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Tuesday, October 4, 2022
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North Texas Veteran Has Shrapnel Surgically Removed After 51 Years


Retired Marine Willie Fulfer | Image by WFAA

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A Weatherford veteran finally got rid of a painful piece of shrapnel that he had carried in his body for over half a century.

During the Vietnam War, retired Marine Willie Fulfer, 73, was part of a special Combined Action Program partnering with local troops to help defend Vietnamese villages.

He served as a scout sniper and has many memories of the war.

“There are things I will never forget. And things that I wished hadn’t happened,” Fulfer said of his war experience.

One experience he vividly recalls is a grenade exploding next to him during one night mission.

“It was one our ours, but they threw it,” he said explaining an enemy solder found the U.S. grenade and lobbed it at him.

Fulfer remembers curling into a ball away from the grenade; fortunately, he was wearing his flak jacket. It saved him from most of the explosive’s projectiles, and the young G.I. remembers counting removing 26 pieces of shrapnel from the jacket.

“We dug them out. I mean, I took my knife and dug pieces out of the flak jacket.”

But a 27th piece got under the bottom of the jacket and entrenched itself an inch from his spine, where military doctors told him it was too dangerous to operate.

“They didn’t want to operate because it was next to the backbone,” he said. “Nothing I can do about it. You just have to live with it. Just kind of like a Marine, you suck it up and go on.”

For much of the last 51 years, Fulfer lived in pain.

“I came back a very upset, angry person,” he said.

The pain had become extreme over time, spreading down one leg and causing Fulfer to start having difficulty walking.

Dr. Atif Haque at Baylor Scott & White All Saints in Fort Worth decided it was worth the risk to remove the 51-year-old rusted, half-pea-sized piece of metal. In May, the surgery was completed successfully. Recently, Fulfer walked out of Baylor Scott & White All Saintes unaided.

“I must commend the hospital,” he said. “They were all professional and took very good care of me.”

Fulfer plans to put the piece of shrapnel on display next to his Purple Heart at his home.

“It’s part of me, what I went through. I can look at it and say that caused me a lot of pain,” he said.

Now that part of Willie Fulfer’s life can be put on a shelf for good.

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