Sometimes You Hear the Bullet

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"Sometimes You Hear the Bullet"
M*A*S*H episode
Episode no. Season 1
Episode 17 (17th overall)
Directed by William Wiard
Written by Carl Kleinschmitt
Production code J318
Original air date January 28, 1973
Guest actors
Episode chronology
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"The Ringbanger"
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"Dear Dad...Again"
M*A*S*H (season 1)
List of M*A*S*H episodes

"Sometimes You Hear the Bullet" is episode #17 of the first season of the TV series M*A*S*H, originally airing on January 28, 1973. This is the first episode in which the medical staff failed to save a wounded soldier, and one of the first episodes of the series showing a member of the hospital staff truly affected by death.

Writer Carl Kleinschmitt was nominated for a Writers Guild Award for this episode.[1]


Hawkeye's old friend Tommy appears at the 4077th. A reporter in civilian life, he is a combat soldier working on a book about life on the front lines called "You Never Hear the Bullet." The book is intended to show how death in battle can be sudden and not surrounded by any prior drama, as it often is in the movies. Later in the episode, Tommy himself shows up as a casualty on the operating table, having been shot by the enemy on the front lines. Just before being anesthetized, he weakly tells Hawkeye that he in fact had heard a bullet ricochet just before being hit, just like in the movies. Hawkeye, close to tears, suggests that "Sometimes You Hear the Bullet" is a better title anyway, and tries frantically to save Tommy's life, but is ordered by Henry Blake to move away and help Trapper. Tommy dies moments later.

Later we see Hawkeye crying and Henry trying to console him. Henry remarks, " There are certain rules about a war. Rule Number One is, young men die; and Rule Number Two is, doctors can't change Rule Number One."[2]

In the same episode, a young Marine (played by Ron Howard best known for The Andy Griffith Show & later Happy Days) has a dangerous reaction to a blood transfusion because his dog tags show the wrong blood type. It is discovered he is using his brother's ID and is underage. He has come to Korea in order to impress his girlfriend. Hawkeye first gives the Marine some sage advice about women and essentially lets him decide for himself whether he wants to go back to the States or stay in Korea. After losing Tommy, however, Hawkeye immediately reports the underage leatherneck to Major Houlihan and the MPs, sending him back to America and safety. While initially furious, the young man forgives him when Hawkeye returns to present him with a medal—the Purple Heart that Frank Burns put himself in for after allegedly throwing his back out as the result of a fall in the muddy compound. As the injury was sustained at a front-line unit, technically that makes it battle-connected and thus eligible for the award. (In fact, Burns had thrown his back out while dancing with Hot Lips in her tent, and is in no way entitled to the decoration.)[3][4][5][6][7]


This episode contains the strongest antiwar message in the first season of M*A*S*H. Although network bosses discouraged the show's writers and producers from creating episodes with controversial content, this episode, combining drama and comedy, was well received. Alan Alda cited "Sometimes You Hear the Bullet" as an example of the sort of television he wanted to do, mixing dark and light, and Larry Linville called it the finest example of what the show could accomplish. The script for this episode was nominated for a Writers Guild Award.[1]

This episode also portrays Henry Blake in a more thoughtful and serious vein than in any prior episode - ordering Hawkeye to stop operating on his dying friend, and later counseling and consoling Hawkeye as he wept.


Hawkeye keeps his dirty book on his bookshelf hidden behind a copy of Arrowsmith, Sinclair Lewis's novel about a medical researcher.


  1. ^ a b Wittebols, James H. (2003). Watching M*A*S*H, Watching America. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland. p. 34. ISBN 0-7864-1701-3. Retrieved 2009-05-16. 
  2. ^ Kalter, Suzy (1984). The Complete Book of M*A*S*H. Harry N. Abrams, Incorporated. p. 47. ISBN 978-0-81091-319-6. 
  3. ^ Wittebols, pp. 161-166
  4. ^ "Episode Guide". TV Guide. Retrieved 2009-05-15. 
  5. ^ "The Classic Sitcoms Guide: M*A*S*H". Retrieved 2009-05-15. 
  6. ^ "M*A*S*H: Season One (Collector's Edition) (1972)". 
  7. ^ Reiss, David S. (1983). M*A*S*H: the exclusive, inside story of TV's most popular show. ISBN 0-672-52656-5. 

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