Radar O'Reilly

Radar O'Reilly

MASH character

rank=Corporal, 2nd Lieutenant (as in "Lt. Radar O'Reilly")
home=Ottumwa, Iowa, USA
film=Gary Burghoff
tv=Gary Burghoff
español=Arturo Mercado

Corporal “Radar” Walter O’Reilly is a fictional character in the "M*A*S*H" novels, the film, the television series, the television movie, "W*A*L*T*E*R", and two episodes of the series, "After MASH". The character was portrayed by Gary Burghoff in both the film and on television — the only actor from the film to reprise his role on television, aside from G. Wood as General Hammond.

In the Richard Hooker novels, Radar's full name is given as J. Robespierre O'Reilly, while on the TV series it is Walter Eugene O'Reilly. (He is simply "Radar O'Reilly" in the film.)

About the character

The novel establishes that Radar was from Ottumwa, Iowa and literally dreamed of joining the Army right after high school. A first season TV episode (1/18), however, shows Radar receiving an Indiana high school diploma through a mail course. He seemed to have extra-sensory perception, appearing at his commander's side before being called and finishing his sentences. He also had super-human hearing, able to hear incoming helicopters before anyone else. It was these abilities that earned him the nickname "Radar."

His father, who was 63 when Radar was born, was deceased. Radar's mother, Edna, lived on the family farm, and his uncle Ed helped out on the farm and served as his father figure. He also had a younger brother who died when he was young. His other relatives include Aunt Emily, Aunt Jean, Uncle Charles, Uncle David, Uncle Bill, Uncle Ernest (who knew he was going to die a week before it happened), Uncle Ernie, Uncle Howard, Cousin Millie, Cousin Jimmy, his beloved nephews, and his dog, Ranger.

According to the beginning of the novel, Radar joined the Army in hopes of becoming successful in the Signal Corps but was assigned to be an orderly at the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (M*A*S*H) instead.


On television, Radar's character started off worldly and sneaky, a clerk who carried with him at all times a pocketful of passes for any potential scam that might arise. At one point, he tried to mail home a Jeep, piece by piece. (Hawkeye commented that once Radar's mailman found out, he'd have a retroactive hernia.) He was known for his tremendous appetite for heaping portions of meat. He was also not averse to drinking Col. Blake's brandy and smoking his cigars when the colonel was off-duty.

This character was apparently not wholly to the writers' liking, and Radar became a naïve and trusting farm boy, and cigars and strong liquor made him ill or dizzy. His favorite beverage was Grape Nehi (non-alcoholic). In "The Novacaine Mutiny," it is revealed that Radar won $300 from Sgt. Zale in a poker game.

Relationship with others

Radar was often portrayed as a friendly, but very young, man from the Midwest. As a symbol of how young this man was when he got to Korea, he slept with a teddy bear. He related well to children and sometimes spent time with the area orphans. He was a virgin and very naïve around matters of love, making him an occasional romantic target of the camp's nurses.

Cpl. O'Reilly had a rough start as clerk at the 4077th, where it seemed he couldn't do anything right. The unit's commander, Lt. Col. Henry Blake, took him under his wing. Eventually, the young man became an excellent clerk, often balancing out Lt. Col. Blake's occasional silliness with the near-magical abilities to get whatever the unit needed. Throughout much of the series, he was more or less the glue that held the 4077th together, keeping the unit running like a well-oiled machine. In one episode, when Blake received a medal for the 95% efficiency of the unit, he "jokingly" remarked that Radar is the one running the 4077th using him as a prop.

Blake and Radar grew very close, and it was Radar who tearfully announced in the OR about Blake's death when his plane was shot down over the Sea of Japan. While Radar needed some time to adjust to the new commander, Col. Sherman T. Potter, he eventually became very close to Potter as well. Radar was very fond of animals and raised several during his duty while assigned to the M*A*S*H. For Col. Potter's anniversary, Radar gave him a horse that he, Capt. Hawkeye Pierce, and Capt. B.J. Hunnicutt rescued. Col. Potter refers to the horse as a male during this episode. Throughout the rest of the series, the horse (referred to by name, Sophie) is a mare.

Radar idolized Hawkeye Pierce, but the two had a falling-out after Radar was wounded during a trip to Seoul, where Hawkeye convinced him to go to lose his virginity. Overwhelmed by shock and guilt, Hawkeye spent a night binge-drinking, then had to leave the O.R. (which he'd never had to do before) the next day to throw up. When Radar questioned Hawkeye about this, Hawkeye blew up, "To hell with your Iowa naïveté... and while we're at it, the hell with you! Why don't you grow up... you ninny!" When Hawkeye returned to apologize, Radar's response was, much to the horror of the nurses, "Oh yeah? Well, you can forget it. Just forget it! To hell with me, huh? To hell with you! How do you like that?!" and then threatened to punch Hawkeye if he ever said anything bad about Iowa again. The two made up later at Col. Potter's prompting, and afterward their relationship was on more of an equal footing, with Radar outgrowing his hero worship. And it also showed Hawkeye's respect for Radar as he personally pinned Radar's purple heart on his shirt and saluted him. Hawkeye had never saluted anyone previously "(and never would again until Radar left and then when Col. Potter left)" and Radar would remember that and remark on it in a later episode.

Radar's short stature was a frequent source of humor during his tenure, with Hawkeye and the other doctors teasing him for his lack of height. At one point, Radar actually bought shoes that came with lifts so that he could appear taller. The shoes almost made him eye level with Major Frank Burns.

As company clerk, his duties included passing on mail, messages and information to various camp personnel resulting in being the constant victim of "shooting the messenger" whenever it was bad news. This occurred numerous times with almost everybody — ranging from waking Hawkeye to tell him that he's wanted somewhere where Hawkeye would verbally threaten him ("I'll nail your tongue to your nose!") to informing Major Houlihan some bad news about her husband to where she would physically assault him.

Radar was an accomplished drummer and pianist, but a lousy bugler. He did a very good impersonation of John Wayne.

Under Col. Potter, his scrounging and semi-legal activities are strongly curtailed, seemingly out of respect for his commanding officer.

Radar's given first name is revealed in the Season 4 episode "Quo Vadis, Captain Chandler?" when he asks a disturbed patient (who believes he is Jesus Christ) to bless his teddy bear. The patient complies, then blesses "Radar," who answers him "I'm Walter."

His name was revealed to the other members of 4077th during the viewing of a home movie sent by his mother, who addressed it to Walter (and says "I love you, Walter" to the camera). When Radar confirmed that this was his given name, Hawkeye suggested that he "give it back."

The only M*A*S*H staff member to address Radar by his real name was Major Charles Winchester, as they said goodbye when Radar went home: "The best to you in your endeavors." "The same to you, sir." "Thank you, Walter."

Radar was very briefly promoted to 2nd Lieutenant. A staff sergeant at the area headquarters lost heavily to Pierce and Hunnicutt in a poker game; when he was unable to pay them off, they forced him to slip the promotion through. At first Radar was excited about being a commissioned officer, but he soon grew disillusioned and asked to have his old rank back. By the end of the episode, he was a corporal again.

Leaving M*A*S*H

The first cast member of "M*A*S*H" to be hired, Gary Burghoff was the fourth and last to leave, following the departures of McLean Stevenson and Wayne Rogers in 1975, and Larry Linville in 1977.

Burghoff had appeared in every episode of the show's first three seasons. After season three, doing the series had become a strain on the actor's family life, and he had his contract changed to limit his appearances to 13 episodes per season out of the usual 24 (during these times, the character of Radar was usually on R&R). By season 7, Burghoff started experiencing burnout and decided it was time to move on, despite co-star Mike Farrell trying to persuade him to stay on the grounds that his career would not recover. Because of that, the producers originally planned to end season 7 with Radar leaving, but CBS didn't want to do that. Instead they persuaded Burghoff to come back during season 8 to do a special two-part farewell episode titled "Good-Bye, Radar".

In the episode, Radar was given a hardship discharge after his Uncle Ed died so that he could go home and help out on the farm. When the unit is in dire straits because they have no working generators, Radar decides that the 4077th needs him more than his mother does. Potter unsuccessfully tries to talk him out of staying, and Pierce becomes verbally abusive when he can't convince Radar to leave (he did everything from calling him a jackass to saying he didn't care about his mother). But it takes Corporal Klinger's swindling a generator from supply to convince him that the 4077th will survive without him. Just as a farewell party for Radar is about to start, a helicopter of wounded soldiers arrives, immediately cancelling the party. The unit has no time to waste, but they manage to say their goodbyes to Radar. As Radar looks inside the OR from the window, Hawkeye looks up at him and gives him a farewell salute. Radar salutes back. As a way of saying that Radar came to Korea as a boy and went home a man, he left his teddy bear behind, (as Dr. Sidney Freedman predicted he would in the episode "War of Nerves"), leaving it with Hawkeye.

Radar would be mentioned after his departure from the camp in three later episodes. In "Period of Adjustment" (the first episode to air after "Good-Bye, Radar"), it is revealed that Radar met B.J. Hunnicutt's wife and infant daughter in San Francisco on his way back home, and that the youngster had mistaken Radar for her father (a revelation that sends Hunnicutt into a bitter depression). In "The Foresight Saga", the camp gets a letter from Radar describing how well things are going on his Iowa farm; when his mother admits, during a subsequent phone call, that they are suffering hard times and are shorthanded, Col. Potter arranges for an abandoned Korean farm boy to be sent to the States, where Radar and his family will sponsor him as a farmhand. In the penultimate episode of the series, "As Time Goes By", the 4077th staff includes Radar's teddy bear in a time capsule they're burying, to symbolize those who came of age during the war.

Gary Burghoff reprised the Radar character in two 1984 episodes of the "M*A*S*H" spinoff series, "AfterMASH". In the first, he responds to a letter from Klinger concerning the latter's experiences at a stateside VA hospital; in the second, two-part episode, Radar is due to be married but develops cold feet when he suspects his intended of infidelity.

In the 1984 television movie, "W*A*L*T*E*R", Radar moves to St. Louis, Missouri, leaving Iowa and the "Radar" nickname behind (now just being known as Walter O'Reilly), and joins the police department. Set in the mid-1950s, his mother had died recently, and he had sold the family farm. In St. Louis, his gentle manner and resourcefulness make him good at dealing with the public. However, the show was never picked up as a regular series.

Richard Hooker's series of "M*A*S*H" novels depicts a different postwar fate for the character: Radar becomes a multimillionaire tycoon by parlaying a chain of fast food Irish stew parlors into the "ROR Corporation". His hinted-at ESP is developed into full telepathy and gives him an unbeatable commercial edge; he knows exactly what his customers want, and exactly what price to offer to suppliers. However, his romantic prospects suffer. Being physically unprepossessing, he is mostly found attractive by women interested only in his considerable fortune, and his telepathy alerts him to their mental image of him as an inexhaustible fount of gifts and luxuries. Only when he meets a similarly gifted and independently successful woman (an opera singer of Russian extraction) does he find someone who merely thinks "What a nice man" and will love him for himself.

Teddy bear

Radar's teddy bear had originally been found on the set by one of the actors. Throughout the series, Radar was known for sleeping with a teddy bear. This was added by the creators to symbolize Radar's youth and naïveté; it was also the source of several jokes throughout the series, which collectively formed a recurring joke in itself. In the second-to-last episode, "As Time Goes By", Hawkeye added the teddy bear to a time capsule with several other items from the camp, to commemorate those who came over as boys, and went home as men. On July 29, 2005, the teddy bear used in the series was sold at an auction for $11,900.

On the children's television program "Sesame Street", the character Big Bird has a teddy bear named "Radar" after O'Reilly.


*Corporal's stripes
*Purple Heart
*Korean Service Medal
*United Nations Service Medal
*National Defense Service Medal

External links

* [http://www.thesupplytent.com/mash4077th/biography/gary_burghoff.htm TheSupplyTent.com] - "M*A*S*H" website with actor biography and show memorabilia
* [http://www.finest-kind.net/characters/radar.php Finest-Kind.net] - "M*A*S*H" website with character profile
* [http://www.bestcareanywhere.net/radarpic.htm Best Care Anywhere] - "M*A*S*H" website with character profile

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