A Real MASHer By Frank Rizzo
Between 1950 and 1953, the area near the 38th parallel was the scene of a “Police Action”. While this title would be disputed by many people, it remains as one of the pivotal events of the 20th century’s half-way point.
It saw the rise of many procedures which we take for granted today. Mostly, it was an event which was popularized by a television show, which ran over three times longer then the war it was based on.
While M*A*S*H purported to show the horrors, tragedies, and opportunities of war, it nevertheless fell short of the many stories, like this one, that took place.
Those who were assigned to M*A*S*H units became known as MASHers…..
By today’s standards, he’d be considered a “Manly Man”. At 26, he was tall, lean, and fair, with the Nordic good looks inherent of his ethnicity. The corners of Josh Hamilton’s cold blue eyes were beginning to show the crow’s feet of squinting into the sun, searching for enemy aircraft. A Chief Warrant Officer 2nd in the United States Army, Hamilton worked his way up the ranks of enlisted men until finally being accepted to Helicopter Flight School in Summer, 1951. Hamilton had been a “jack-of-all-trades” all his life. He came from a blue-collar family: his uncle was a barber, his father a construction foreman, his mother a draftsman and very talented harpist and pianist. Hamilton loved working with his hands and tinkered with anything and everything.
When the Korean War broke out, he volunteered for helicopter training. Helicopters fascinated Hamilton. He was told by a Chopper pilot early on that “Helicopters never land… they make controlled crashes!”
“That’s for me,” thought Hamilton. With his education, experience, and love of all things mechanical and technical, he graduated in the top 10% of his Flight class.
He was attached to the 8039th M*A*S*H, and, by the time the war was half over, he had successfully evacuated dozens of critically injured, and brought in hundreds of pounds of supplies.
Never married or engaged, but always looking, Hamilton was satisfied with his lot in life. In the 1950’s, and in the Military especially, morals, ethics, and desires were kept on a discreet level.
It could be said that Kathleen “Kat” Monahan was more than a stereotypical Irish lass. Perhaps a “Girlie Girl”.
The emerald green eyes, the beautiful, thick, wavy red hair, ruddy complexion, and sturdy, short physique belied the true intellect that she possessed.
Having graduated from the State University NY School of Nursing, cum laude, with a BSRN, she was ready to take her place at any of the multiple fine hospitals in New York.
Her father, a well-to-do Manhattan dentist, and her mother, a noted chiropractor, who doted on their only daughter her entire 22 years, would have snatched the moon from the sky had Kat asked for it.
But Kat’s independence from her family began building during Nursing School, and culminated in her joining the Army Nursing Corps to “Get some REAL life experience.”
The angst and ire of her parents from her decision only slightly diminished her burning desire to see the world.
Kat had an inner strength and will that made her a most worthy adversary. Or friend. She knew the value of loyalty and hard work. Mostly, though, she knew that what others thought was secondary to what she herself thought. While still a virgin, she was not the cloistered and non-worldly-wise freckle-faced child her parents thought she was.
Kat arrived at the 8039th M*A*S*H on August 01, 1952, smack dab in the middle of a heatwave that was insufferable to begin with, let alone to one who was not acclimatised to it.
The 8039th was a dismal and dreary place, canvas tents mostly, with a lot of red crosses. Her quarters were a 6-man tent that housed Kat and 3 other nurses and all their personal belongings.
Kat’s 6-week orientation course in the States was little more than a crash course in how the US Army conducts basic operations.
The REAL training had taken place within the first 2 weeks she had been there – 4 separate occasions where dozens of serious injuries were literally dumped on the Unit’s doorstep within a matter of a few hours.
Kat had become friendly with her “roomies”, who helped her along as best they could. It was only Kat’s true inner strength that kept her from becoming a “basket case” herself those first weeks. Never had she seen so much suffering and misery.
Several weeks after her arrival, Kat began to take stock of herself. Looking at herself in the mirror one day, she saw that her face was harder, her waist leaner, her eyes now a burning green. Her once lustrous hair now was long, limp, and unbearable in the heat.
Putting it up was standard procedure, but it was becoming tedious, tiring, and uncomfortable. Even though she washed it every other day, and brushed it nightly (100 strokes, of course) it seemed to make little difference.
Walking to the Mess tent one Saturday afternoon, Kat (literally) bumped into Josh Hamilton. Their eyes met immediately, although she had to look up at his, from her 5’4″ to his 6’1″.
“I beg your pardon, Lieutenant,” Josh said to her. Being a Warrant Officer, an “intermediary” service grade, he was not obliged to salute, as an enlisted man would have. He stood firm, a slight smile growing on his face with each passing moment as he took in the full measure of this woman’s beauty.
“No, no, Chief,” she said. “I’m sorry.” She too felt a strange and sudden attraction to the pilot.
“Permit me,” Hamilton offered, opening the door for her.
As they fell into line, Hamilton behind Kat, he began looking at her hair. His fascination for women’s hair had been more than a passing interest his entire adult life. He didn’t know why, but he knew that women’s hair held a very special, secret, and important attraction.
He stared at the nape of her neck, where the soft, pale red down clung to the sides at the base like little vines. He looked for several seconds at every curve, every nuance, of how her thick, red hair was piled up on top of head, perfectly pinned in place, without so much as a stray hair sticking out.
Small beads of sweat were present upon her neck, and, as she turned, her cheeks as well.
Hamilton was taken in completely by this girl. She was absolutely gorgeous.
“So, Lieutenant,” Hamilton said, finally. “How is it that I’ve never seen you before? When did you get in?”
Kat, her left side to Hamilton, turned slightly to face him squarely. “Does it show that much?” she asked with a smile on her face.
“Not really,” Hamilton lied.
Kat smiled at the pilot. She looked at the wing patch over his left breast pocket of his utilities, reading the “CW2 J.T. Hamilton” and said to him: “Well, I’ve been out of Nursing School for a few months, Chief Hamilton.”
“I’m afraid you have me at a disadvantage, Lieutenant. You know MY name.”
“I’m Kathleen Monahan,” she said, extending her right hand.
Hamilton shook it, noting it was dry, despite the heat, and firm.
This girl is special… he thought.
The progressed through the line, very few people present due to the heat, took the offering of “mystery meat”, mashed potatoes, creamed corn, and banana pudding.
“Mind sharing a table?” Hamilton asked. “It looks pretty crowded in here…” His sarcasm was good humored.
Looking around the mess tent, capable of seating approximately 100, and with perhaps 1/4 that number present, Kat smiled and gave a small, pleasant laugh.
“That looks like a pretty good table,” she said, pointing towards the rear of the tent near a mosquito net covered window.
“After you, Ma’am,” Hamilton said, taking one tray in each hand.
“Oh, please,” Kat said. “ANYTHING but that! People say “Ma’am” to me and I start looking around for my mother. Call me Kat.”
“Thanks, Kat,” he said. “I’d like to. But only if you call me Josh, ok?”
She shook her head in the affirmative and went to the table.
They sat and chatted amiably over lunch for close to 2 hours. Time had passed them by, and both were oblivious to it. A little after 2 pm, one of Kat’s “roomies”, Lt. Marjorie Smith, entered the tent and looked at Kat, scolding her: “There you are! You better get over to Post-Op on the double, before Major Nelson finds out you’re late!”
“Oh, jeez, Marjie, I’m sorry…” she replied, quickly rising.
To Josh: “I have the 2-6 duty in Post-Op. I think I’m off tonight, though. Come find me around 1800, ok?”
“I’ll make a point of it,” Hamilton said, smiling.
“Sorry, Lieutenant,” Hamilton said to Smith. “It’s my fault. We were just talking about back home and got carried away.”
Smith, who knew Hamilton as a “regular guy” and a good pilot smiled, winked, and waved goodbye to him as she bolted out the door with Kat.
They had arrived at the Post-Op ward ten minutes late into Kat’s tour. Major Nelson, the head Nurse, took her aside briefly, and in a very professional tone cautioned her about being late.
Kat, unabashed, went about her tour, staying an extra 30 minutes to make up for her tardiness, which seemed to placate Nelson.
Around 7 pm, a knock at Kat’s tent post brought her face to face with Hamilton. She was still wearing the same fatigues, and her hair had been taken down. It’s full length, 5-6 inches below her shoulders, was luxurious, wavy, and full.
Hamilton wore a fresh set of Khakis and spit shined boots. He held in his right hand a bunch of wildflowers, carefully arranged and fragrant.
“Are these for me?” Kat asked
“They’re certainly NOT for me!” he replied.
“Oh,” she said, “They’re just beautiful. Where did you find them?”
“Well,” he began, “I know where the Koreans stash their finery. Maybe I’ll dig up a Kim-Chee pot for you tomorrow…”
“Oh, no,” she cried. “I had some when I first got here! I almost suffered 3rd degree burns of the mouth!”
“OK,” he smiled. “No Kim-Chee.”
Kat told him: “I’m going to put these in water, and then I think I’d like to go for a walk. Now that it’s starting to cool off some.”
“That works for me,” he agreed.
They walked around the camp for an hour, seeing only minimal activity. There was a movie in the mess tent (“The Detective Story”, which both had already seen) so they walked and talked, thoroughly enjoying each other’s company.
At about 9:30, they sat down in the mess tent for coffee, and Hamilton began staring at Kat more intently. He was becoming obsessed with this girl.
“What are you looking at?” Kat asked him with a smile, breaking his trance.
Hamilton decided to be honest. “Your hair,” he said flatly.
“Is that good or bad?” she inquired.
Hamilton smiled. “You have no idea how badly I want to touch it.”
“It’s almost time for me to go to bed,” she said. “I give it 100 strokes a night. Would you like to brush it for me?”
“Yes, I would,” Hamilton said, his heart pounding at 100 beats per minute. “But I certainly can’t go into your tent. Or mine either. And it might look somewhat strange here in the mess tent.”
“Any suggestions?” Kat asked, very suggestively.
“Well,” Hamilton said, “If you say no, I’ll understand…”
“What?” she asked.
“The barbershop? I have a key… see, my uncle was a barber. I practically grew up in his shop. I’m pretty good with hair. I have a lot of clientele here at this Unit. But it has to stay between us, if you know what I mean.”
“Are you serious?” she asked.
“Like I said,” Hamilton began. “If you say no, I’ll understand. You don’t think I’m strange, do you?” Hamilton’s eyes clearly showed his concern with the question.
“Listen,” she assured him. “Since the day I got here, I’ve been wanting to do something about my hair. It’s always in the way, it takes too long to wash, and dry, even in this heat, and I haven’t been anywhere near a Beauty Parlor since the day I graduated Nursing School. Strange! You’re a Godsend. For some reason, I trust you. If I let you cut it, will you promise to cut it short?”
Hamilton began to sweat. His heart continued to pound. This was more than a dream come true.
“I’ll cut it any way you want,” he said, and with that, placed his hand on top of hers.
Giddily, she grabbed his hand, pulled him from the bench, and said: “Let’s go!”
It was a funny feeling Kat had. She knew she was about to do something she had never done before. She knew she was about to do something women didn’t do in this day and age. She only knew that she wanted her hair cut. Short. VERY short.
She had all the good excuses, too. It was a war. It was hot. It was a health issue. She could now get away with something she would never have been able to do back home.
Arriving at the Unit’s barbershop a few moments later, Hamilton unlocked and opened the door. Inside was a very modest barbershop, with a handmade bamboo barber’s chair (a real one would have been impractical – the M in M*A*S*H was for MOBILE, and a real barber’s chair would weigh a couple hundred pounds.) The Korean carpenter who made this chair for Hamilton 8 months ago fashioned it after an old-fashioned chair, but it would not turn, tilt, or rotate. It was comfortable for 15-20 minutes, then it became somewhat hard on the spine. Most military haircuts, however, took considerably less time.
Few women had been in this tent. Major Nelson had short hair which Hamilton occasionally trimmed, but none had undergone what Kat was about to experience.
Kat looked at the small back-bar, also handmade from old foot lockers and bamboo legs. A shelf with a mirror, 2 small cubby holes, and a small 3-drawer cabinet were the furnishings, along with the chair.
“Have a seat,” Hamilton said, turning on the 2 lights on the walls on either side of the chair, and securing the tent flaps over the windows and the door.
Kat sat down carefully, figuring the chair would be too frail. She was surprised at how sturdy it was and said so.
“Too bad it couldn’t be a real chair,” Hamilton said. “They’re very comfortable. I’d love to see you in one, but I’ll settle for this replica…”
She smiled back at him, hands on the arms of the chair.
After pulling a few things from the drawer, Hamilton took out a brush and began caressing her locks with smooth, continuous strokes. He pulled at it, getting the feel and weight of it, the cowlicks, and enjoying its smell and color.
Kat closed her eyes and became engrossed in the brushing.
She almost began to fall asleep when Hamilton stopped. He pulled her hair up into a high ponytail, and then quickly wrapped the cape around her neck. He tucked a towel between her neck and the cape and closed it firmly.
“I guess this is the moment of truth,” Hamilton said. “What do you want me to do with it?”
Kat had nothing to lose. She reached her hands out from under the cape and took her hair down. She shook her hair out completely.
“I want it all cut off short. Very short. It’s very thick so it should hold a short haircut. Something short like Doris Day in ‘Teacher’s Pet’. Do you know what I’m talking about?”
Hamilton knew exactly what she wanted. Something short but feminine. “Are you sure?” Hamilton asked.
“Absolutely. I’ve been waiting for this for a long time. And use the razor, too.”
“You mean a straight razor?” Hamilton said, holding up the thin, shining blade.
“No,” she said. “The electric one. I’ve been wondered what that would be like ever since I saw all those recruits getting their haircuts in basic training.”
“Ah,” Hamilton said. “You mean the clippers. You sure?”
“Yes,” she smiled. “I’m sure.”
Hamilton took up the old Oster model 111 and placed a #2 blade on it. He took a barber comb in his left hand, combed through the hair on her left side, and turned the clippers on. They whirred to life at once. Kat sat perched in the chair, quietly and intently, as he began cutting the length down to a chin-length haircut, starting with the left side, working his way around to the back, then on to the right side.
Thick, wavy, 12″ chunks of hair hit the cape, and slid onto the floor. Hair rained for a good 10 minutes as Hamilton carefully cross checked each section to make sure it was even.
When he had the length at the chin level, he showed her the cut in a hand mirror.
“That’s good for a start,” Kat said. “Now the rest of it. Short, Josh, short. I want a – oh -” she stammered “- a D.A.! That’s it! A D.A.!”
He turned the clippers back on and began cutting the bob into a short 2″ all over. First the left side, then the right. Hair was stripped away and was flicked away with each pass of the clippers.
Josh saved the back for last.
“Would you bend down for me, please?” he asked. She obeyed quickly.
He plowed the clippers up the back of her head, from the base of her neck to the occipital notch, shearing away 4 inches of hair. Her scalp was not visible through her hair, although her hair was very short now.
With the next section, he cut horizontally across from right to left, and then vertically, to create the two sides of the “Duck Ass” haircut.
He clippered her around the ears and then onto the temples.
Using scissors to finish the look and blend in the cut, he was careful to leave her hair without a part so that it would look the same on either side.
“Stop,” Kat said, as he was putting his clippers down.
Fearing the worst, Hamilton asked her: “Are you ok?”
“Yes,” she said. “I just want to feel it.”
Kat ran her hand up the back of her head and moaned.
“Oh, that feels so good,” she said. “I’ve never had short hair before. It feels wonderful! Can I see it?”
Hamilton got out the hand mirror and showed her the entire haircut from front to back.
Pulling the small hairs on her nape that had so captivated him earlier, he assured her: “I’m going to clean this up here, too,” he said, running his fingers gently over her neck, “and then it’ll look neat.”
She simply smiled and mouthed “OK” at him.
Taking up a small Andis edging clipper, he snapped it to life and began shaving the back of her neck very quickly. The soft down of her neck was instantly removed, leaving a smooth, bare, very sensuous neckline. With each pass of the edger, she moaned quietly, and small goose bumps appeared on her neck. At one point, she shuddered and Hamilton finished up the last of the hair on her nape on the left side. He knew she was extremely ticklish, and this part of the haircut began to arouse him almost uncontrollably.
30 minutes after he started, he was done. He massaged her scalp, brushed her off, and looked at her very carefully. She knew he was looking into her eyes with desire.
Had she confronted him about his intense staring (which he wasn’t), he would have told her: “I’m making sure it’s all even.”
Instead, he picked at her hair here and there, ran his fingers through it, arranged small portions, and then told her: “There, that’s it. All done. My God, Kat, you’re beautiful.”
“Why, thank you very much, sir,” she said.
“Does the barber get a kiss?” he asked, pulling the cape from her neck.
Running her hands through her shorn locks, she rose from the chair. She walked to the mirror for a closer look.
She turned to face him, smiling, and wrapped her arms around his neck, reached up, and began to kiss him passionately.
The look of her, the feel of her shaved neck, her brilliant green eyes…
“I have a key to the V.I.P. tent, too,” Hamilton said.
They were out the door of the barbershop 30 seconds later….