Donald Shaffer, inspiration for ‘M*A*S*H’s Radar O’Reilly character, dead at 92

OTTUMWA, Iowa — Donald Shaffer, who was the inspiration for the Radar O’Reilly character in the “M*A*S*H” book, movie and television series, died Tuesday, according to his obituary. He was 92.

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Shaffer died of natural causes in his hometown of Ottumwa, Iowa, KGAN-TV reported. That was the same hometown Richard Hornberger, who wrote under the pseudonym Richard Hooker, called the hometown of Cpl. Walter “Radar” O’Reilly, according to the Clinton Herald.

After enlisting in the Army in 1948, Shaffer was deployed with the 171st Army Evacuation hospital unit, where he served as a company clerk alongside Hornberger, the newspaper reported.

“He and I were stationed together in Pyongyang, North Korea,” Shaffer told the Ottumwa Courier about Hornberger during a 2018 interview.

Radar O’Reilly is the first character introduced in the book, and the character is loosely based on Shaffer.

“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,” Hornberger wrote.

The O’Reilly character was made famous by actor Gary Burghoff, who starred in the movie and the long-running television series.

Shaffer served two tours during the Korean War, KGAN reported. According to his obituary, Shaffer spent six years in Japan, where he attended night school and earned his bachelor’s degree from Sophia University. Shaffer worked for Army Intelligence during the Vietnam War before retiring in 1973.

“I was only in the medical part five years,” Shaffer told the Courier in 2018.

He was assigned to the Army Intelligence School at Fort Holabird near Baltimore, where he taught for six years. He earned his master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University, according to Shaffer’s obituary.

“I was on the faculty of the Army intelligence school,” Shaffer told the Courier. “And that enabled me to become a professor at a local college.” Shaffer taught at Community College of Baltimore County in Maryland.

“And then that led me to become a world traveler with my students. I took my students to every continent except Antarctica and Australia.”

One place his students wanted to see was Ottumwa.

“I brought 35 of my students back to Ottumwa because they all wanted to see where Radar came from,” Shaffer told the newspaper. “And I took them on a tour in southeast Iowa.

“I took them over on (the) south side of Finley Avenue where I was born, and it was funny because I pulled up with a busload of people.”

A funeral with military honors will be held for Shaffer on Wednesday at Eldon Christian Church, KCRG-TV reported.