Surgeon risked life for Vietnamese youth during war

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Dr. David O’Neal said it was just another casualty at the time, but one wrong move might have ended his life and that of his patient.

The retired Chattanooga physician was the chief of orthopedic surgery aboard the USS Repose, moored at Da Nang, South Vietnam, when the incident occurred in 1969.

The 14-year-old South Vietnamese boy who was brought aboard had a live gas canister buried in his thigh, between two parts of a shattered femur, after absorbing what was thought to be a warning shot by a Marine guard.

“The case [of the canister] had developed a leak,” Mr. O’Neal, 77, said, “and I smelled it. I knew what it was, so I mobilized the [operating room] crew.”

He said if the gas canister had exploded, it would have done as much damage as a fragmentation weapon. He said the ship’s captain was so concerned about an explosion that he rigged up a metal shield in front of the anesthesiologist....

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