Donald Shaffer, inspiration for M*A*S*H’s Radar O’Reilly character, dies age 92

Donald Shaffer, who was the inspiration for the Radar O’Reilly character in the M*A*S*H book, movie, and television series, has died aged 92.

Shaffer died of natural causes in his hometown of Ottumwa, Iowa, on Tuesday March 29, according to his obituary.

That was the same hometown Richard Hornberger, who wrote under the pseudonym Richard Hooker, called the hometown of Cpl. Walter “Radar” O’Reilly, for his book M-A-S-H which went on to become a movie and then a popular television series from 1972-1983.

The character Radar O’Reilly is the first character introduced in the book and was based loosely on 19-year-old Shaffer.


Hornberger writes, “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.”

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 the writer Hornberger, as per the Clinton Herald.

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

Shaffer spent six years in Japan, where he attended night school and earned his bachelor’s degree from Sophia University. He then gained his master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University.

Washington, D.C.: Larry Linville (Frank Burns of M*A*S*H) with Gary Burghoff, who played Radar O’Reilly on the television show M*A*S*H.

Shaffer taught at Community College of Baltimore County in Maryland.

The O’Reilly character was made famous by actor Gary Burghoff, who starred in the movie and the long-running television series which tells the story of the doctors and nurses who work in an Army surgical hospital during the Korean War.

Unlike the television show Shaffer is not remembered as a clerk.

‘Military top secret’

“I was only in the medical part five years,” said Shaffer, as per the Ottumwa Courier. He spent his last 20 years in military intelligence – which he can’t talk about. “My last assignment in the military was top secret.”

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

Such an amazing life this man has had and then to be the inspiration for a character in a book that is adapted for the big screen is such an honor. May he rest in peace.