Dr. John E. Salem dies; served 3 tours on Vietnam's front lines

By STEPHEN HUBA | The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review | Published: October 16, 2017

PITTSBURGH (Tribune News Service) — Three tours in Vietnam earned Dr. John E. Salem numerous military honors, but they also took their toll.

Although he had a distinguished career in the Army, his time in Vietnam left him with physical disabilities that hampered his work as a head and neck surgeon later in life, said his daughter, Tara Agne.

Dr. Salem operated on wounded soldiers, sometimes close to the fighting, and participated in an Army research project involving the use of silicone to treat combat-related injuries to the face. He also operated on Vietnamese children with cleft palates.

“He got a lot of satisfaction from his work,” she said. “He felt like he was really making a difference.”

Dr. John E. Salem, of Ligonier, died Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017, at the Southeastern Veterans Center in Spring City, Chester County. He was 84.

Born in Johnstown on April 22, 1933, he was the youngest child of Jacob and Marianna (Nassar) Salem. He graduated from Greater Johnstown High School and the University of Pittsburgh and studied medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

After completing his residency at Ohio Valley Hospital in McKees Rocks, he joined the Army and was sent to Vietnam, where he served as a combat surgeon between 1964 and 1969.

“He was basically rebuilding people's faces — men whose faces had been blown away,” Agne said. “My father was on the team that extracted a live grenade from a man's skull. They had to operate with sandbags around them.”

While in Vietnam, Dr. Salem was exposed to Agent Orange, contracted tropical diseases, suffered back problems and had his hand crushed between two operating tables, Agne said.

Dr. Salem continued practicing medicine even as a disabled veteran. He worked as a doctor and counselor at the Christian Ligonier Camp and Conference Center and the American Legion State Police Youth Week.

Agne said she remembers her father as a jokester who enjoyed playing practical jokes on people.

“He loved to make people laugh,” she said. “He enjoyed prank-calling his friends. He used to dress up in goofy outfits and crash parties.”

Dr. Salem also had a “love and affinity” for the ocean, the beach, sunrises and photography, she said.

He was preceded in death by two sisters and a brother.

He is survived by his wife of 54 years, Shirley (Johnson) Salem; his daughter, Tara Agne of Wilmington, Del.; four granddaughters; and a brother.

Friends may call from 2 to 4 and 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday at Snyder Funeral Home, 402 E. Church St., Ligonier. The Ligonier Valley Veterans Honor Guard will hold services at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the funeral home. A blessing service will be held at 10 a.m. Wednesday at the funeral home.

A private interment will be held at Arlington National Cemetery.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Wounded Warriors Project; Action for Animals, P.O. Box 814, Latrobe, PA 15650; or a charity of one's choice.


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