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Saved in Vietnam

Roger Wagner (left), a 1964 graduate of Osakis High School, had the chance to meet Dr. Mayer Katz, who saved his leg from being amputated during the Vietnam War 51 years ago. (Contributed)1 / 4
Roger Wagner (far left) and his fellow soldiers celebrated the holidays in 1967 by decorating a small Christmas tree. (Contributed) 2 / 4
Dr. Mayer Katz stands outside a Vietnam hospital. He performed about 350 surgeries during the war. (Contributed) 3 / 4
Roger Wagner, a 1964 graduate of Osakis High School, volunteered to serve in Vietnam in 1967 and was assigned to a company of finance and personnel clerks. (Contributed)4 / 4

Roger Wagner, an Osakis High School graduate from the Class of 1964, was a clerk in the Vietnam War and didn't expect the gunfire that erupted on a beautiful, sunny Saturday morning on Dec. 30, 1967.

"We (finance and personnel clerks) had a pretty good life compared to most soldiers pulling duty there," he recalled. "We had hooches in which to sleep in and I worked in an office very similar to what one would expect a clerk to have."

Wagner, who knew through basic training how to fire a M1 rifle, had just learned how to fire other weapons — a machine gun, a grenade launcher, M16s — because the clerks occasionally pulled guard duty on the perimeter of their base.

He was watching other clerks go through the same training when he heard what he thought was a swarm of bees flying overhead — until he saw bullets kicking up the dirt around him.

"I ran forward, knowing that the closer to the berm, which is a huge mound of dirt, would be the safest place. It was chaos, everyone running all over in every direction," Wagner said.

After the gunfire ended, people started yelling to find out if everyone was OK.

"I remember that as I ran, I felt a slight tap on my left leg," Wagner said. "Sitting on the ground, I rubbed my leg and when I felt something wet, I looked down to see that I was bleeding around my knee area."

He was flown to a field hospital and told that a bullet had spliced his artery and the doctors would have to amputate his leg.

"Wow! Here I was a 21-year-old kid in a far-off land that I had asked to travel to and I was about to have my leg removed because of this crazy war," he said.

Wagner started to think of all the things that would be different for him — shifting a four-speed car, pitching a baseball, bowling. "Of course I cried like a little kid," he said.

When he woke up in the surgery ward hours later, he looked down at the bed sheet and saw not one but two legs. It turned out that a Dr. Katz had saved his leg by taking a section of a vein from his right leg and grafting it to an artery in the area of the gun shot.

The surgery was a success and Wagner made a full recovery.

All through his life, Wagner kept thinking how fortunate he was to have Dr. Katz there when he needed him the most.

"This is a very important person in my life," said Wagner, who is now 71 and living in Henderson, Nevada. "I never got his first name and didn't have a picture of him. Only seeing him briefly in Vietnam, I just never knew much about him."

Wagner's 50-year search to find the doctor kept hitting dead-ends, even with the advent of the Internet and Google.

Finally, he decided to contact the producers of a new PBS TV show, "We'll Meet Again with Ann Curry," which reunites people whose lives crossed at pivotal moments.

Wagner was flown to Washington, D.C. where he had the chance to meet Dr. Katz. Wagner's experience in Vietnam and his reunion with the doctor will be aired on PBS on Tuesday, Nov. 13, at 7 p.m. as part of the episode, "Saved in Vietnam."

'We'll Meet Again'

The reunion between 1964 Osakis High School graduate Roger Wagner and the doctor who saved his leg from being amputated in the Vietnam War will be featured during an hour-long episode of the PBS TV show, "We'll Meet Again," on Tuesday, Nov. 13 at 7 p.m. on Pioneer Public Television. The episode is called "Saved in Vietnam."

Al Edenloff

Al Edenloff is the news and opinion page editor for the Echo Press. He was born in Alexandria and lived most of his childhood in Parkers Prairie. He graduated with honors from Moorhead State University with a degree in mass communications, print journalism. He interned at the Echo Press in the summer of 1983 and was hired a year later as a sports reporter. He also worked as a news reporter/photographer. Al is a four-time winner of the Minnesota Newspaper Association's Herman Roe Award, which honors excellence in editorial writing.  

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