US army doctor returns arm to Vietnamese soldier fifty years after he took it as a souvenir

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Mr 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

An American army doctor who served in the Vietnam War has returned an arm he amputated to its owner, a Vietnamese soldier, 47 years after taking it.

Dr Sam Axelrad, who flew to Vietnam to meet the amputee, took the arm bones home to Houston from Vietnam in 1966 after his colleagues boiled the flesh and reconstructed the bones to give him as a souvenir.

The owner of the arm, Mr Hung, 73, said American troops shot him in the arm in October 1966 during an ambush near 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, the Viet Cong fighter was evacuated by a US 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," he said. "They could have either killed or spared me."

After surgery, he spent eight months recovering and another six assisting American military doctors. 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," said Dr Axelrad, a now-retired civilian doctor. "Surely he was totally surprised when we just took care of him."

Dr Axelrad amputated the arm and said he kept the arm bones as a reminder of doing a good deed. The men were reunited at Mr 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.

Mr 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.

Additional reporting from Associated Press

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