Friday, 26 July 2013

I Ain't Got Nobody

When Nguyen Quang Hung, a North-Vietnamese soldier was wounded during fighting with the US in 1966, he was lucky enough to be taken prisoner and not left to die in the jungles (like so many others). Unfortunately by the this time he had developed gangrene, and had to have his arm amputated by a US army doctor.

Strangely, the US Army Doctor Sam Axelrad decided not to throw the amputated arm away, and instead had it de-fleshed, the bones sewn back together and in a sort of excarnation, kept the bones for more than 40 years as a reminder of the 'good deed' he had performed by treating an enemy soldier.

But in 2011 he wasn't getting any younger, and decided to track down the ex-Vietcong former owner of the arm, a move, which he later said, would help provide "closure". A local journalist wrote about his mission, and the news eventually spread back to Mr Hung and last month, the doctor finally reunited the arm with the Vietnamese pensioner.  

Doctor Sam Axelrad and Nguyen Quang Hung - Then And Now.

"I'm very happy to see him [Dr Axelrad] again and have that part of my body back after nearly half a century," Mr Hung said."My arm bone is evidence of my contribution to the war. I will keep it in my house... in the glass display cabinet," he said, adding that he hoped the arm would help him claim a veteran's pension, as his army files had been lost. He apparently intends to be buried with his bones.

Dr Axelrad, said he was "unbelievably happy" to be able to return the arm. "When I amputated his arm [in 1966], our medics took the arm, took the flesh off it, put it back together perfectly with wires, and then they gave it to me. When I left the country six months later, I didn't want to throw it away, I put it in my trunk and brought it home, and all these years it has been in my house".

Whilst this might seem like a humerus reunion (sorry, couldn't resist), there was a sad side ... Mr Hung. concluded the tale by saying that he considered himself "very lucky" compared to many of his comrades who died in the war - The Vietnam War, which ended in 1975, killed an estimated 58,000 US soldiers, and three million Vietnamese.


  1. Replies
    1. What makes it particularly interesting is that without a doubt its a case of 'war trophy' taking ... a practise as old as war itself. The Incas for example had Skull racks of their captured prisoners (after excarnation).

      It's reported that Palestinian groups such as HAMAS have reportedly taken body parts of Jewish soldiers as 'hostage / trophies', and of course some US military were disciplined for taking photos of blindfolded Iraqi prisoners naked (in another form of the war trophy).

      In the increasingly barbaric Syrian war, there has even been a recorded case of cannibalism when a Jihadi warlord was filmed eating the heart (or some other body part ... accounts varied) of a regime soldier, which is maybe the oldest war trophy of them all.


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