Vascular surgeon, contributor to NMHM to lead discussion on Vietnam War medicine

By Paul Bello, National Museum of Health and Medicine

SILVER SPRING, Md. - Dr. Norman M. Rich, a retired U.S. Army colonel, renowned vascular surgeon and longtime friend and contributor to the National Museum of Health and Medicine (NMHM), will discuss his own medical museum related to Vietnam War medicine, Tuesday, February 24, during NMHM's monthly Medical Museum Science Café.

The discussion, "Vietnam War Medicine: A Look at the Medical Museum, 2nd Surgical Hospital," will take place at the museum and run from 6-7 p.m. No reservations are required. The discussion is free and open to the public.

Rich, who established his small medical museum while serving as chief of surgery for the Army's 2nd Surgical Hospital in An Khe, Vietnam during the war, collected items such as punji sticks (a type of wooden stake made of sharpened bamboo and primarily used in booby traps), bullets, fragments from explosive devices, and other objects during his tour of duty at the hospital. He later arranged to donate items to NMHM, which at that time was part of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Washington, D.C.

"My college professors at Stanford University taught me to collect, analyze, execute and review everything I got my hands on," Rich said. "This resulted in the Army Surgeon General bringing me home for a week in the middle of my tour to present my clinical research to the American Medical Association. I also presented to the Excelsior Surgical Society (World War II surgeons) upon my return."

When word got around about Rich's project, he recalls many of his patients being enthusiastic about the idea and happy to help donate whatever items they could. It wasn't long, he said, before he had enough items to start his own medical museum. A boot once worn by a North Vietnamese soldier and pierced by a steel spike is currently on display at the museum in Silver Spring, Md. Today, he continues to donate items to NMHM with the hope of educating the public further on the evolution of military medicine.

NMHM's Medical Museum Science Cafés are a regular series of informal talks that connect the mission of the Department of Defense museum with the public. NMHM was founded as the Army Medical Museum in 1862 and moved to its new location in Silver Spring, Md. in 2012. For more information on this upcoming discussion, call 301-319-3300.


Caption: Dr. Norman M. Rich (right), a retired U.S. Army surgeon and founder of the "Medical Museum, 2nd Surgical Hospital," interacts with visitors to the Army Medical Museum during a visit in 1968. Rich has been a contributor to the NMHM for more than 50 years. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Norman M. Rich)