The MASH Heros You’ve Never Heard Of

Is there anyone, anywhere who hasn’t heard of MASH?

When its TV run ended in 1983, the final show was the most-watched television episode in history.

But there’s a remarkable MASH unit hardly anyone here knows of. What a pity. Their raw courage is right out of  the most harrowing war movie.

Except that the heros in this real-life saga never came within a million miles of Hollywood. They were Indians … as in, India.

They were members of the 60th Para Field Ambulance … medics who were also parachutists, who jumped into combat alongside the fighting infantry. These MASH men of the 60th were not the boozy, skirt-chasing, wise-cracking cynics of the TV show.

When the Korean War broke out, recently-independent India opted not to send combat forces, but instead would contribute a crack medical team … the 60th Para, which had served in Burma against the Japanese, It was commanded by a veteran, Lieut-Col A.G. Rangaraj, reputedly the first member of the Indian army to earn his parachutists wings, earlier in World War 2. (The photos below are from India’s official account of the 60th’s Korean War experiences).

60th Para CO, Lt-Col A.G. Rangaraj

The 60th Para arrived in Korea in Nov, 1950, composed of  346 men,  including four combat surgeons, two anaesthesiologists and a dentist.

When the Chinese swarmed through UN lines in November 1950, the 60th had to evacuate its position. But they had no transport and were reluctant to abandon their medical equipment. They stumbled across an ancient steam locomotive, formed bucket brigades to fill the boilers with water, and loaded up the train. Two soldiers (with zero previous train experience), got it all running and chugged across the last bridge south  before it was blown. They don’t teach that in medical school or army staff colleges..

Colonel Rangaraj’s logic was: they were specifically trained for mountain operations such as they found in Korea, and had first class equipment for such work. It would have been a great pity to leave it all behind. “We would have been of little use without it,” he said later, “ and could not afford to lose it.”

The Indian medics stuck with the troops they were treating during the horrific rearguard fighting that winter. Three times in three days they set up and then closed down their dressing stations as they tried to find safety, refusing to abandon the wounded..

Later, in March ’51, in the second biggest airborne operation in the war, Operation Tomahawk, a dozen medics of the 60th parachuted in behind the lines with 4,000 US troops. Rangaraj was among them.

Casualties were heavy. A U.S.commander said: “I was immediately struck by the (Indians’) efficiency. That small unit, adapted for an airborne role, has carried out 103 operations. which is quite outstanding for that type of unit … probably 50 of those operated (on) owed their lives to those men.”

60th Para behind enemy lines, with US troops and POWs, Operation Tomahawk

The freezing wounded were lying in the open. The Indian medics dug trenches to shelter them and covered them with parachute silk to keep them warm.

It was typical 60th Para valour. In September, 1951, while attached to Commonwealth troops, they treated 448 casualties in six days of fighting. A month later they evacuated (under fire) another 150 wounded. In many other clashes later they were still in the thick of  it. The Indians saved hundreds of wounded.

US helicopter picks up casualty treated by the 60th Para

In all, they treated about 200,000 wounded. … which included  2,300 field medical operations … and in the meantime, also trained local Korean doctors and nurses.

The 60th  Para received many decorations from their own country, and from South Korea, the UN, a US Bronze Star, and a unit citation from Douglas MacArthur. India also issued a postage stamp in tribute to their heroism. (Has Canada ever made such a gesture specifically honouring any of  our army’s Korean feats?)

The 60th served in Korea for three and a half years, until February 1954, the longest single tenure of any unit in the entire war.

It is quite an outfit with quite the history. Wounded Canadian Korean vets, some from Kapyong,  have told me of their great admiration for the Indian medical teams who helped save their lives. It says something about the myopic way we teach history that this unit’s thrilling story is so little known.

While I’m at it, there’s some disconnect here. Why do so many trained Indian doctors who move to Canada, find it such a tough task getting their expertise recognized?  …. Just asking.

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About Dan Bjarnason

Dan Bjarnason is the author of "Triumph at Kapyong, Canada's Pivotal Battle in the Korean War." Bjarnason was a television news and documentary reporter for The National at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for over 35 years, He specialized in military history and has worked on documentaries from the Little Bighorn to the Falklands. He now lives in Toronto and can be reached at: danbjarnason@gmail.com
This entry was posted in Canadian Army, korean war, military history, PPCLI, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

27 Responses to The MASH Heros You’ve Never Heard Of

  1. ab says:

    Thank you for posting this article.

    60 para had their 75th anniversary get together on August 10 at Agra. It was a wonderful occasion attended by all retired and serving members.

  2. Pingback: क्यों अमेरिकी सैनिक लेफ्टिनेंट-कर्नल रंगराज और उनकी पलटन को "मैरून एंजेल" बुलाते थे? - The Frustrated Indian

  3. Ashis says:

    Reblogged this on ashisbblog and commented:
    In Memory of all the doctors of the 60 Para Field Ambulance including my dad, Captain Amulya Kumar Basu

  4. Air Mshl MS Boparai( Retd) says:

    I am so glad to know more about Col Rangaraj & 60 Para’s role in Korean War. Inspite of having done such good work in Korea Col Rangaraj never talked very much about it. I served as his Registrar,when he commanded Military Hosp Secunderbad from 1961to 1963.Would love to know more about d Colonel & role of Para Field Ambulance in d Korean War -Air Marshal (Retd) Dr MS Boparai.

    • Minnie Malik says:

      Dr. Bhoparai, As addressed in the comments below my father served in the 60th Para during the Korean war. One place you can visit online is the IWM: Imperial War Museums (http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections) fort photographs of the 60Paras. There are a lot of photographs and I do recognize some of the team members as they kept in touch with my father. You will find pictures of Col Rangaraj. Please contact me at mmalik08@gmail.com. Regards Minnie

  5. Harpreet singh says:

    Glad to be a part of elite unit.

    • Minnie Malik says:

      Mr Harpreet Singh, I am sorry you do not mention your rank, but are you a serving member of the 60 para? I heard they are dedicating a museum to the 60 para where it is stationed?? I was contacted by Lt Col Rahul Ranjan early in 2015 but have not heard from him since. Please email me at mmalik08@gmail.com if you have any information. Thank you

  6. Minnie Malik says:

    Dan
    Thank you for including the comments about the 60 Parachute Field Ambulance, India. I love the title. I had always known that my father had been one of the 60th paratroopers but it is more recently that I have started researching on them and contacting people to know more about them. I regret never having spoken to my father more about it. I do remember when he visited me and I made him sit through the TV show MASH..he laughed and said “it was never like this”.
    I lost my father (Maj Gen Y P Mehta/Captain during the Korean War) in 1998.

    • magnus49 says:

      Minnie did you know that the Hollywood TV serial was based on the Indian medic team since during the Korean War they were the only UN medico troops. I’m doing my own research. My Dad also a WW2 vet hardly talked about the War years or even J&K but he did tell me about the Paras from Agra who used to get their equipment serviced in 505 EME Base Workshop in Delhi Cantt. Dad was the first Indian Commandant. I think 60 Para Fd is in Agra. Regards. Col Sukhwant Singh.

  7. param says:

    Truly Amazing! We will remember them!

  8. Rajive Sinha says:

    Dear Dan, great work to recount the glory of unsung heroes. More needs to be done by my countrymen as well the army to record and disseminate such acts of valour………

    A veteran of Indian Army

    Lt Col Rajive Sinha (Retd)

  9. shailendra pratap singh says:

    The awe inspiring tale is unheard of not only in civil society but even in army .It is my privilege to be a part of 60 para field hospital and I take great pride in telling this story to everyone I meet.It also saddens me find out that even paratroopers are unaware of this .I thank you for your effort .

  10. Anna says:

    It amazing what you can find when you research the net. I am presently dealing with an issue related to a property owned by the Late Lt Col Rangaraj. While reading the documents I noted the letters MVC against his name & was immediately intrigued. MVC stands for Maha Veer Chakra (the second highest Indian Gallantry Award). So I began searching the net for the officer & other MVC awardees. Interestingly, I found that the wiki of Wikipedia on MVC does not list Lt Col Rangaraj’s name. I continued the search & finally found his name mentioned in the web site Bharat Rakshak & the words Korea 1951 against it. Subsequently I came up with your web site. It was great to read about the officer and thanks for posting his photo. now I have a face to the name of the person’s whose case I am dealing. Puts things in a different perspective. RIP Lt Col Rangaraj. Surprisingly I don’t find a single comment from his family members.

    Anna

    • magnus49 says:

      Anna it’s sad that people forget. Either conveniently or genuinely. We the remaining generation of whose fathers were in the Forces in WWII onwards must write our respective parents biographies. That will help future Generations.

  11. Ashis says:

    Dear Major Linyu,
    Thank you for contacting me. I will contact you shortly.
    Ashis

  12. Ashis Basu says:

    Hello Dan,

    Thank you for this post. My father Colonel Amulya Basu served with Col Rangaraj in Korea and was one of the surgeons you mention. Gen Niren Das and Gen Rangaswami were the others.I have fond memories of Col Rangaraj visiting us many times at hour house in India. By the way, his initials AG represent his village (Arcot) and grandfathers name(Govindraj) – one on my earliest lesson in the naming nomencalture of South Indian’s!

    It is indeed ironic that many think MASH was just a TV show. Members of the Indian contingent participated in Operation Tomahawk and parachuted into the Imjin Valley in the midst of enemy fire. My Dad was also a paratrooper. Pusan, Pyong Yang, 38the Parallel are names I grew up hearing.It is sad that the Korean War was never given its due recognition. I believe you have a made a documentary – is it in the CBc archives?

    I now live in Mississauga. My Dad passed away in 1984 while serving as a Consultant Physician in Kenya after retiring from the Indian Army.

    Thanks again,

    • 60 says:

      hello
      this is Maj N Linyu
      Adjutant 60 Para Field Hospital

      we would love to be in touch with you…
      please send your email id to
      1941bisdee@gmail.com

    • Major Neikhrie Linyu says:

      Dear Mr Ashis, you have no idea how glad I am to have found this post of yours. I am a Medical Officer presently posted with the unit and would like to hear from you very much. I’ve been trying to track a lot of people down. Would you mind dropping me a line at linyu.neikhrie@gmail.com or 1941bisdee@gmail.com. I would love to hear form you. Thanks…

      Linyu.

    • Minnie Malik says:

      Hi
      My father Maj Gen Y P Mehta (Capt during the Korean War) too was a member of 60 Para Field Amb, India. I have recently found some photographs etc but was interested in knowing more about the accomplishments and commendations that were given to the team. If you have photographs etc would it be possible to post them or scan them to me.

  13. Nickolas Haramis says:

    Hello Dan,
    A truly inspiring story. It is indeed one that should be taught to high school kids.

  14. Sean White says:

    Dan great to see the periphery of the Battle of Kapyong. 60th Indian took care of 2PPCLI’s wounded after the battle.No one in the public domain has made people more aware of 2PPCLI and this epic battle than you. Keep the posts coming as I look forward to every one of them.

    • Neikhrie says:

      Dear Mr White, I would love to hear of how 60th Indian was able to help you guys in the battle. I am presently serving with the unit in Agra and we have been trying to hunt down every bit of history pertaining to the unit as we can. You can email me on linyu.neikhrie@gmail.com. Looking forward to hearing from you.

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