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Angel of the Battlefield

One show I hate to miss on TV is the reruns of M*A*S*H.

I enjoy the comedy amidst the horrors of war. The characters are wonderful: Hawkeye, Trapper, BJ, Radar and of course “Hot-Lips.” I’ve watched every episode many times and only recently discovered Nyack has a direct link to one of the characters in the M*A*S*H series. Some might question my theory, but keep reading and see what you think.

Twenty-one year old Christine Menninghaus completed her degree as a registered nurse at Flower Fifth Avenue School of Nursing. She quickly found a job at a hospital near her home in Clifton, New Jersey. She told me once, “I served in a civilian hospital for a year and then decided I wanted to do something different.” So, in 1948 Chris joined the Army Nurse Corps. After training at Fitzsimons Army Medical Center in Colorado, Chris found herself heading to Pyongyang, Korea. In November, 1950 the first nurses since the start of the Korean conflict landed at Pusan. Chris was assigned to the 171st Evacuation Hospital where she met Major Ruby Bradley. Major Bradley, who was in command of the nurses in Korea, is regarded as the most decorated woman in US Military History.

In a 2009 interview published in the Veterans of Foreign Wars magazine, Chris tells of her experiences in Korea. “I served at an evac hospital, a little bit further behind the lines than a M.A.S.H. unit. While I was farther away from the fighting, the shooting was far too close for comfort. At times we barely escaped the Chinese onslaught. When a M.A.S.H. unit became inundated, wounded soldiers would be brought to us. We would take care of head, spinal, chest, and abdominal injuries and other smaller injuries—but there was really no such thing as a minor injury.” Chris went on, “We did surgery 24 hours around the clock when there was a major campaign and I served in six campaigns. There was a lot of uncontrolled blood. In a regular operating room, you take care of that because you clamp everything off, but it wasn’t like that there. We treated thousands of patients under the most heart-rending circumstances. Despite working 12-hours shifts, there was never any doubt about the worthiness of our cause and the camaraderie was like none other than I have ever experienced.”

One of the surgeons Chris worked with was Dr. H. Richard Hornbeger. For her service, Chris earned six campaign stars. Her experience working with the wounded in combat reinforced her desire to be a nurse. After leaving Korea, she was assigned to the Keller Army Hospital in West Point. She served there for a year and half where she met the love of her life Peter Sinnott.

In 1953, Christine Sinnott was hired by Nyack Hospital where I first met her on the morning of August 17, 1972. I was wheeled into her operating room, where she was the “charge nurse,” to correct the damage I suffered in my fall from a utility pole while working as a lineman. It was only a few years later and a few more times meeting in her operating room, that Chris and Pete Sinnott became my neighbors.

So, by now you must be wondering how Chris’ magnificent nursing career ties into M*A*S*H? I wrote earlier she worked directly with Dr. H. Richard Hornberger in Korea. Dr. Hornberger used the pen name “Richard Hooker” and wrote the book M*A*S*H: A Novel about Three Army Doctors published in 1968. His book was used as the basic script for the movie and later television series. In his novel’s forward notes, Hooker writes: “The characters in this book are composites of people I knew, met casually, worked with, or heard about while working in Korea.” Certainly “Hot Lips” has some of the traits the doctor saw in Major Ruby Bradley, and isn’t it possible some of Chris’ traits as an excellent operating room nurse and the camaraderie she experienced also went into developing the character of Major Houlahan? Knowing Chris for more than 30 years, I think so!

The tragedy in Chris’ life didn’t end with the war in Korea. In 1980 her husband Peter was killed in a tragic accident while serving as a volunteer in the Nyack Fire Department. The way Chris handled the horrors of Korea went a long way helping her handle the death of her husband with grace and dignity. If you’ve spent time watching M*A*S*H you can see some of the same values in the character of “Hot-Lips” Nyack certainly had an Angel of the Battlefield!

The Nyack Villager thanks Jim Leiner for helping us all ‘Remember the Days .’