Doc returns Vietnamese vet’s arm

Doc returns Vietnamese vet’s arm

By MIKE IVES
The Associated Press

Published: July 1, 2013
vietnam doctor
Dr. Sam Axelrad, left, displays the bones of an arm belonging to former North Vietnamese soldier Nguyen Quang Hung, right, at Hung’s house in the town of An Khe, Gia Lai province, Vietnam on Monday July 1, 2013. In October 1966 Axelrad amputated Hung’s arm after the soldier was shot in an ambush by American troops in the coastal province of Binh Dinh in the former South Vietnam.
Thanh Nien Newspaper, Kha Hoa/AP

HANOI, Vietnam — 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. 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’m very glad to see him again and have that part of my body back after nearly half a century,” Hung said by telephone Monday after meeting Axelrad. “I’m proud to have shed my blood for my country’s reunification, and I consider myself very lucky compared with many of my comrades who were killed or remain unaccounted for.”

Hung, 73, said American troops shot him in the arm in October 1966 during an ambush about 75 kilometers (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 U.S. helicopter to a no-frills military hospital in Phu Cat, in central Binh Dinh province.

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

When Hung got to Axelrad, then a 27-year-old military doctor, his right forearm was the color of an eggplant. To keep the infection from killing his patient, Axelrad amputated the arm above the elbow.

After the surgery, Hung spent eight months recovering and another six assisting American military doctors, Hung said. He spent the rest of the war offering private medical services in the town, and later served in local government for a decade before retiring on his rice farm.

“He probably thought we were going to put him in some prisoner-of-war camp,” Axelrad said. “Surely he was totally surprised when we just took care of him.”

As for the arm, Axelrad said his medic colleagues boiled off the flesh, reconstructed the arm bones and gave them to him. It was hardly common practice, but he said it was a reminder of a good deed performed.

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Hagel promises ‘honest, direct’ approach as new defense secretary

Hagel promises ‘honest, direct’ approach as new defense secretary

WASHINGTON — In his first morning on the job, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told assembled troops and Defense Department civilians he’d live up to his reputation as a straight talker as the Pentagon confronts numerous challenges.

“You’ll always know that you have a secretary of defense that will deal straight with you,” Hagel told a Pentagon audience Wednesday in his first speech as secretary. “I’ll be honest, I’ll be direct. I’ll expect the same from you.”

The former Nebraska senator must immediately deal with the prospect of $500 billion in automatic defense spending cuts that will be triggered if the U.S. Congress doesn’t reach a deficit-cutting agreement by Friday.

“Budget, sequestration — I don’t need to dwell on all the good news there,” he said. “That’s a reality. We need to figure this out.”

The question of how to react to instability and rising threats abroad challenges the Pentagon as well, Hagel said.

“Yes dollars are coming down, but it’s the uncertainly of the planning, the uncertainly of the commitments, the uncertainty of what’s ahead,” he said.

America must continue to be the world’s leading “force for good,” he said, but must do so in concert with allies.

Highest Ranking Vietnam POW Dies at 85

Highest Ranking Vietnam POW Dies at 85

Highest Ranking Vietnam POW Dies at 85

Posted by David Moore

Retired Col. Benjamin H. Purcell, who was the highest-ranking Army prisoner of war (POW) in Vietnam, died on April 2 at age 85.

Purcell was captured in Vietnam in early 1968 and spent more than five years as a POW in Laos. After his return to the United States, Purcell continued serving until his retirement in 1980.

On Feb. 8, 1968, the helicopter Purcell was in was shot down near Quang Tri City, a major area attacked in the Tet Offensive. He and the crew were immediately captured. When Purcell and his men were captured, the Viet Cong took all of their possessions, even their combat boots, and force marched them for days on little food and water to the prison camp.

On Feb. 14, the Vietcong interrogated the American soldiers for the first time — it was Purcell’s 40th birthday.

“From this point things went downhill fast,” Purcell told the Georgia Department of Veterans Service (GDVS).

He wanted to give up, but he was determined to endure the trials, no matter how often the Vietcong pressured him to denounce his country.

The next 62 months were spent in a variety of prison camps around Vietnam. And since Purcell was a high ranking officer, he was kept in solitary confinement for about 58 of those months.

“‘Deny yourself as American serviceman,’ the Vietcong said. ‘Criticize yourself as the aggressor — then things will get good for you,’” Purcell said about how his interrogations often proceeded. “But to betray myself and my country was not an option for me.”

Purcell resisted his captors’ temptations. He even managed to break out of the POW camps twice — he was captured, but Purcell considered his escapes a personal victory. He proved that their prisons weren’t invulnerable.

His love for his wife Anne also spurred him on. Despite the Vietcong confiscating his wedding band, Purcell remembered what he had to live for. To help remind him of his wife, he made a new wedding ring out of bamboo and thread.

“I knew I had Anne and the children at home waiting for my return,” Purcell said. Purcell never gave up hope that he’d get home, despite reoccurring doubts.

“Every morning I would wake up and say (to myself) ‘Ben, I hope this is the day you’re going home,’” he told GDVS. “Then the sun would go down and I’d say, ‘Well, tomorrow is another day.’”

On Mar. 27, 1973, the day Purcell was hoping for finally arrived — he returned home.

His very first public statement after his release was, “Man’s most precious possession, second only to life, is freedom.”
Leaving a Legacy

For his final assignment, Purcell taught as professor of military science and commandant of cadets at the ROTC detachment at North Georgia College.

Col. Rich Crotty of U.S. Forces Command at Fort Bragg, N.C., was a cadet at North Georgia while Purcell was commandant, according to the Gainesville Times.

“He groomed us for an Army career,” said Crotty. “He mentored us. He was a professional Army officer.”

Crotty told the Gainesville Times that Purcell emphasized family, faith and love of country to the cadets at North Georgia.

“His experience in Vietnam really showed that,” he said. “He was a superb human being.”

But Purcell’s memory lives on. In 2012, North Georgia College dedicated the new formation plaza on the university’s Dahlonega campus as the Col. Ben Purcell Formation Plaza.

Photo courtesy of U.S. Army

Why Do They Frighten Us With Syrian Chemical Weapons?

Why Do They Frighten Us With Syrian Chemical Weapons?

Why Do They Frighten Us With Syrian Chemical Weapons?


Sunday, June 2nd, 2013 | Posted by Veterans Today
Why Do They Frighten Us With Syrian Chemical Weapons?

By Peter LVOV (Russia) for Veterans Today

Why Do They Frighten Us With Syrian Chemical Weapons?The latest reports on the confiscation of two kilogrammes of sarin gas, a powerful neurotoxin, from safe houses in Adana, South Turkey, some 150 kilometres from the border with Syria, earlier this week, adds the relevance to an insightful comment by Peter Lvov, a Middle East expert from New Eastern Outlook, on who in reality is frightening us with alleged Syrian Chemical Weapons:Recent statements by senior officials of the United States and other countries concerning Syria’s possible use of chemical weapons against opposition fighters have raised a legitimate question — who do the statements benefit, and why are they being made?

US Under-Secretary of State Wendy Sherman told Congress that chemical weapons have been used twice during the conflict. Secretary of State John Kerry said previously that there is a good evidence that the Syrian Army has used chemical weapons against the rebels.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has also said that he has “evidence” that the Syrian government has employed chemical weapons against the opposition. In an interview he gave the US news media Erdogan said Turkish hospitals are treating patients injured by chemical weapons in Syria. He flatly rejected the suggestion that opposition units could have used the chemical weapons.

Syrian Chemical Weapons facilities mapped by Monterey Institute of International Studies (USA)

Syrian Chemical Weapons facilities mapped by Monterey Institute of International Studies (USA)

To begin with, we need to know what kind of chemical weapons Damascas has and where they are located. After all, Syria is one of seven states that have not signed the 1993 Convention banning chemical weapons, and, although until recently it had officially denied possessing chemical weapons, Western experts believe it has an arsenal of chemical and biological weapons. Syria offically admitted possessing chemical and biological weapons for the first time on July 23, 2012. Damascus also let it be known that it could employ them as a means of defense if subjected to foreign aggression. Then it repeatedly said that it would not use them against its own citizens under any circumstances, even if members of the opposition get hold of them. Syrian authorities subsequently said the rebels had captured a chemical plant near Aleppo and expressed concern that they might use chemical weapon components. The Syrian Interior Ministry sent a letter about that to the UN Security Council and Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon.

The plant in question is obviously the Safira Plant near Aleppo, which was captured by the al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front. That plant specializes in producing sodium hydroxide and hydrogen chloride. News from Aleppo indicates that government troops were able to recapture the plant, but that did not end the danger because the rebels could have stolen a quantiy of CW agents or components used in CW manufacture in order later to use them against the army or to create a provocation. That has evidently happened, but the United States was quick to say that they were used not by the rebels but by government forces against the rebels.Read full Article Here

Saving our warriors from themselves

Saving Veterans

Saving Veterans

By The Times editorial board

May 27, 2013

As the nation marks Memorial Day, here is a statistic that offers sobering insight into the lives of the military men and women who have, over the decades, sacrificed so much for so many: Last year, 349 active servicemen and women committed suicide, more than the number who died in battle and the highest number in a decade of war.

The incidence of suicide has also risen among veterans. A report released in February by the Department of Veterans Affairs estimated that 22 veterans committed suicide in this country each day in 2010. That’s slightly higher than in 1999, when the estimate was that 20 veterans a day committed suicide.

For the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, this is a grim epidemic that has eluded easy or obvious fixes. Experts say the first step toward preventing suicide is knowing who does it, how they do it and why. The military does a good job of collecting those statistics. Since 2008, the Department of Defense has issued an annual Suicide Event Report that lists in meticulous detail the number of suicides and attempted suicides and the circumstances surrounding the deaths.

DATABASE: California’s War Dead

The second step, of course, is getting those people at risk for committing suicide to seek help. That is a huge task. Mandatory screening and counseling have not done a good job of identifying suicidal service members and persuading them to talk about their problems. Many worry that doing so will affect job promotions or stigmatize them in some way.

According to the 2011 Suicide Event Report, most of the military personnel who committed suicide that year did not confide their plans to anyone and did not have a known history of a mental health disorder. Half of them had experienced a failed personal relationship, and a substantial number were coping with a serious work-related problem. But, perhaps surprisingly, most were not actively deployed and in a combat zone. They were working at their home bases. More than half had never been deployed, so their troubles were not the result of battlefield stress or trauma……Read full Article Here

Obama says don’t take American troops for granted

Obama Memorial Day

Obama Memorial Day


By DARLENE SUPERVILLE
The Associated Press

Published: May 27, 2013
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Obama memorial day

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Members of the U.S. Army’s 3rd Infantry Regiment “The Old Guard,” salute as President Barack Obama’s motorcade prepares to depart the Memorial Day Observance at the Memorial Amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery Monday, May 27, 2013, in Arlington, Va. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

ARLINGTON, Va. — President Barack Obama said Monday that Americans must honor the sacrifices of their fighting men and women, particularly at a time when the U.S. combat role in Iraq has ended and the country’s involvement in Afghanistan is winding down.

Speaking at Memorial Day ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery, Obama said he worries that the country’s servicemen and women aren’t being fully appreciated in an era in which “most Americans are not directly touched by war.” He said he couldn’t explain that phenomenon but said it might have something to do with the all-volunteer military force and advanced technology that now permits the United States to accomplish some military missions with far fewer personnel.

But Obama did say that even as “we turn a page” away from Iraq, and Afghanistan by the end of 2014, “let us never forget that the nation is still at war.”

He said that some troops and military families “mention to me their concern about whether the country fully appreciates” them.

Obama’s Memorial Day appearance at the venerable Arlington burial grounds came four days after he declared in a major national security address that the U.S. has taken down the al-Qaida terrorist organization, particularly in the aftermath of the killing of leader Osama bin Laden, although terrorist threats remain and the country cannot afford to let its vigilance slide.

Obama spoke on a sun-splashed morning at the amphitheater of Arlington National Cemetery after he placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns. That was preceded by a playingof the National Anthem and followed by the placing of “Taps.”

In his speech, he said that Arlington “has always been home to men and women who are willing to give their all … to preserve and protect the land that we love.”

He praised the selflessness that “beats in the hearts” of America’s uniformed military troops.

Keeping with a tradition he established earlier in his presidency, Obama stopped at Section 60 before departing and walked among the graves of the war dead from Iraq and Afghanistan.