Generals Keane, Petraeus, And The Best Thoracic Surgeon
April 8, 2010 1 Comment
Fort Campbell, Kentucky
Then Lieutenant Colonel David Petraeus was a battalion commander in the 101st Airborne Division. (which is actually Air Assault these days, but back to the point of this post…)
It was a Saturday morning, and soldiers were conducting a live fire exercise. Infantry squad members were assaulting a bunker with live grenades and ammunition. One soldier tripped and fell. As he did, he accidentally pulled the trigger of his M-16. A single round exited the muzzle of his rifle, and hit David Petraeus who was observing the exercise from a distance of about 40 yards away.
The round went right through the letter “A” on his name tag on the right side of his chest. As it went out his back, it left a golf-ball sized exit wound. (If the round had hit him on the left side, going through the “A” of U.S. Army, it would have gone straight through his heart.)
General Keane, the assistant division commander, was standing next to him at the time. (Keane would later become Vice Chief of Staff of the United States Army.)
Keane talked to Petraeus in an attempt to keep him from going into shock. He said things like “Dave, you’ve been shot. Your going to make it, I want you to stay focused.”
At the local emergency room, a doctor shoved a chest tube into Petraeus. This procedure is reportedly very painful, and will cause most grown men to scream and jolt off the operating table. Petraeus did not move, and only let out a small grunt. The attending doctor later said “that is the toughest soldier I’ve ever had my hands on.”
Petraeus was put on a medevac chopper and flown 60 miles to Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee. General Keane had called ahead to request the best thoracic surgeon available. When the chopper landed on the roof of the hospital, Keane saw a man waiting in golf clothes.
The man told Keane, “I’m chief of thoracic surgery here.” Keane asked if the man was on a golf course. The doctor replied, “yeah, I got a call. I understand you have a seriously wounded soldier here.”
Keane said, “yeah I do, he means a lot to us.”
The thoracic surgeon worked for more than five hours to save the life of David Petraeus.
The incident cemented a bond between Keane and Petraeus, with Petraeus eventually serving as 101st Airborne Division Commander during the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Were it not for the work of the thoracic surgeon that day, Petraeus may not have risen to his current position leading Central Command. He also has led all of the forces in Iraq during its occupation, and during the famous “troop surge”.
So what was the name of the thoracic surgeon who performed the life-saving surgery on David Petraeus? A man you might have heard of before. For you see, the doctor later went into politics, being elected to the United States Senate, and eventually becoming Senate Majority Leader in 2003.
The doctor’s name was William Harrison “Bill” Frist, Sr.
As Paul Harvey used to say, “and now you know the rest of the story.”
Book: The War Within, A Secret White House History, 2006-2008 by Bob Woodward, p. 139-140, ©2008 Simon & Schuster, New York