(These are my final thoughts on where the MASH characters ended up after the war.)
MAJ. MARGARET HOULIHAN
What we know: Belonging to the army all her life, Margaret decided that after the war, she’d take a post at a military hospital in the States.
What I think: By the mid 1950s, Margaret had become a senior member of the surgical nursing staff at Walter Reed, in Washington DC. She also sometimes worked as an instructor of trauma nursing at Johns Hopkins. The army had been good to her; it was her family business and it showed her things that most women of her generation didn’t get to see. But she knew she would never go overseas again—just as she knew she would she never marry again. (That dream she had in Korea, of the bloody wedding—it still haunted her.) From a more practical standpoint, her first marriage wasn’t so great. And she realized she didn’t ever want to take care of a man—much less at the expense of her own career.
She grew to consider Erin Hunnicutt as a godchild of sorts. She considered Col. Potter as a father, of sorts. She considered BJ as the kind of man she would marry, if she had to. And she considered Hawkeye as someone she occasionally needed. She came to visit him for the first time in the States, when he’d come to Boston while Daniel was sick. She traveled up to Boston again, after Daniel died. (This all started after Hawkeye had already made contact with Charles, and at first, Hawkeye didn’t mention Margaret to Charles at all. In fact, after a while, these were some of the occasions when Charles became his most tactful.) Margaret and Hawkeye didn’t mean to start a love affair. It happened after a Chinese dinner while Daniel was sick, and they barely spoke a word the whole night. In fact, over all the following years, they never had an actual romance. It was more of an immediate intimacy—a resonance—a meeting of their most vulnerable parts. Their reunions never lasted for more than a long weekend, but they recurred as a kind of longing. It was an homage, or an understanding. It was something that neither of them fully had with anyone else.
They talked about it once:
Hawkeye said, “Do you think we’ll keep doing this when we’re old and gray?”
“Ha,” said Margaret. “Not if I keep using Clairol.”
“But I don’t get it.”
“This! Us! I’m already old and gray. But you could have anyone you wanted.”
“Why me? Why us? Why six days out of the year?”
“Maybe I’m busy the rest.”
“Don’t tell me the other 359 are with Frank.”
“Perish the thought.”
“You’re actually serious? I can’t believe that Hawkeye Pierce wants pillow talk.”
“Just a little pillow. To cushion your clusters.”
“Well, I guess that’s it, isn’t it?”
“If you must know–“
“What I mean is that when we were over there, and while all of you were watching Radar grow up and making sure that our patients got a chance to grow up, that maybe I was growing up too.”
“Well if that’s the case, than that’s the nicest thing that ever came from a war.”
“I’m not saying that war does good things. It does awful, destructive things. I’m just saying that with all of you, and the nurses, it was one of the first places that I ever felt I had much of a family.”
“So, what, this is some kind of gratitude?”
“No. I didn’t say that. But if war becomes your household, maybe you can’t ever really leave the yard.”
COL. POTTER’S MEMORIAL
In the 1980s, Margaret was the one who told the others of Colonel Potter’s passing. By then, Radar was in his early fifties. (If you want a laugh, consider that he was old enough to date Blanche Devereaux.) The rest of the group had reached their sixties, except for Sidney, who was in his seventies.
Everyone attended the service, except Frank (who couldn’t get away) and Trapper (who didn’t know Potter). At the memorial, all the MASHers sat together in a Methodist church. From Potter’s family, to patients, to other co-workers, the sanctuary was packed. Everyone, except Margaret, wore civilian clothes. Mulcahy gave the homily for the service. Radar eulogized Potter with his line about being a man and being a father. Hawkeye gave a small speech, where he said that Potter was the kind of soldier who served in wars because although he hated them, he loved those who fought them even more. After the funeral, in the Potters’ backyard, Charles revealed that he had procured a bottle of brandy from 1952. In honor of the colonel’s WWI tontine, the comrades toasted him with it. And Charles himself finished the toast with, goodbye, farewell, and amen.
Radar’s son, Henry, had known the Potters from their occasional visits. He attended the funeral with his infant—Eva—who was Radar’s first grandchild.
In the Potters’ yard, everybody held this grand baby, except Hawkeye. “We wanted to name her Sophie,” said Henry, “but then we heard about the horse.”
“Better than Babette,” said Charles, “or she’d been named for a Guinea pig.”
“Hawk?” Radar stood before him. “You can hold her, if you want.”
Margaret touched BJ’s arm. Hawkeye sat with his hands on his knees. “No. I’m sorry. I can’t.”
Later that night, they played poker and croquet. Mildred and Klinger shared one of the colonel’s old cigars. Margaret and BJ had gone out, leaving Hawkeye to play cribbage with Mulcahy. Now they returned—and behind them, fresh from the airport, came Trapper John. Hawkeye sat. Trapper hugged Radar’s son.
“Great to meet you,” said Henry, “but I think you thought I was Dad.”
Trapper was jolly and sheepish. He embraced the right O’Reilly. Mulcahy, shaking Trapper’s hand, led him to Hawkeye. Sidney gave a half smile. Trapper stood. Hawkeye had him sit. Trapper put his hand on Hawkeye’s arm, and Hawkeye put his head in his own hands.
Near the end of the night, the group looked over Potter’s paintings. Among his newer ones (and there were dozens), he had a portrait of Klinger, Soon Lee, and their son (from twenty years ago); he had a watercolor of a Korean man in old military dress, astride Potter’s old horse; and he had a sketch of BJ holding a child, in front of the Golden Gate Bridge. The most recent paintings were some of the colonel’s very best—each of a horse, or studies of parts of a horse. Mildred said they depicted Sputnik, a neighbor’s Palomino down the road. Sidney said the brilliance wasn’t surprising, that studies in Alzheimer’s showed how a patient’s visual artistry became tremendously acute, as the patient began to paint things as if he were seeing them for the first time. One struck Charles especially, of the horse coming over a hill at morning.
After midnight, BJ, Margaret and Hawkeye took a taxi back to their hotel. They made arrangements to meet for breakfast. “And now,” said Hawkeye, “I have to tell you people what I learned tonight.”
“That Winchester bought that painting for $5000?” said BJ. “That’s what I learned tonight.”
“No—no. Better,” said Hawkeye. “Better. I learned that when it comes down to it, your best friends will help you keep all your other friends.”
Margaret said, “That’s because they love you.”
“Yeah.” He kissed her on the head. “Yeah, I think that’s why.”