updated 2/16/2006 9:54:26 AM ET 2006-02-16T14:54:26

The U.S. Army on Thursday donated to Pakistan its last “MASH” field hospital made famous by a television show about fictional doctors and nurses who found laughs as they treated casualties of the Korean War.

For the past few months, U.S. medics have used the 84-bed medical facility to care for victims of the Oct. 8 earthquake that killed about 80,000 people in northwestern Pakistan and Kashmir.

The Army is phasing out MASH for more flexible combat support hospitals that can be moved closer to the front line of a battle.

“Today we transfer this MASH unit to Pakistan and in so doing we celebrate a new dimension in an old alliance and partnership,” U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker said at the hand-over ceremony in Muzaffarabad, the devastated capital of Pakistan’s part of disputed Kashmir.

A Pakistani army medical corps band, wearing maroon-colored jackets with gold-trimmed epaulets, struck up a tune near the green field tent of the 212th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, a facility first deployed in France during World War I, and later in Vietnam, Yugoslavia and the Gulf.

“The chapter that began on the battlefield of Europe in World War I will end,” Crocker said.

Living on in Pakistan
Pakistan army surgeon general, Lt. Gen. Syed Afzal Ahmad, said that since the earthquake, Pakistani medical staff had worked closely with their American counterparts to learn how to run the MASH, one of many foreign field hospitals set up in the aftermath of the quake.

“We are very thankful to the U.S. government and will remain thankful forever,” he said.

The MASH — with a total cost of $4.5 million — includes a surgical suite with two operating tables, two intensive care units, pharmacy, laboratory, radiology units and a power generation system, the military said.

“Although it’s the last MASH in the U.S. inventory, it will get to live on here in Pakistan under a new name, so it’s kind of special for us,” said Navy Rear Adm. Michael LeFever, the senior U.S. commander of the humanitarian mission in Pakistan.

The military is replacing MASH with the CSH, or combat support hospital, LeFever said. Unlike the MASH, which was set up in the rear, parts of a CSH, like a surgery or primary care unit, can be detached.

“We have found ... that it’s important to do the medical care quicker in the magic 60 minutes, in the golden hour, to save lives,” LeFever said.

Many people were first introduced to the MASH by the 1970 film of the same title. The TV show began in 1972 and was almost canceled because of low ratings during its first season. But it took off the next year, making the top 10 list, and the series continued until 1983.

The half-hour show took on the delicate task of finding humor amid the horrors of war. It pulled it off by being a “dramady” that used multiple plot lines, with some being comedic and others being dramatic.

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