Monday, May 29, 2006



"Lt. Colonel Henry Blake's plane shot down over the Sea of Japan. It spun out of control. There were no survivors."

With those few words, the audience viewing at home was shocked to learn of the loss of a beloved figure in Toobworld... more than twenty years after it actually happened.

As he was already in his forties, with a family and established practice as a general practicioner back in Illinois, Henry Braymore Blake didn't have to answer the call to serve in the military as a front-line surgeon. But he did feel the need to help those young soldiers who didn't have a choice about going over there. And so even though his wife was pregnant with his third child, Henry Blake accepted the rank of Lt. Colonel and became the commander of a mobile army surgical unit, the 4077.

Excerpts from the Wikipedia are quoted below in this look back at Henry Blake's career during the Korean Conflict:

Back in Illinois Henry had a wife, Lorraine, although in the earliest episodes of 'M*A*S*H', her name was Mildred. For a splainin, it's easy enough: I think her first name was Mildred and her middle name was Lorraine, and both of them preferred her middle name. Maybe for where they lived in Illinois, it sounded cosmopolitan.

Henry had three children, although he never got the chance to see his youngest son in person, as the boy was born after he left for Korea. His oldest was his son Andrew, and then his daughter Molly.

"Henry cared deeply for his family, even though he had a tendency to fraternize with the nurses à la Hawkeye and Trapper. One constant source of frustration was that his wife was always sending Henry her bills and check books so that he could balance things out long distance.

According to Henry, his wife, a former 'Succotash Queen' at Illinois Normal, was a terrific cook and made a great chocolate cake. "

"Henry was essentially a nice person and a capable doctor but not a very forceful or competent commanding officer. Blake always put himself forward as a friend first, and commanding officer second when it came to his post at the 4077—although in the rare occasion when he was boxed into a corner, he uncomfortably but firmly reminded his officers who was in charge.

In one of many letters to his father, Hawkeye described Henry as 'a good doctor and a pretty good joe'. But as a commanding officer, he likened Henry to Daffy Duck."

Henry did the best he could as the commanding officer of the 4077th, but he was beset on all sides by competing interests. There were the two best surgeons under his command, Captains "Hawkeye" Pierce and "Trapper" John McIntyre, who were anti-authoritarian cutups always causing trouble with their disruptions.

And even though Henry felt a kinship with them and probably preferred to join them rather than fight them, (especially when it came to cigars, home-made booze, and the nurses), he knew he had to maintain some semblance of discipline with them both.

"On the rare occasion when Henry actually stood his ground and refused to let Hawkeye and Trapper have their way, the maverick captains would criticize Henry for not being 'one of the guys'.

When Henry decided to send a lost Korean boy to an orphanage, insisting that the 4077 didn't have the qualifications to look after the child, and technically he was right, Hawkeye called him a villain, to which Henry actually took offense."

But if Henry let Hawkeye and Trapper John get away with everything, Henry knew he'd then have to deal with Major Frank Burns and the chief nurse, Margaret "Hot Lips" Houlihan, who wanted him to run that camp strictly by the book even if the Army standards couldn't be applied to every situation.

"Henry generally let their criticisms roll off his back, but once told Frank, who was letting Hot Lips do all the talking, that if he did not watch his language, Henry would have no choice but to punch Hot Lips right in the mouth. Another time, when Frank was arguing with Trapper, Henry told Frank that if he didn't calm down, he would have no choice but to put it in Frank's records that Frank did not work and play well with others."

Henry Blake loved to play golf, even in a battlezone, and he loved fly-fishing. This was evident by the hat he chose to wear rather than the standard issue military cap, but it looked good when worn with his old college sweater.

"His strongest bond in Korea was to the young Corporal Walter 'Radar' O'Reilly, for whom Blake was something of a father figure."

Radar was a "naive, fresh-faced farmboy from Iowa, vulnerable to the horrors of war, and Blake was like the father he never had." Henry provided "guidance, comfort, and support to the young Corporal.

"In return, Radar more or less kept the unit running like a well oiled machine, his nearly magical skills for getting everything done" to counter-banlance Henry's lack in leadership skills.

And so it was that young Radar was the first to learn of the tragic news about Henry Blake's death. Henry had been on his way home to his wife and kids in Illinois, finally discharged to escape the horrors of the war.

But he didn't make it very far - the plane was shot down over the Sea of Japan and there were no survivors after it spun down into the water.

Radar was forced to bring word of the tragedy to the others as they struggled through another shift in the OR. It was the first act of manhood for Radar in which he had to finally stand on his own, without the guidance of his mentor.

Toobworld is made up of many TV dimensions, thanks to shows like 'Star Trek' and 'Sliders'. The Henry Blake we know existed in the main Toobworld, Earth Prime-Time. His two oldest children Andrew and Molly would be in their late fifties, early sixties by now, so if you ever see a TV character by those names and who would be about that age, chances are they could be Henry's kids. (We never learned his baby's name, at least I don't think so, but he'd be in his early fifties now.)

But Henry Blake existed in at least one other TV dimension, as well as in several other universes based on the artistic output of Mankind. He was born of the literary universe, thanks to several novels by H. Richard Hornberger, aka Richard Hooker. In that world, Henry Blake probably survived the Korean Conflict to return to practice in the United States.

He also exists in the movie universe, the "Cineverse". As the movie by Robert Altman followed the book closely, Henry probably lived on there as well.

(One interesting, yet sad, side-note from the Real World. Roger Bowen played Henry Blake in the movie version, and he died of a heart attack one day after MacLean Stevenson died of a heart attack in February of 1996. And Stevenson of course played Henry on TV.)

As for that other TV dimension, Henry Blake survived that plane crash in the dimension based on TV comedy sketches from variety shows. (Nicknamed "Sketchworld" or "Skitlandia", it is officially known as Earth Not Ready For Prime Time.)

In fact, the night after the Real World learned of the death of Henry Blake on 'M*A*S*H' in the main Toobworld, Henry was seen on a life raft waving frantically to draw attention to himself as he shouted, "I'm OK! I'm OK!" (This occurred on an episode of 'The Carol Burnett Show'.)

So on this Memorial Day, I'd like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to Henry Blake. He was not a very good leader of men, but he was a good man who led by example.


"I was never very good with my hands."
"Guess that's why you became a surgeon, huh, Sir?"

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