April 28th, 2010
07:55 AM ET
5 years ago

Obama meets real-life inspiration for M.A.S.H character

President Obama on Tueday met Don Shaffer, the inspiration for the M.A.S.H character Walter Eugene 'Radar' O'Reilly.
President Obama on Tueday met Don Shaffer, the inspiration for the M.A.S.H character Walter Eugene 'Radar' O'Reilly.

OTTUMWA, Iowa (CNN) – This city was in the political spotlight Tuesday as it hosted President Barack Obama, but for fans of the TV show M.A.S.H, Ottumwa is also known as the hometown of Don Shaffer - the real-life inspiration for the character Walter Eugene "Radar" O'Reilly.

Shaffer, who said he supports and prays for the president, said he came to Tuesday's town hall at Indian Hills Community College out of a sense of civic duty, with the president visiting his hometown. Following the town hall, the same man who met President Truman as a boy in Ottumwa was escorted back stage to shake the hand of today's commander-in-chief.

Just as much of a character in person as Radar was on the screen, Shaffer, a veteran of both the Korean and Vietnam wars, was not shy about sharing the wisdom of his 80 years in an interview with CNN, and engaging in the rough-and-tumble of present-day Washington politics.

On the recent battle over health care legislation, Shaffer said he would have charted a different course and recommended the president should have taken "Hillary Clinton's health plan and pushed it from the White House, rather than let Congress get involved. It would've been less headaches."

Shaffer was an initial supporter of Clinton's campaign for the presidency, but said he voted for Obama in the general election.

Of the rancor in Washington, Shaffer waxed nostalgic for an earlier era and said, "I think we've lost the ability to disagree agreeably."

"They were gentlemen back then, and gentleladies, if I may. They disagreed politically but they would go have bourbon together at 5 o clock after they went out of session and I just can't see any of that today."

Born and raised in Ottumwa, Shaffer was a member of the "Young Democrats" in high school, and then spent 25 years in the military before becoming a college professor.

He served in the same unit during the Korean War with Richard Hornberger, the author of the 1968 book "MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors," on which the movie and subsequent TV series were based, and whose characters were all based on those Hornberger served with.

The first line of the book: "When Radar O'Reilly, just out of high school, left Ottumwa, Iowa, and enlisted in the United States Army it was with the express purpose of making a career of the Signal Corps."

Shaffer told CNN that Hornberger disliked both the movie and television series that followed, as the book was intended to be anti-war. Hornberger wrote the book along with W.C. Heinz under the pen name Richard Hooker.


Filed under: President Obama
soundoff (11 Responses)
  1. S.B. Stein E.B. NJ

    It sounds like this man knows what he is talking about. I hope that the president will listening to his advice.

    April 28, 2010 08:33 am at 8:33 am |
  2. Liz the First

    Great story, but i'd like to have seen a picture of Mr. Shaffer. cute as he is, we didn't need the pic of President Obama. we all know what he looks like. ;-)

    April 28, 2010 08:50 am at 8:50 am |
  3. Darryl M

    I am a Democrat, I am standing with Arizona's Law to fight the Illegal Immigration. I will not support anyone who does not support this battle in the right way.

    April 28, 2010 08:55 am at 8:55 am |
  4. John D

    Quit all the running around the country campaigning and get back to your desk and DO SOME WORK! Better yet, stay on the road so you can't screw the country any more than you already have!

    April 28, 2010 09:02 am at 9:02 am |
  5. Jack

    He reminds me of my uncles. All of them served their country in uniform and continued to serve their country afterwards by supporting an open, inclusive social agenda. They risked their lives in war to help Americans and they continued to work to help Americans as civilians. Selfless men. Sadly, we see the opposite in the rantings of the right-wing extremists. They are self-absorbed, selfish, unpatriotic xenophobes. Watch it when they wave the flag–they might hit you over the head with it.

    April 28, 2010 09:06 am at 9:06 am |
  6. Michael Armstrong Sr.

    Which one cuddled a teddy bear major burns or radar .

    April 28, 2010 09:08 am at 9:08 am |
  7. Scott

    Now there is a wise and sage old timer! I'm right with him on his comments of healthcare; also, I voted for Hillary and will again ;o)

    April 28, 2010 09:10 am at 9:10 am |
  8. Michael Armstrong Sr.

    If you guessed both your right .

    April 28, 2010 09:12 am at 9:12 am |
  9. Lee, Ann Arbor Michigan

    The only thing Obama has ever run is his mouth.

    When is he going to do something about JOBS? He is always in campaign mode and neglects the real issues in the ECONOMY.

    I really believe that Obama is still a muslim and working from within to ruin this Great Country.

    April 28, 2010 09:12 am at 9:12 am |
  10. jean

    Do you have any pictures of this happening? I wish I could have been there.

    April 28, 2010 09:13 am at 9:13 am |
  11. Tired and Broken Ant

    Hmm, you'd have thought "Radar" could have foreseen the pending Obamacollapse, the one in which we are just in the early stages.

    April 28, 2010 09:32 am at 9:32 am |