Monday, May 28, 2012

MEMORIAL DAY: REMEMBERING COLONEL POTTER


When it came time to choose a departed member of the Toobworld military to honor on Memorial Day, my first thought went to Lt. Columbo, who served during the Korean Conflict and whose actor - Peter Falk - we lost last year. (It's my belief that Columbo also passed away.)  But a quick check of Inner Toob showed that we honored him for Veteran's Day in 2009. I think it would be better to find another candidate who deserves to be honored on this day.

And as with Peter Falk, we lost the actor who played our honoree last year......

COLONEL SHERMAN T. POTTER

Here's from the 'M*A*S*H' wiki:
Colonel Potter's first appearance on the series came in the second episode of Season Four, "Change of Command". Voiceover narration gives the date as September 19, 1952.

A Methodist, Sherman Potter was from Hannibal, Missouri, the childhood home of Mark Twain. (Two early episodes mention a home in Nebraska and in Ohio, however, and Potter implies in another episode that he's a Presbyterian.) His mother's name was Emma. Potter learned (among other things) Army foot care from a fellow Missourian in World War I — future President Harry S Truman although Truman was from Independence which is across the state; likewise they were also in different branches of the service-Potter was a cavalryman and Truman was a artilleryman. He also revealed early on that he was one-quarter Cherokee, when Frank Burns complained that Hawkeye "always gets the Cowboys, while I get stuck with the Indians!" (referring to friendly troops versus enemies, brought in for treatment). 




Sherman Potter enlisted in the Army at fifteen, when he lied about his age to get into the cavalry and was a member of the "1st cavalry" {Presumedely this is either supposed to be the 1st US Cavalry Regiment which didn't go oversees in World War I or the 1st US Cavalry Division which wasn't formed until 1921!}. Potter's serious love of horses is noted in several different episodes -he claimed in one epsiode to be able to shoe his own horse (His exact age during the series is debatable.

When Potter first takes command September 19, 1952 he claimes to be 51 which would place his birthdate in 1900/or 1901. In the episode, "Pressure Points", Potter gives his age as 62. With the episode set in 1952, he would have been born in 1890, and been fifteen years old in 1905; likewise in a two part epsiode when Major burns is missing {Gone from the show} he claims to have smoked cigars for 47 years-since 1905/6 {age 15{?} In 7.2, he mentions having been in the army for thirty-five years; assuming the year is 1952, he would have joined in 1917, the year the United States entered the First World War. Assuming he did enlist at age fifteen, he was born in 1902. In another episode, he mentions joining the cavalry during the days of Theodore Roosevelt's "Rough Riders", which only existed during the Spanish-American War of 1898 which would have made him 69 in 1952 when the mandatory military reitrement age for officers is 60{!) . In 11.7 Potter rants that someone over sixty shouldn't go to Florida; both the previous and succeeding episodes reveal that the timeline is the June/July of 1953.

He married Mildred in 1916. A conversation with a wounded soldier in the episode "Point of View" reveals their wedding date as September 8. However, in the episode "Settling Debts", he states that his anniversary is Groundhog Day, February 2 (he picked that day so he wouldn't forget it). In 4.7 Potter writes to Mildred on their 27th wedding anniversary which with 1952-27 means he was married in 1925-had he married in 1916 it would have been their 36th wedding anniversary in 1952! In 7/10 Potter is angry at himself for forgetting to write Mildred on their 35th anniversary. 




After World War I, Sherman Potter entered medical school, serving his residency in St. Louis and beginning his practice in 1932. Potter's uncle, a veterinarian, had sparked his interest in medicine, and he'd known several general practitioners at home, but he wanted most of all to become a surgeon. Potter remained in the Army, having married Mildred while still serving in the Cavalry, and served in a number of administrative positions before his final tour of duty, in Korea. He and Mildred purchased a home in Missouri "because she wanted to be able to put a nail in any wall she chose" (since they often lived on Army bases), and raised a dentist son (who disappears later on, as he later mentions having only a daughter). He and Mildred were grandparents; in an early episode, their son had a daughter, Sherry Pershing Potter, but after their son got replaced with a daughter, they then instead had a toddler grandson, Cory Wilson. 

He also mentioned having an eight-year-old granddaughter.

Potter would later admit in an episode that he had been a prisoner of war in World War I, and that he had been tortured and beaten. Potter was in World War II but the series is not consistant with his service-in one spisode he claims to have gotten the Purple Heart medal when his still blew up in Guam-which would have been in the summer of 1944 in the Asia pacific Area; in another epsiode he claims to have been in the Battle of the Buldge-which was in the winter of 1944 in the European theater! 




During World War I, recalling that he held the rank of private at the time, he and members of his Army unit spent the night in a French ch√Ęteau while under fire. They came across a cache of brandy, and proceeded to drink all but one bottle. They made a pledge (a tontine) that the last survivor of the group would get the bottle, and make a toast to his old friends. (Years later, Potter turned out to be the last survivor of the group, and drank the toast together with his new friends at the 4077th.)

Col. Potter's leadership qualities were easily matched by his superiority as a surgeon. He led mainly by example, always doing his best and encouraging others to do the same. He was at times willing to ignore the letter of regulations in order to abide by their spirit. Easy going by nature, Potter understood the hellish realities of life in a MASH unit, and the need for jokes, pranks and recreation to boost morale.

When he found out about Hawkeye and B.J..'s gin distillery, he offered advice on how to improve its yield, explaining that he had such a still while stationed on Guam during World War II; he even stated that he had received a Purple Heart as a result of that still exploding in his face.

The maverick doctors in turn respected Potter's authority, and were as a consequence more willing to obey his orders than they had those of Col. Blake and/or Major Burns. At the same time, however, Potter did not suffer fools gladly; he was sterner and more decisive than his predecessor, and readily put his foot down if he felt things were getting too carried away, as well as castigating staffers who slacked in their duties. At the same time, his Regular Army background gave him a knowledge of the system and its foibles (and a number of superior officers with whom he was on first-name basis) that allowed him to cut through Army red tape that Col. Blake could not. 




Despite the distance that military duty imposed upon him, Col. Potter was, at heart, a family man. He kept in regular contact with his wife, children, and grandchildren, and told them all about the people he served with at the 4077th. For the most part, Potter and his wife, Mildred, had to maintain a long-distance relationship, although he was able to meet her for a couple weeks in Tokyo at one point. Potter kept a framed portrait of his wife on his desk, and every morning gave his wife a salute. In the Season 6 episode "Lil", Potter befriends Colonel Lillian Rayburn, a visiting dignitary, much to Radar's consternation. But when the friendship begins to get too warm he reminds himself of the "lady back home with [his] picture on [her] piano." In "Strange Bedfellows" from Season 11, Potter's son-in-law, Robert Wilson, pays a visit. But after learning of a one-night stand Robert had with a woman in Tokyo, Potter admitted to Robert he once had a brief extramarital affair himself. After handing the departing Robert a picture frame with a snapshot of him and his family, Potter said to Robert "promise me you'll stay in the picture".

Colonel Potter also showed that he was a man of integrity, who, after surviving two World Wars, had grown tired of fighting. More than once, when old Army buddies committed serious errors that resulted in men being unnecessarily hurt or killed, Potter reported them to headquarters, even though it broke his heart to turn on his old friends.

Potter is also a confessed lover of cowboy ballads, Zane Grey and the song Sentimental Journey by Doris Day, having listened to the song more than 28 times. He'd seen every Doris Day movie... alone. But, while Mildred didn't know, he said "Doris doesn't know either".

Potter became the administrator of a veteran's hospital in Missouri. Father Mulcahy, after losing his hearing from an explosion in the M*A*S*H series finale, was now the hospital's Catholic chaplain. Max and Soon-Lee Klinger, after experiencing discrimination in Toledo, moved to the area so that Max could take a job as Potter's assistant.

It can't be proven, but I think Sherman Potter passed away at some point around 1981.  That would be 28 years after the ceasefire in the Korean Conflict, and the same span of time as found in the period between the finale of 'M*A*S*H' and the passing of Harry Morgan.....


1 comment:

derekyyc said...

A very thorough summary,including all of the story line contradictions that are common in any long-running series (speaking of which, Hawkeye was actually married in the early MASH episodes). Always funny to see the first guest appearance of Morgan early in the series as a crazed visiting general. Too bad After-Mash was never given a chance to succeed due to scheduling conflicts. Morgan and Potter both had great careers and long lives. RIP. -derekyyc