Dr. Garry Willard spoke to the Canada Club at the Morrisburg Legion about the experiences he encountered as one of the first two Canadian surgeons dispatched to South Vietnam to act as trauma surgeons during some of the most intense fighting of the Vietnam War. Willard collected his experiences in the book Into the Dragon’s Jaws: A Canadian Combat Surgeon in the Vietnam War. Tinkess photo
MORRISBURG – The Canadian Club of Morrisburg and District hosted an entertaining and informative presentation at their Sept. 21 meeting. The featured speaker was Garry Lee Willard MD. He is a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Canada and Edinburgh, a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons and a Fellow of the International College of Surgeons and an author. He told the group at the Morrisburg Legion Hall about his book called: Into the Dragon’s Jaws: A Canadian combat surgeon in the Vietnam War.
The book is about his exploits and experiences during his tour as a Red Cross combat casualty surgeon in South Vietnam in 1968.
All of the titles Dr. Willard has accumulated after his name as well as the exciting and informative telling of his story in his book, may be exotic, but Dr. Willard began his life’s adventure in Chesterville where he was born.
At the age of 83 and now living in Orillia with his wife Heather and children and grandchildren, he can remember growing up in Chesterville, going to school in Winchester and joining the South Dundas Glengarry Highlanders Militia as a teenager.
He remembers that his family doctor was Dr. Howard Justice in Chesterville. He also remembers the time when while playing Bantam hockey in Chesterville as a youngster at the old Chesterville arena, the roof caved in during a March windstorm while they were playing.
“We could hear the timbers in the roof creaking,” he said.
Dr. Willard finished high school in the late 1960s and headed off to Queen’s University to follow his medical journey.
An excerpt from Into the Dragon’s Jaws stated: “Large numbers of civilian casualties sustained during the Vietnamese New Year Tet Offensive January 1968 required urgent care. Canada responded to the international call for help by sending surgeons.
Rigorous surgical training at the University of Toronto had prepared him for volunteer service with the Canadian Red Cross to Vietnam as a trauma surgeon.
He and Queen’s Meds ’63 classmate Brad, Dr. Kenneth J. Bradley, were the first two Canadian Medical Officers to be deployed and were sent to Danang from Saigon.”
Dr. Willard was in Vietnam during a time when the most intense fighting was taking place and casualties were increasing daily.”
The book explains: “Although sent by the Canadian Red Cross, they were imbedded in the 1st Battalion 3rd Division of the United States’ Marine Corps (1/3 USMC) with rank.”
Dr. Willard began his journey in Chesterville where he lived with his family and eventually in Winchester where he went to high school. His father, John Howard Willard was the principal of the old Winchester High School that burned down in 1962. His father started his teaching career in Chesterville before moving over to Winchester.
“I was also a member of the Fort Henry Guard for two or three summers, and had the opportunity to participate in the command performance for Queen Elizabeth II in June of 195, when she came to open the seaway with President Eisenhower.”
He graduated from Queen’s University in 1963 and then on to Toronto and northern Manitoba to further his medical career.
As a member of the South Dundas Glengarry Highlanders Militia during his high school years, he learned lessons he would use later in Vietnam
He remembers using those militia skills to survive.
He said, “That training saved my life in Vietnam because our helicopter came under attack, and the door gunner was killed and the co-pilot pointed to me to get on the gun, and I was able to fire it owning to the fact that during my SD&G days, we had gone up to the Connaught rifle Range in Ottawa to learn how to fire 50 caliber machine guns.”
He added, “You never know what things will be useful to you in life.”
After Vietnam, Dr. Willard continued his career as a surgeon in Canada.
Dr. Willard’s book is available on Amazon.ca. You can also obtain a digital version of the book from Amazon.ca for only $10, and part of the proceeds of the book go toward PTSD for our military and veterans.
Joseph Morin is the Editor of the Eastern Ontario AgriNews, and the Record. He is, despite years of practice, determined to eventually play the guitar properly. He has served the Eastern Ontario community as a news editor, and journalist for the past 25 years with the Iroquois Chieftain, Kemptville Advance, West Carleton Review, and Ottawa Carleton Review in Manotick. He has never met a book he did not like.