November 8, 2013

'M*A*S*H*' stars in Fayetteville to honor the soldiers they once depicted on TV

Three stars from the popular television series will be in Fayetteville for this weekend’s Heroes Homecoming honoring veterans of the Korean War.

Three actors from the 1970s television series “M*A*S*H,” which depicted life in a U.S. Army medical field unit during the Korean War, will be in Fayetteville this weekend to honor veterans who served in the real-life conflict.

Fact will meet fiction at Heroes Homecoming III, which will bring actors Loretta Swit, William Christopher and Jamie Farr to town for private events with more than 100 Korean War veterans and a gathering on Sunday that’s open to the public.

John Meroski, CEO of the Fayetteville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, said organizers saw this year’s Heroes Homecoming as a chance to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the end of the Korean War and the 30th anniversary of the final episode of the show that taught many Americans nearly everything they know about it.

“The Korean War has been tagged as ‘The Forgotten War,’ but it had one of the longest-running TV series focused around it,” Meroski said. “Everyone remembers the “M*A*S*H” characters, and we think it’s just as important that Korean War veterans are remembered.

“We hope to spark an interest in other communities to honor their Korean War veterans so that it’s no longer a forgotten war, but a remembered people.”

Swit, Christopher and Farr all had long-running parts on the show, which ran for 256 episodes from 1972 to 1983, when the final episode drew the largest television audience in history up to that time. The show was launched from a movie based on a 1968 book by Dr. H. Richard Hornberger, a former military surgeon. It can still be seen in re-runs.

On TV, Swit played Major Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan, a career Army nurse and supervisor of the nursing staff at the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital. Christopher played Father Francis Mulcahy, the conscience and gentle spiritual leader of the 4077th. Farr was Maxwell Q. Klinger, a cross-dressing corporal trying to convince authorities he was too crazy to serve and should be shipped back home to Toledo, Ohio.

Farr actually served in the Army during the war, according to his website. He was drafted shortly after playing a U.S. Army Air Corps second lieutenant in the comedy “No Time for Sergeants.” But while many of his friends got shipped off to Korea, Farr says, he got lucky and was sent to Japan to work with Armed Forces Radio.

When the actors arrive in Fayetteville on Saturday evening, they’ll have dinner with sponsors of Heroes Homecoming, which started three years ago as a long-overdue tribute to veterans of the Vietnam War. Last year’s event was dedicated to those who had served in Iraq since 9-11. Organizers won’t say what the focus will be next year.

Heroes Homecoming is hosted by The Army’s Army, a local veterans support group.

At noon on Sunday, Swit, Christopher and Farr will attend a guided bus tour of Fort Bragg with Korean War veterans, some of whom shipped out to Korea from the base between 1950 and 1953.

From 3 to 5 p.m. Sunday, the actors will meet the public, pose for photos, sign autographs and answer questions at a gathering at the N.C. Veterans Park in downtown Fayetteville.

“What guy (who watched the show) does not want to see ‘Hot Lips’ Houlihan and re-live their sweetheart memories of her?” said Janine West, executive director of The Army’s Army. “And Jamie Farr and William Christopher were incredibly colorful characters as well.”

On Monday morning – Veterans Day – Swit, Christopher and Farr will help serve a pancake breakfast to residents of the Community Nursing Home at the Fayetteville VA Medical Center.

Afterward, the cast will drop in on what may be the most realistic events of the days-long commemoration: blood drives scheduled from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Cape Fear Valley Blood Donor Center and the Chick-Fil-A on Skibo Road.

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