Wheeler Bryson Lipes

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Wheeler Bryson Lipes
Nickname(s) "Doc" Lipes, Wheeler "Johnny" Lipes
Born (1920-07-12)July 12, 1920
New Castle, Virginia
Died April 17, 2005(2005-04-17) (aged 84)
New Bern, North Carolina
Place of burial Arlington National Cemetery
Allegiance United States
Service/branch Navy
Rank Lieutenant Commander
Awards Navy Commendation Medal
Purple Heart

In September 1942, Wheeler Lipes performed an emergency appendectomy aboard a United States Navy submarine. Although he did not have proper medical equipment or formal surgical training, the operation was a success. After the war, Mr. Lipes remained in the Navy and received a Medical Service Corps commission in 1951. He retired as a lieutenant commander.


In September 1942, aboard USS Seadragon, Pharmacist's Mate Wheeler B. Lipes performed the first major surgery aboard a submarine when a shipmate showing symptoms of acute appendicitis required an emergency operation to survive. Positioned in enemy waters and lacking standard medical equipment, Lipes performed a successful appendectomy using kitchen instruments such as spoons and tea strainers. "Doc" Lipes, as he was called, had no formal surgical training and just three years of medical experience as a hospital lab technician at the time of the surgery.[1][2] The Navy medical establishment was angered by the occurrence, and there was talk of a court martial.

Popular Media[edit]

On December 14, 1942, the Chicago Daily News published an article by George Weller which told Wheeler B. Lipes' story. It won the 1943 Pulitzer Prize for Reporting. The events documented in the piece were incorporated into the film Destination Tokyo (1943) starring Cary Grant.[3]


Wheeler B. Lipes eventually received official recognition for his feat over 60 years after the submarine surgery. He was awarded a Navy Commendation Medal at a ceremony at Camp Lejeune, N.C.[4]