Arm returns to Vietnam from America

Strange things can happen.

Back in the days when Vietnamese and American soldiers were fighting one another, a Vietnamese soldier had a terrible wound in his arm. An American doctor removed his arm to save it from ruining his whole body.

The two men were enemies serving different sides in the war.

When the war ended, the doctor took the Vietnamese soldier’s arm home.

Now, many years later, he has returned it to him and the two men have met once again as good friends.

Thu Huong Le

Dr. Sam Axelrad reunites with liberation army soldier Nguyen Quang Hung on Monday at Hung's home in An Khe, Gia Lai Province over 50 years after they first met, as adversaries during the American War - Photo courtesy of Chris Axelrad

Dr. Sam Axelrad reunites with liberation army soldier Nguyen Quang Hung on Monday at Hung's home in An Khe, Gia Lai Province over 50 years after they first met, as adversaries during the American War - Photo courtesy of Chris Axelrad

HA NOI (VNS)— The unlikely memory that connected two men on opposite sides during the war more than half a centuryago is a bitter reminder of those terrible times.

It is also a reminder of how human spirit can prevail, even when they considered each other enemies.

Dr. Sam Axelrad, an American military doctor who served in Central Viet Nam during the 1960s, has finally achieved his long-lasting wish: to return the skeleton of an arm he amputated in 1966 to its owner, a Vietnamese soldier.

“It’s an unusual history about an enemy soldier,” Axelrad said yesterday. “I had this feeling that something eternal was guiding me and that I should find his family and return his arm to them. At the same time, I had no idea that he was alive.”

The men, Axelrad and 73-year-old Nguyen Quang Hung, finally met on Monday in Hung’s home in An Khe Town, Gia Lai Province, smiling, holding hands, eating lunch together with each other’s families and remembering the circumstances that brought them together after all those years.

It began in 2010, when Axelrad said he went through his military trunk for the first time in 35 years, in his Texas home. The soldier’s arm bone was still there, along with Hung’s photos and hundreds of other documents, which reminded Axelrad of that special moment on October 27, 1966.

At the time, then 28-year-old Axelrad commanded a mobile surgical hospital for American troops near An Khe. The helicopter had brought in a badly injured Vietnamese soldier and one of his arms needed amputating.

Apparently, the soldier had been shot in the arm three months earlier, before being sent to the medical unit that Axelrad commanded. He managed to stay alive after floating down a river and eating whatever he could find in the forest.

Axelrad recalled that he knew Hung could die from the infection and that he was from the other side. “Why would I take care of an enemy soldier? For me, he was no longer a combatant. He was simply a human being in need”.

After the surgery, Hung, also known as Charlie to the other American doctors, took several months to recover and then stayed with Axelrad’s medic unit as an assistant. He got along well with the other American doctors but one day Axelrad said he had been ordered by a senior officer to remove him.

Hung was sent to Quy Nhon in central Binh Dinh Province and later he worked in private medical services until the end of the war.

Subsequently, the two men lost touch.

Last summer, Axelrad travelled to Viet Nam with his family on a holiday and he had always thought about finding Hung, whom he assumed was living in the north, somewhere near Ha Noi, according to the papers he brought home in the US.

The reunion was made possible with the help of a Vietnamese journalist, who wrote about Axelrad’s desire to return the arm bone. The newspaper was contacted by a woman who spent many years living in An Khe and knew both Dr. Sam and Hung.

The article was so well-received that his reunion on Monday was captured by Vietnamese and international media from around the world.

On Monday, Hung said he could not believe he was able to reunite with his American lifesaver. Several days before the reunion, Hung could not sleep. His family was so excited about welcoming his American friends.

The 73-year-old man, now with seven children and numerous grandchildren, said that he never imagined his bone was still being kept half way around the earth. The American doctors had managed to clean the bone of flesh, then dried it and gave it to Axelrad.

Axelrad kept it for the memory and felt like he was the unofficial custodian of Hung’s arm.

His son, Chris Axelrad, who accompanied Axelrad last summer and this time to Viet Nam, said that the media attention was secondary to what has become a story with a happy-ending.

Chris said his father was always troubled by the fact that he left Viet Nam without knowing what condition Hung was in.

“My father saved the man’s life but Hung also did something for my father,” said Chris. “Whenever he thought of Mr. Hung, he had happy memories that he was able to help him.”

As the story was published so widely, Axelrad said he had encountered a group of northern Vietnamese veterans on the plane, who recognised him and thanked him for saving one of their “brothers.”

His mission has been accomplished but Axelrad said he would return and write a story about his war experiences for a possible book.

For now, he’s just happy that he got to help his old Vietnamese friend achieve his wish of “being buried whole.” — VNS

GLOSSARY

It is also a reminder of how human spirit can prevail, even when they considered each other enemies.

If something is able to prevail, it is able to be more powerful than things that try to weaken it.

“I had this feeling that something eternal was guiding me and that I should find his family and return his arm to them.”

If something it eternal, it lasts forever.

…Smiling, holding hands, eating lunch together with each other’s families and remembering the circumstances that brought them together after all those years.

Circumstances are things that happen, which affect other things. In this case, the circumstances that brought the two men together were thing such as the war they were both involved in and the fact that one of them was a doctor and the other was someone who needed a doctor.

At the time, then 28-year-old Axelrad commanded a mobile surgical hospital for American troops near An Khe.

A surgical hospital is one in which surgery takes place. Surgery is medical treatment that involves a doctor, or medic, doing things to the patient’s body, often using instruments.

Something that is mobile can be moved around. If it’s a car it would therefore have wheels.

The helicopter had brought in a badly injured Vietnamese soldier and one of his arms needed amputating.

When an arm is amputated it is cut off.

Axelrad recalled that he knew Hung could die from the infection and that he was from the other side.

An infection is an attack on the human body by a disease. Infections often happen around a sore or a wound.

For me, he was no longer a combatant.

A combatant is a fighter in a war.

Last summer, Axelrad travelled to Viet Nam with his family on a holiday and he had always thought about finding Hung, whom he assumed was living in the north, somewhere near Ha Noi, according to the papers he brought home in the US.

To assume something means to think it is the case without having proof.

The 73-year-old man, now with seven children and numerous grandchildren, said that he never imagined his bone was still being kept half way around the earth.

Numerous grandchildren means many grandchildren.

Axelrad kept it for the memory and felt like he was the unofficial custodian of Hung’s arm.

A custodian is someone who has a duty to look after someone, or something. An unofficial custodian is one who has not been given that duty by an authority but one who simply takes it on.

His son, Chris Axelrad, who accompanied Axelrad last summer and this time to Viet Nam, said that the media attention was secondary to what has become a story with a happy-ending.

Something that is secondary comes second and is not the most important thing.

As the story was published so widely, Axelrad said he had encountered a group of northern Vietnamese veterans on the plane, who recognised him and thanked him for saving one of their “brothers.”

Veterans are people with lots of experience at something. In this case they are war veterans: people who have had the experience of fighting in a war.

His mission has been accomplished but Axelrad said he would return and write a story about his war experiences for a possible book.

If somebody’s mission has been accomplished, they have done what they set out to do.

WORKSHEET

Find words that mean the following in the Word Search:

1. Dr. Sam Axelrad’s son’s name.

2. Nguyen Quang Hung’s arm was ……….

3. Nguyen Quang Hung became injured after being ….

4. When people meet one another after a long time, they have a ………….

5. If something is only important enough to be second on the list of important things, it is ………..

6. Ha Noi is in the …. of Viet Nam.

d s e c i n d r y a l m s m a
r p c a m p u t a t e d e s m
u o h e h l i n l k r i k a p
n e r s o u t h e r h l o b u
i a i a c r i s r i e r n p d
o s s s h o t g l s n e i h a
n t m m i l d t s s o u d s d
a e h r s g o e h n r n a n e
r k c a e h l s o l t i r e t
e u a m t a t e d s h o e p j
s e c o n d a r y a i n e n h
r r e e u n i h o n h t n e s
n l i l c o o t e d w e s t o

ANSWERS:

1. Chris; 2. Amputated; 3. Shot; 4. Reunion; 5. Secondary; 6. North.

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