The man who says he’s the “real” Radar O’Reilly from the long-running T-V sitcom M*A*S*H has come home to Ottumwa. Don Shaffer says after he joined the Army in 1948, he served as a clerk under the man who later wrote a book about a stint in a mobile hospital, though he wasn’t exactly Colonel Henry Potter.
His real name was H. Richard Hornberger, and the few survivors of that group think now he wrote the character of Hawkeye to be the soldier he’d like to have been.
Hornberger was not a medical doctor, though — he was an officer in the Medical Service Corps, M-S-C. Shaffer says the people in the 1968 book that became the TV show MASH aren’t very deeply disguised. Shaffer was company clerk as well as chaplain assistant. Though author Hornberger says in the book the characters are composites of the people he knew, Shaffer says he recognizes some, like the man who was the basis for the T-V character Klinger. He wasn’t trying to get out of the Army, though, he was really gay, and his perfectly pressed uniform and shined shoes consistently earned him the award of “Soldier of the Month.”
Shaffer says Hornberger once told him to type up a script for a skit the doctors were going to put on. It was a takeoff on a Korean unit with the initials K-R-U-D.
Shaffer has that script for the officers’ club comedy somewhere, but can’t find it. He and his wife moved to his boyhood home of Ottumwa about a year ago. Shaffer says he was an orphan and “bounced around all over the state of Iowa.” He wound up in Eldon, and after graduating couldn’t get work so he joined the army. 25 years later he retired from that and became a college professor back east, and now has retired from THAT career and came back home to Iowa. He says all the crazy stories from the book were basically true, and many more the writer couldn’t put in. Shaffer says he may still write his own book about those years someday.