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American Doctor Returns The Bone Of Enemy Soldier He Amputated During Vietnam War In 1966 Back To Him

January 1967, a few months after the amputation. Pic: Sam Axelrad
In an extraordinary and emotional moment, Sam Axelrad took the skeletal remains of Nguyen Quang Hung's arm out of a cardboard box and handed them to him, marking the end of a long and improbable story.

In 1966, Dr Axelrad was a medic serving with the American army in Vietnam. Mr Hung was his enemy. In October of that year, Mr Hung was shot in the arm during an ambush by American soldiers.
Badly injured, Mr Hung floated down a small river to escape the continued US attack. He was eventually picked up by American soldiers and taken to a US field hospital.

"When I was captured by the American forces, I was like a fish on a chopping-board," Mr Hung said last week. "They could have either killed or spared me."

He was treated by Dr Axelrad who decided the only way to save Mr Hung's life was to amputate his right arm. The arm was removed and Mr Hung made a full recovery, spending the remainder of the war working with the Americans.

However, in a strangely unorthodox move, Dr Axelrad's medical colleagues decided to keep the amputated arm as a reminder of an enemy life saved in war. They removed the flesh and reconstructed the various different bones. It was presented to Dr Axelrad as a memento of his work. It was not standard US military practice, but half a century later, it would prove to be a wonderful decision. The bones travelled back to Texas with Dr Axelrad. They were left in an army-issue bag in a cupboard where they were forgotten for nearly 50 years.

In 2011, Dr Axelrad finally decided to put painful memories of the war behind him and look through the bag. "It just blew me away what was in there," Dr Axelrad told reporters at a Hanoi hotel on Sunday. "That kind of triggered my thoughts of returning." Dr Axelrad and his family first travelled back to Vietnam last summer. Their tour guide, a Vietnamese journalist called Tran Quynh Hoa, was fascinated by the quest to reunite arm with soldier. An article by Mr Hoa in a local newspaper was read widely and finally yielded results.

Dr Axelrad (R) carries the box containing the bones as he meets Mr Hung (L)
At the weekend, the two former enemy soldiers embraced at Mr Hung's home.
In a truly bizarre moment, the skeletal hand and forearm was lifted from a cardboard box and passed back from doctor to patient.

"I'm very glad to see him again and have that part of my body back after nearly half a century," Mr Hung said in an interview with Stars and Stripes military newspaper on Monday after meeting Dr Axelrad.
"I can't believe that an American doctor took my infected arm, got rid of the flesh, dried it, took it home and kept it for more than 40 years," he said. "I don't think it's the kind of keepsake that most people would want to own."

But from the embrace Mr Hung gave to Dr Axelrod, the two were clearly thrilled to be reunited.
"We are from two different countries and we were on the opposite sides during the war, but this is the sentiment between people," Mr Hung said.

The two men exchanged gifts, introduced their families and even joked about which of them had held kept their looks after all the years. An emotional Dr Axelrad explained what the reunion meant to him.
"It was important to get the arm back … it was put on the table, off to the side and quite frankly, the event of him being with me and me being with him really overshadowed whatever that arm meant," he said.

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