Saying Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen to M*A*S*H 35 years Later
“Look, I know how tough it is for you to say goodbye, so I’ll say it. Maybe you’re right, maybe we will see each other again, but just in case we don’t, I want you to know how much you’ve meant to me. I’ll never be able to shake you; whenever I see a pair of big feet or a cheesy mustache, I’ll think of you.” — Hawkeye
On February 28, 1983, I sat down in front of my monstrosity of a television and flipped on CBS to say goodbye to the show I loved.
M*A*S*H followed the lives of the doctors, nurses, and soldiers in the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the Korean War. As the first familiar notes of the show’s theme song, Suicide is Painless, penetrated my ears, I knew the end of this long-term relationship (via eleven seasons) was near. Unfortunately, it was time for me to say Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen (the title of the final episode) to the beloved characters of M*A*S*H.
The two-hour finale begins with the series main character and my personal favorite, army surgeon Captain Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce in a dark place psychologically.
After spending years saving the lives of countless soldiers on an operating table, Hawkeye realizes he cannot save himself. After Hawkeye suffers a nervous breakdown when a refugee mother suffocates her baby to keep it quiet on a military bus to avoid attracting the attention of a passing enemy patrol, he is committed for a psychological evaluation.
Hawkeye no longer can escape the horrors of war he coped with for years with cheap booze, womanizing, and his trademark biting sense of humor. When BJ visits Hawkeye in the hospital, the two friends clash and BJ departs without saying goodbye knowing that he may never see Hawkeye again since BJ had received word he would soon be going home. With help from psychiatrist Dr. Sidney Freedman, a reoccurring character on the show, eventually, Hawkeye is able to come to terms with the tragedy and return to the M*A*S*H 4077th.
As a twelve-year-old watching this drama unfold on the television screen, the darker tone of this episode was a dramatic departure for me from the laugh-track accompanied comedic one of the first episode of M*A*S*H that aired on September 17, 1972. What initially attracted me to the show were the great one-liners offered by Hawkeye and the usually good-natured pranks he pulled with his partners in crime. For the first three seasons, it was Captain “Trapper” John McIntyre, followed in later seasons by Captain BJ Hunnicutt on their unsuspecting colleagues.
At first, the targets were Major Frank “Ferret Face” Burns and Major Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan, but Burns was replaced later in the show by a more formidable foil, Major Charles Emerson Winchester III. I was fascinated by the idea people who would not likely be friends outside of the confines of the 4077th created inseparable bonds through the misery of war. Like so many of the show’s fans, I came to truly care for these characters.
At its core, M*A*S*H was a series about good people trying to remain sane in an insane situation, but saying goodbye provided the emotional thread that held the remainder of the final episode together. Colonel Sherman Potter says goodbye to his beloved horse, Sophie. Father John Francis Mulcahy says goodbye to his ability to hear, as the result of being too close to an exploding mortar. Major Charles Winchester says goodbye to five Chinese musicians he taught to correctly play a Mozart piece, only to learn all tragically die just after leaving the 4077th.
One person refuses to say goodbye, however. Corporal (later Sergeant) Max Klinger decides to get married to his love, Soon-Lee, and remain in Korea. Ironic, since Klinger spent the better part of the series trying to get sent home from Korea by receiving a Section 8 for wearing dresses while carrying out his duties. Of course, the characters all say goodbye to each other in various ways, until only Hawkeye and BJ remained.
“I’ll miss YOU. A lot. I can’t imagine what this place would’ve been like if I hadn’t found you here.” BJ Hunnicutt
The more you love someone, or in this case, something, the more difficult it is to say goodbye.
I loved M*A*S*H growing up (and still do). I was extremely emotional, as I watched the last scene between Hawkeye and BJ unfold 35 years ago. In preparation for writing this article, I recently re-watched the final episode. Honestly, I did get a tad bit watery-eyed at the end, as from a bird’s eye view Hawkeye sees the message BJ left for him on the helicopter landing pad, “goodbye” written out with a bunch of stones, but absent was the stream of tears that ran down my face as a 12-year-old boy.
The final show ended as it began with the Suicide is Painless theme song. If you have never watched an episode of M*A*S*H, I strongly encourage you to get to know the people of the 4077th M*A*S*H. You will not regret it. Trust me, I’m a doctor, but as my grandmother constantly reminds me, I’m not a real one.
Over the years, I have gotten a lot better at saying goodbye to people. With that being said, I have one final thing to say to you all: