Helicopter medical evacuation in the Korean War: Did it matter?
BACKGROUND: Because of M*A*S*H and other popular portrayals, helicopter evacuation of casualties has been closely linked to the Korean War. We sought to investigate their role in military medicine during this conflict. METHODS: This study incorporated a thorough review of the original source documents dating to the Korean War that are housed in the National Archives, the Military History Institute, and other repositories. RESULTS: Medical evacuation helicopters entered the war late, after the United Nations forces had suffered the majority of their casualties. There were relatively few helicopters in the country, and a combination of mechanical and personnel issues kept many grounded. Technological constraints limited their efficacy. Military policy forbade rescues from the front lines, and interhospital transfers comprised a significant percentage of their missions. CONCLUSION: Helicopters did not appreciably decrease the average time from wounding to surgical care, nor did they evacuate a statistically significant number of casualties, and ultimately, they had minimal effect on military medicine. However, the war did provide helicopters the opportunity to prove themselves conceptually, leading to their widespread usage in Vietnam, in later conflicts, and ultimately in civilian health care systems.
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