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US doctor returns Vietnamese veteran’s arm

Dr. Sam Axelrad had amputated the arm of Nguyen Quang Hung after it became infected during the Vietnam War.

Kha Hoa/Thanh Nien Newspaper via Associated Press

Dr. Sam Axelrad had amputated the arm of Nguyen Quang Hung after it became infected during the Vietnam War.

HANOI — An American doctor arrived in Vietnam carrying an unlikely piece of luggage: the bones of an arm he amputated in 1966.

Dr. Sam Axelrad brought the skeletal keepsake home to Texas as a reminder that when a badly injured North Vietnamese soldier was brought to him, he did the right thing and fixed him up.

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The bones sat in a closet for decades, and when the Houston urologist finally pulled them out two years ago, he wondered about their true owner, Nguyen Quang Hung.

The men were reunited Monday at Hung’s home in central Vietnam.

They met each other’s children, and grandchildren, and joked about which of them had been better looking back when war had made them enemies.

Hung was stunned that someone had kept his bones for so long, but happy that when the time comes, they will be buried with him. ‘‘I consider myself very lucky compared with many of my comrades who were killed or remain unaccounted for,’’ he said.

Hung, 73, said American troops shot him in an arm in October 1966 during an ambush about 46 miles from An Khe, the town where he now lives.

After floating down a stream to escape a firefight and then sheltering in a rice warehouse for three days, he was evacuated by a US helicopter to a military hospital in Phu Cat.

When Hung got to Axelrad, his right forearm was badly infected.

To save his patient, the military doctor amputated the arm above the elbow.

After he recovered, Hung spent the rest of the war offering private medical services in the town and later served in local government for a decade before he retired to his rice farm.

Axelrad traveled to Vietnam last summer — partly for vacation, but also to try to find the man. He met Tran Quynh Hoa, a Vietnamese journalist who took a keen interest in his war stories.

Hoa later wrote a news article about Axelrad’s quest to return the bones to their owner. Hung’s brother-in-law read it and contacted the newspaper’s editors.

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