It’s not uncommon for an actor to hang onto a memento when production wraps on either a show or a movie. In the case of Alan Alda, who charmed the world as Benjamin “Hawkeye” Pierce in the show M*A*S*H, his mementos were a pair of boots and dog tags. Earlier this week, Heritage Auctions has announced that the actor will be putting the props up for sale to benefit the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science. Alda leaves a special message about the boots and tags, which can be read below.
I put these boots on every day that we shot M*A*S*H, for eleven years. And the dog tags, too. And every time my foot found its way into one of the boots, or the necklace of tags went over my head, I remembered: Someone had worn these once in a real war.
Each of the two dog tags bore a different name, religion and ID number, and I always wondered what had become of the soldiers who had worn them. Which war had they been part of? Had they survived it? Thinking about these men wasn’t some kind of acting exercise. They were on my mind because I was literally in their shoes and wearing the metal tags stamped with the minimal words and numbers that served as their identity.
When I laced up the boots, I thought about the guy who had worn them before me, and what he might have had to go through, compared to their present occupier. When the show ended, the boots and tags were the only things I kept. I never wore them again—just kept them on a shelf. As the years passed—more than fifty since I’d first put them on—I realized they could have a life again.
I had begun to devote most of my time helping improve how science and medicine are communicated. In the past few years, The Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science has worked with 20,000 scientists and doctors around the world to help them explain their work to the rest of us. The boots and tags could be part of that. Putting them up for auction, with all proceeds going to the non-profit Center, is a way for them to march again. This time to help improve communication— something a little different from the conflict in which they were first worn.
The dog tags in particular bear the names of two veterans, Hersie Davenport and Morris D Levine. The boots are described as “distressed standard-issue combat boots,” each boot has the name “Hawkeye” written in marker inside. The special letter above comes included with the boots and tags and is signed by Alda.
The Impact of M*A*S*H
There’s layers to the creation of M*A*S*H. What started out as a 1968 novel, MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors by Richard Hooker, became the 1970 black comedy war film, simply titled M*A*S*H. The 1972 series was a spin-off of the feature film, following the doctors and staff of the “4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital” in South Korea. The show ran for a hefty eleven seasons, commenting on the horrors of war to an audience that was still facing an ongoing Vietnam War. Much of the commentary was balanced with the comedic angles of the show, but was able to shift into darker tones and storylines in later seasons.
Despite a rocky first two seasons, M*A*S*H has gone on to become one of the most beloved shows of all time. Its finale, “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen,” was the most-watched and highest-rated single television episode in US television history at the time. The finale brought in a whopping 125 million viewers. Throughout its 256-episode run, M*A*S*H has won numerous television awards, including fourteen Emmys, a Golden Globe, a Peabody Award, and more.
Despite the show’s finale celebrating its 40th anniversary earlier this year, it continues to be admired and find new audiences. Various channels and networks continue to air episodes of M*A*S*H in reruns to this day, much to Alda’s amusement.
Profits from the auction will be benefiting the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, which aims to “advance effective science communication through research, education, and training.” Heritage Auctions sat down with Alda for an interview about the Center for Communicating Science, along with the boots and tags. Heritage Auction will be accepting bids until July 28th, as of this story’s publication the auction has breached over $20,000.