Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Life After M*A*S*H -- Part 6

Last but not least, we need to cover the two gentlemen who worked as the backbone of the M*A*S*H 4077th ’s – its clerks: Radar O’Reilly and then Max Klinger.  Radar was perhaps one of the youngest soldiers in the camp – barely graduating from high school before he enlisted in the Army.  In many ways, he was still very much a kid who had to learn to grow up quickly in order to survive.  Luckily, he was a fast learner and quickly made himself indispensable to the two Officers in Command: Colonel Blake, then Colonel Potter. Towards the second half of the series, Radar gets shipped home when he is granted a “Hardship Discharge” due to the death of his Uncle Ed.  He returns home to Ottumwa, Iowa to manage his family’s farm and to take care of his mother.  This is where we pick up.  

Any time Radar would talk about his mother and his family farm, it was always with the utmost fondness, longing, and sense of responsibility.  Based on this, I would say that Radar returned home and settled eagerly into his new role as patriarch of the house, as well as a big-man-on-campus type now that he was the only Army veteran in this small farm town.  However, there were two problems: first, although he relished being home and running the show, he also discovered that it wasn’t quite enough for him after returning from life-and-death Korea.  While Korea was terrifying, boring, lonely, crowded, too cold, and too hot, it was at all times exciting, different and exotic.  After so much over-stimulation, Radar couldn’t help but to feel like he was going through the motions in low-key Ottumwa.  How could he sit in the local coffee shop musing about whether “we’d get some rain soon” when he had witness so much horror and triumph of the human spirit while at war?  He couldn’t help but to daydream about his Army family and wonder if they were all happy and content and safe now that they were all back home as well.  Nonetheless, and mostly for lack of knowing any other path to take, Radar tried to content himself with his Iowa life.  The second problem that Radar encountered happened a little farther down the road: after a decade or so of taking care of his mother and the farm, he had grown tired of the confines of his environment.  Mrs. O’Reilly had grown older and more dependent upon him, and Radar knew she would not welcome a new Mrs. O’Reilly in his life.  Occasionally, Radar went out on dates with a local girl or two, but he was always home before his mother’s bedtime so he didn’t keep her up and waiting.  Over time, Radar grew resentful of this situation but again, for lack of knowing any other path to take, he just kept going along.  When Radar was about 32 years old his mother died.  At first, he did not change a thing about his life; he mourned his loss and kept up the farm.  But within 6 months, Radar came to the conclusion that it was now-or-never, and he leased the farm to some local farmers and packed up and moved to the big city – Cincinnati.  There, the first thing he did was to get a job as a clerk in an office as this was the only other thing he knew how to do besides farming.  This job was different than he recalled his job was in the Army:  everything moved slowly and systematically, and he was nobody’s Right Hand Man.  Nevertheless, Radar enjoyed the job and its intellectual stimulation.  Over the years, Radar worked his way up to Chief Operating Officer of this mid-sized company.  When he was 55 yrs old, he sold his family farm which made him financially secure for life (along with his company pension).  Radar is 63 yrs old as he heads to the Dedication Ceremony of the Korean War Memorial.

Corporal Maxwell Klinger was one of the more colorful characters of the M*A*S*H 4077th.  He started out as an orderly/corpsman and worked his way up to corporal rank, becoming the personal clerk of Colonel Potter. Through much of the series, Klinger is creatively trying to earn himself a Section 8 Discharge (mentally unfit for service).  He attempts lots of schemes but the longest-running among them is dressing as a woman.   It is obvious that this becomes a hobby over time as he really gets into his outfits.At the end of the war, he proposed to a local Korean girl – ultimately marrying her and bringing her home to his beloved Toledo, Ohio.    All is not a happy ending, however, as he struggles with prejudice in his hometown and also supporting both his wife here and her parents back in Korea. He has some mix-ups with the law and lands himself in River Bend, Missouri working for Colonel Potter as his assistant in a country hospital.  Klinger loves working for Potter again and slips right back into his Army clerk mode.  He relishes the challenge of learning how to “work” the system in this hospital and gets pretty good at it.  Over time, he makes enough money that he decides to invest in a local men’s clothing and tailoring shop.    He manages to balance both jobs and really utilizes the skills he learned during the war – about business and about fashion. When Colonel Potter dies, Klinger manages the clothing business full time.  He and Soon Lee have three children and he sends all three off to college – one of them to Harvard – his old Army buddy Charles’ alma mater.   Klinger cannot wait to be reunited with his buddies at the 4077th.

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