The cremation of a World War II hero has revealed a shocking secret to his family: He had been walking around for the past 60 years with six ounces of shrapnel left in his left leg.
Ronald Brown's family knew that he had stepped on a land mine during a military mission in France in August 1944, but didn't expect to find two handfuls of metal among his remains according to a report in the Telegraph. After Brown died last week at age 94 of natural causes, the family had him cremated and were startled when the funeral director handed them a bag full of bomb shrapnel sifted out from his ashes.
The Telegraph quotes Brown's daughter Jane Madden, 55, of Exeter, Devon, saying her father had only mentioned a bullet in his knee as a war injury. He would sometimes ask his five grandkids to refrain from sitting on his knee because of the pain it caused, she recalled.
"He'd said there was a bullet in his leg but I was imagining one romantic piece of metal," Madden told the paper.
"But when we went to scatter his ashes we asked whether the bullet had been found and they gave us this bag full of metal. It's just macabre really and amazing because he never used to complain about the pain. It just shows how brave he was."
The shrapnel found among Brown's ashes.
Leaving shrapnel in the body was not -- and still is not -- an uncommon practice. It is believed that the risks posed by battlefield surgeries often outweighed the harm caused by shrapnel left inside the body. Plus, thousands of metal fragments can become imbedded deep within the muscles, meaning the removal process can cause worse problems than the fragments themselves.
In a well-publicized case in 2009, another British soldier, 87-year-old Alfred Mann woke up with a strange object in his mouth: a half-inch metal shard -- shrapnel from a battle injury he sustained 65 years earlier, according to ABC News.
Mann had been a nurse with the Royal Army Medical Corps during World War II, and sustained injuries to his face, shoulder and leg from an exploding land mine in Italy. He complained of pain in his jaw and mouth for years, but doctors could find no evidence of any malady. In Mann's case, the shrapnel had just been overlooked.
As for Brown, who later went on to become a tax inspector, he did like to travel a fair amount, and as his daughter observed, always set off airport scanners.