The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

July 13, 2008

Enid surgeon spent summer of ’68 treating wounded soldiers


By Dave Kinnamon

Staff Writer



Dr. David M. Selby, a 1953 graduate of Enid High School, performed a surgical wonder on a wounded Army infantryman that made the front page of The Enid Morning News on Sunday, April 21, 1968.

“Dr. David M. Selby: Surgical Feat By Former Enid Doctor Saves Life Of Soldier,” trumpeted the headline of the three-column, above-the-fold front page story.

Earlier, Dr. Selby removed a .30 caliber bullet casing from the lung of Pfc. Ronald Palmer, an Army infantryman. Pfc. Palmer had earlier been shot by a Vietcong sniper. The enemy bullet struck Palmer in his right thigh, breaking his right leg and severing an artery before entering the adjoining vein.

Palmer was on a medical evacuation flight which stopped over in the Philippines en route to a U.S. hospital in Japan — standard procedure for some combat evacuees— and was removed from the flight and admitted into the Clark Air Force Base Hospital after complaining of chest pain and registering a fever.

Selby recalls Clark AFB Hospital received 6-10 flight stopovers daily during his tenure of active Air Force duty on the Philippines.

“I was on call that day. We had certain criteria we checked. If the wounded personnel had tubes in their chests or soiled dressings or fevers, we would take them off the airplane,” Selby said.

In Pfc. Palmer’s dire situation, from the vein in his leg, the shell’s jacket entered the large vein —vena cava — entering his heart before being pumped into the arterial passage of the right lower lung, Selby recollected.

Palmer was 20 years old at the time.

“The x-ray showed the fragmentation in the lung. It was very easy to find,” Selby recalled.

The blood had already started to clot around the shell casing, and medical staff at Clark AFB concluded Palmer would not have survived the medical flight from the Philippines to Japan, the 40-year-old newspaper story stated. Dr. Selby, interviewed by the Enid News & Eagle on July 3, recalled the same details.

The Enid News & Eagle was able to locate Ronald Palmer this past May. We called him at his home in Putney, Vt., located about eight miles from his hometown of Brattleboro — the town listed in The Enid Morning News story from 40 years ago — and asked Palmer his remembrances from 1968.

“I would really like to speak with Dr. Selby. I am very grateful to him for saving my life. I have no doubts in my mind that that man saved my life,” Palmer said, not able to contain all the emotion in his voice.

Following Dr. Selby’s life-saving surgery, Palmer spent about a year at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, in the Washington, D.C., area. The Army then medically discharged Palmer and placed him on minimal monthly disability payments.

Palmer returned to Brattleboro, Vt., fell in love with and in 1974 married a young woman, Sally, who resided in the same apartment house as he, and he worked 32 years for the Brattleboro Highway Department.

Palmer’s wounds to his right leg were so severe, he has never been able to completely straighten his right leg. He has severe pain and arthritis in the leg and has battled through more than one bout of osteomyelitis, an infection of the bone or bone marrow. Palmer’s most recent bout with osteomyelitis was this past winter, Sally said, and his temperature spiked to 104 degrees, she said.

Dr. David Selby, the son of the late D. Bruce Selby, an Enid educator and high school principal of Enid High School from 1935-1959, for whom the D. Bruce Selby Stadium is named, attended the University of Oklahoma as an undergraduate and then medical school also at OU. Following graduation from medical school, Selby attended a one-year internship at the University of California-San Francisco hospital and then had a surgery residency for four years at OU’s medical center in Oklahoma City.

Following the surgery residency, Selby joined the Air Force as a medical officer, where he was commissioned a captain and served two years, from 1966-68, on active duty, mostly at Clark AFB Hospital on the Philippines, Selby said.

“It was great. The experience in the Air Force added to my skills as a surgeon. We were responsible for the surgical care of the wounded veterans we admitted. It wasn’t just Air Force personnel. Mainly it was U.S. Army and Marines,” Selby said.

There were 64 surgeons at the Clark AFB Hospital, Selby recalled. They even treated military personnel from South Korea, he said.

Today Selby downplays the unusualness of the extraction surgery he performed on Palmer while simultaneously acknowledging the surgery saved the young soldier’s life.

“We had certain criteria we checked on the patients who stopped here, and if they met those criteria, we pulled them off the plane, triaged them, which included mandatory chest x-rays, and treated them at our hospital before sending them on. In Palmer’s case, a chest x-ray revealed the bullet fragment in his lung,” Selby said.

Selby said his work as a surgeon has required he visit Washington, D.C., on several occasions.

“I always visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington. It’s easier to look back on now,” Selby said.

Sally and Ronald Palmer have been married 34 years, have children together and several grandchildren, too.ex-rays, and treated them at our hospital before sending them on. In Palmer’s case, a chest x-ray revealed the bullet fragment in his lung,” Selby said.

Selby said his work as a surgeon has required he visit Washington, D.C., on several occasions.

“I always visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington. It’s easier to look back on now,” Selby said.

Sally and Ronald Palmer have been married 34 years, have children together and several grandchildren, too.