shower tent and when they are ready, Waldoski clangs two metal lids together and a soldier releases a sandbag connected to some ropes and the sides of the tent all fly up. Hot Lips had been singing in the shower, but when she discovers everyone is looking at her, she screams and falls to the ground, covering herself. She crawls over and gets a towel and, in hysterics, she storms off to see Colonel Blake. She's furious as she tears open the door to the Colonel's tent and finds him inside, lying in bed with Lt. Leslie. She screams at him that the camp is an insane asylum and that it's his fault for letting the doctors get away with practically anything. She threatens to resign her commission if Blake doesn't turn Duke and Hawkeye over to the MPs. Blake listens and becomes angry, telling Houlihan, "Goddamit Hot Lips, resign your goddamn commission!" Houlihan dejectedly turns and leaves, sobbing "My commission, my commission....."
Duke won the bet with Hawkeye. Margaret was not a natural blonde.
Ho-Jon receives notice to report for an induction physical for the South Korean Army. Hawkeye, along with fellow co-workers Boone, Bandini, and Nurse Scorch, drive him to the induction center in Seoul for his physical. Hawkeye dopes him up with some drugs that temporarily give him a fast heart beat and high blood pressure. The doctor examining him is at first concerned, then figures out what's going on. He goes outside and informs Hawkeye that he will be keeping Ho Jon for a couple of days and retesting him. He says to Hawkeye, "nice try." Hawkeye reluctantly has to let Ho-Jon go.
A helicopter pilot arrives at the 4077th, looking for Captain McIntyre. A soldier who'd been doing some training in Japan was accidentally wounded when a grenade went off and some shrapnel got into his heart. Some big time heart surgeon in Boston told the kid's father, a Congressman, that Trapper John was the only surgeon in the theater who might be able to save his boy. Trapper is ordered to proceed to Kokura, Japan, to do the operation. After looking at the x-rays, Trapper realizes that just about anyone could remove the shrapnel, as it's not threatening the boy's heart, but he decides there's a free trip to Tokyo in the offing, plus General Hammond said in the orders to Trapper that he could bring an assistant, so he invites Hawkeye. They view it as an opportunity to do some golfing.
Trapper and Hawkeye are driven past a golf course on their way to the hospital in Japan and they are pretending to be speaking Japanese. Their driver is Sgt. Gorman (Bobby Troupe), who doesn't view the task of escorting these two as appropriate to his skill set and he curses the army.
At the hospital, the pair waste no time in upsetting just about every person they come into contact with, both medical and non-medical staff alike, as they order the congressman's son into surgery. Trapper tells Captain Peterson (Cathleen Cordell) to prepare the patient and find him a nurse who can work in close without getting her tits in the way. They are equally disrespectful to the straight-laced commander of the hospital, Colonel Wallace C. Merrill (James B. Douglas), ordering him to leave the operating room when he comes in to criticize their behavior.
When the anesthetist for the operation, Captain E.B. "Me Lay" Marston (Michael Murphy), tells Hawkeye to save his rapier like wit for the clam diggers back home, Hawkeye suddenly recognizes it's an old acquaintance of his. Hawkeye had once told Trapper John how one of his friend's back home got the nick-name "Me Lay" by saying to girls, "Me lay, you lay," and it would enable him to score with about 1 of every 50 of the girls.
Trapper and Hawkeye quickly finish the surgery, but on the way out of the hospital, they are followed by two MPs. They think they are escaping through a door, but when they close it and turn around, they find themselves in the Colonel Merrill's outer office, where another MP is sitting and waiting for them. They are directed into Colonel Merrill's office to wait for him to appear. They still have their golf clubs with them, so they take advantage of the wait by practicing their putting.
When Colonel Merrill comes in, he threatens to have Hawkeye and Trapper court martialed. They remind him that they bailed him out with the Congressman by operating on his son and if Merrill decides to press the matter, they will call and tell the Congressman their side of the story and the colonel can tell his side. They tell the colonel they will hang around one more day to golf and check on the Congressman's son, and he can contact them at the golf course if he wants them. Then Hawkeye uses the butt end of his putter to push the colonel back into his chair and off they go.
Dr. Marston invites Hawkeye and Trapper to come check out Dr. Yamachi's New Era Hospital and Whorehouse, where Marston moonlights as a doctor. As the three later sit with some Geisha girls and eat a meal at the facility, a nurse comes in and speaks with Me Lay, telling him that a Japanese-American baby boy was having trouble breathing and needed help. Based only on a description of the symptoms, Trapper and Hawkeye decide to schedule surgery for the boy back at the Army hospital. Hawkeye has already diagnosed the problem as a tracheal-esophageal fistula. He tells Dr. Marston not to tell the hospital who the surgery is for, because it is against the rules. However, when Colonel Merrill finds out what's going on, he comes into the operating room and throws a fit, prompting the doctors to clamp a surgical gas mask over his face and put him to sleep, then they complete the operation on the child.
While the Colonel is still asleep, one of the Geisha girls, Michiko (Hiroko Watanabe) is put with him in a bed and some compromising photos are taken to assure that the Colonel will remain quiet about everything that had transpired.
On their return to the 4077th from Japan, Hawkeye and Trapper (still wearing their newly purchased golf attire) immediately go into surgery for several hours. Finally with a chance to go their tent, now nicknamed "The Swamp," they find the flaps on the windows down and the door locked so they bang on the door. Duke's face appears at the window and he wants to know what the hell they are doing back already. He tells them to wait a minute. Hawkeye and Trapper figure something's up, so they start around towards the back of the tent and see a shirtless Forrest trying to smuggle Hot Lips away under a blanket. When the blanket falls off, they say hello to Hot Lips and ask her if she missed them. As she scurries away, Duke just looks at Trapper and Hawkeye and shrugs. Apparently non-blondes are ok with him after all.
General Hammond calls Colonel Blake to tell him the battle for Old Baldy was all over (the battle that was responsible for so many wounded). He ignores Henry's inquiry as to who won, instead telling him he got a rather disturbing report from Major "O'Houlihan" about things taking place at the 4077th that he finds hard to believe. Blake says, "well, don't believe them then...goodbye" and he hangs up the phone.
General Hammond makes a trip over to the 4077th to check on things for himself. The first thing he does is join the surgeons out under a camouflage net for some martinis. They discuss Major Houlihan. Trapper tells the general that Colonel Blake can't be blamed for Hot Lips not being able to stand her name. When Hawkeye tells the general that Hot Lips is a regular Army fanatic who won't even let them play football, that gets the general's attention, as he loves football. He asks if the 4077th has a football team. Hawkeye starts to say no, but Trapper John interjects and says yes. Hammond mentions that his team at the 325th Evac (he's the head coach) is currently scheduling games for the upcoming season. They like to play games against other units and bet on the outcomes. When he says the bets are typically in the $5,000-$6,000 range, Hawkeye nearly chokes, but the general has already decided to go speak with Colonel Blake about it.
Trapper observes that the general has five times the manpower to draw his football players from. Hawkeye thinks they can deal with that by finding a "ringer" to help them. He knows an Army neurosurgeon named Oliver Harmon Jones, a.k.a. "Spearchucker" who used to play for the San Francisco 49ers. If they can get Henry to put in a special request for Dr. Jones, then he could be on their football team. Forrest, being from Georgia, is concerned about potential social problems, as Jone's would be the only black officer in camp. Hawkeye tells Duke they'd just stick him in the Swamp with them.
The general goes to see Blake and tell him about the football game plan. Henry is taken aback. "Football? Gambling? What about Houlihan?" The general says, "ya mean Hot Lips? Screw her!"
So, "Spearchucker" (a nickname from his days as a javelin thrower) shows up at the 4077th and Colonel Blake assumes the role as head coach. He organizes the first practice and just as he's beginning his first coaching lesson (about the three basic principles of football: organization, discipline and teamwork), Dr. Jones interrupts and asks if they can all limber up first. Henry decides that's a good idea and asks Spearchucker to organize that.
The team is put through a pretty rigorous training camp, just like any normal football team would go through. Hot Lips also participates by organizing a squad of nurses as cheerleaders.
Trapper is the team's quarterback. Spearchucker is a running back. Spearchucker presents Colonel Blake with seven or eight plays that he drew up, telling the coach that he figured that's about the maximum number of plays their team could handle.
As for the bet, Hawkeye suggests they bet $2,500 on the first half, in which Spearchucker won't play, then get new odds for the 2nd half and put Spearchucker in. Everyone agrees that's a good idea.
On game day, the 325th Evac team is dressed in blue uniforms and the 4077th M.A.S.H. is in red jerseys and white helmets with red crosses on the front and back. The field is well manicured green grass and well marked. The referees are very official looking. There are cheerleaders for both teams and bleachers on one side of the field, filled with spectators.
The 4077th kicks off and a flashy little runner for the 325th returns the ball for a touchdown. Spearchucker knows him as "Super Bug" (Noland Smith) and tells the others that Super Bug played for the L.A. Rams. Spearchucker tells his teammates they have to get Super Bug out of the game. Meanwhile, the general is telling his defensive star, a huge lineman, #88 (Ben Davidson) to go easy on the 4077th players so as not to run up the score.
The 4077th's first play from scrimmage sees the ball snapped way over Trapper's head and he falls on it in the end zone for a safety.
Radar serves as the water boy. He brings out a syringe and hands it to anesthesiologist Black who tucks it into his belt. After Super Bug returns the next kickoff for another touchdown, Dr. Black injects him in the arm, even using an alcohol swab first, while he's still on the ground. Within seconds, Super Bug becomes disoriented and falls down. On the sideline, he starts talking about the next race. He thinks they are all participating in a track meet.
The "Painless Pole" tells the huge player opposite him, "All right, Bud, this time your fucking head is coming right off!" but he's the one who gets hammered.
It's 16-0 at halftime and when the gun goes off signaling the end of the half, Super Bug mistakes it for a starter's gun and takes off in a sprint and runs into his team's cheerleaders, knocking them all over.
Henry begins a rallying halftime speech when Hawkeye reminds him that he needs to go take care of the second half bet with General Hammond, so Blake stops talking and he and Radar go over to the 325th's locker room.
The 325th's #88 takes a big mouthful of water and purposely directs a stream of water at Radar's head as they sit around observing the colonel and general discuss terms of the bet. Radar just looks like a sad little puppy dog as he is forced to suffer through the insult.
The general and colonel decide to double the bet for the 2nd half.
Spearchucker enters the game for the 4077th and returns the 2nd half kickoff for a touchdown. The extra point attempt is blocked. The general demands to know who the that new guy is and one of the players on the 325th tells him it's Spearchucker Jones who played for the 49ers. The general yells at Blake from across the field, accusing him of bringing in a ringer. Blake couldn't make out what the general said, so he asks Radar. Radar says, "His ringer identified our ringer." Blake shouts back, "How do ya like them apples, Charlie?"
The second half is brutal, as numerous players from both side are injured and carted off the field. Several 325th Evac players are sharing a marijuana joint on the bench during the game. The general occasionally gets distracted looking at his team's cheerleaders.
The 4077th cheerleaders stand right behind Colonel Blake throughout the game and he often gets frustrated with them. He once yells at Hot Lips, calling her a "blithering idiot" because she's cheering for everything that happens: injuries and penalties, as well as scores or good plays. When the gun goes off at the end of the third quarter, at the same time a 4077th player is being tackled, Hot Lips shouts out, "oh, my God, they shot him!"
Blue team's #88 calls the 4077th's #69 a "coon," as he's black. #69 wants to fight #88, but gets chastised by Spearchucker for risking a penalty and ejection. Spearchucker knows something about #88 from pro football camp, so he advises #69 to use the fact that #88 has a sister named Gladys to turn the tables and piss him off instead. So, before the snap of the ball on the next play, #69 says something, causing #88 to level him. #69 jumps up and runs the opposite direction, with #88 in hot pursuit. They run all the way down the field before the refs and other catch up to them. #88 is ejected from the game as the 4077th cheerleaders start chanting, "69 is divine."
The 4077th scores on a TD pass, but the extra point is muffed. The score is 16-12. It comes down to the last play of the game. Spearchucker tells the team that he spoke with the umpire and they will run a special "center eligible" play, where the center, SSgt. Vollmer, will hike the ball to Trapper, but then bring the ball right back between his legs and tuck it under his shirt as Trapper and the rest of the players carry out a fake. The play works, even after Vollmer runs over to the sideline to show Coach Blake that he actually has the ball, then he continues on down the sideline and, thanks to a block from Spearchucker, scores a touchdown. Final score: 4077th - 18, 325th -16.
The 4077th team rolls back into camp, all drunk. Later, there's a big poker game in a tent and in the background a dead soldier is being loaded into the back of a Jeep and taken away, bringing the reality of their situation back in focus.
There's a little yellow camp dog that Hawkeye often plays with. He calls it "pup-pup." He's petting the dog when he receives word from Radar that prompts him to rush over to the operating room and inform Forrest that they both had received orders to go home. Forrest can't celebrate right away, as he's assisting Dr. Jones in brain surgery.
Father Mulcahy blesses the Jeep that Forrest and Hawkeye will leave in. After some quick goodbyes, Duke and Hawkeye jump in a Jeep, and just as when they arrived in Korea, they don't wait for their designated driver. Hawkeye drives and they roar out of camp. Blake asks Radar if Hawkeye just stole that Jeep and Radar says no, that it's the same Jeep they arrived in.
The PA Announcer reads the end credits as the movie ends.