M*A*S*H episode
“The Life You Save”
The life you save
Winchester makes a horrifying discovery. A sniper bullet has missed his head by inches.
Season 9, Episode # 20
Number (#218) in series (256 episodes)
Guest star(s) Val Bisoglio
Andrew Parks
G.W. Bailey
Jim Knaub
Arthur Taxier
Jim Boeke
Jack Kearney
Paul Ventura
Network: CBS-TV
Production code: Z-418
Writer(s) John Rappaport & Alan Alda
Director Alan Alda
Original airdate May 4, 1981
IMDb logo IMDB The Life You Save
Episode chronology
← Previous Next →
"The Foresight Saga" (Z‑422) "That's Show Biz, Part 1" (Z‑419)
(Season 10 premiere)

(broadcast order)

(broadcast order)

"Bless You, Hawkeye" (Z‑417) "That's Show Biz, Part 1" (Z‑419)

(production order)

(production order)

Season 9 episodes
List of all M*A*S*H episodes

The Life You Save was the 20th and season finale episode of Season 9 of the CBS-TV series M*A*S*H, also the 218th overall series episode, . Written by John Rappaport and Alan Alda and directed by Alda, it originally aired on May 4, 1981.


Winchester goes on a spiritual journey when he undergoes a near-death experience. Pierce experiences the problems of being the officer in charge of food services.

Full episode summaryEdit

A batch of wounded arrive late at night, and everyone is out on the compound doing triage. But there's more trouble when bullets start flying, courtesy a sniper! As he fires away, B.J. and Winchester work on a patient underneath the Evac Bus. The patient technically dies for a few moments, but B.J. and Winchester manage to bring him back.

After the sniper is shot by a nearby patrol, Hawkeye, B.J., and Winchester are in Post Op. B.J. tells Hawkeye what happened, and Winchester notices a bullethole in his cap--he came within centimeters of taking a bullet in the head, and never realized it. As Hawkeye and B.J. talk, Winchester sits there, stunned.

Col. Potter comes in and assigns everyone a set of rotating, mundane camp duties--Hawkeye is now in charge of the food, B.J. the laundry, Winchester the motor pool, etc.

Later, Winchester starts spending an inordinate amount of time with the patient that came back from the dead, sitting with him in Post Op for long periods of time. When the young man wakes up, Winchester peppers him with questions about what it was like for him to be actually "dead."

The young man really can't answer, despite Winchester's pleadings. He reveals that he had a younger brother who passed away, and for a long time afterwards he couldn't pass by the young boy's room without feeling a deep sense of unease. B.J. finds Winchester hovering over the young man, and takes him outside, demanding he leave the young man alone. Winchester accuses B.J. of not wanting to deal with "The harshest reality of all."

Winchester, still haunted by what happened, has Rizzo take apart a jeep, and lay each and every part of it on a sheet. Winchester marvels at the power Rizzo has to reduce a jeep to a pile of inert junk, and then put it all together again and have it "Roar back to life." Later that night, Winchester (via an off-hand suggestion by Margaret) decides to head off to Battalion Aid, to better see death up close.

He ends up taking care of a young soldier (Andrew Parks) who is gravely wounded. While laying there, the young man, not able to feel Winchester holding his hand, realizes he's going to die. Charles asks the young man, in his last moments, what he's feeling. He answers, not to anyone in particular, "I smell bread." Winchester doesn't understand, and tries to get him to talk more. But the young soldier passes away.

Winchester, wiping tears from his eyes, leaves to go back to the 4077th, leaving his bullet-ridden cap behind.

In a side-plot, Potter rotates the additional duty assignments among the officers: Hawkeye to take charge of messing, B.J. to take charge of laundry, Winchester the motor pool, Mulcahy is the new garbage officer and Margaret in charge of morale.

Research notes/Fun factsEdit

  • This episode was meant to be broadcast on March 30, 1981. However, on that same day, American President Ronald Reagan was shot in an assassination attempt. CBS covered the story until Reagan was safely out of surgery, resuming regular programming at 9 p.m. Eastern time. One of the major plot elements of this episode involved Major Winchester having a close brush with death when a sniper's bullet passes through his hat. Because of the uncomfortable similarity of the plot to the real-life assassination attempt, CBS hastily substituted a repeat of an earlier episode, and "The Life You Save" was finally broadcast on May 4th and so became the finale for the season.
  • The 4077th cook makes his first appearance here but his name will not be given until we see him again in Season 10 "‘Twas the Day After Christmas".
  • Lots of bit players make their appearance in this episode, many with generic titles like "soldier" and "enlisted man". Identifying who is who is going to take some deep research.
  • This episode also has good shots of seldom seen areas of the camp like the kitchen, laundry tent, garbage dump, and motor pool.
  • Winchester at a Battalion aide station--apparently The Battle of Pork Chop Hill--mentioned in 10/16. Which meant that this episode probably takes place in mid-1953; the Korean war is winding down.

Guest stars/Recurring castEdit