Dr. Darrell A. Jaques, a noted head and neck surgeon who had served in Vietnam, dies

Dr. Darrell A. Jaques served in M.A.S.H. units in Vietnam, and became a pioneer in head and neck surgery at Greater Baltimore Medical Center.
Dr. Darrell A. Jaques served in M.A.S.H. units in Vietnam, and became a pioneer in head and neck surgery at Greater Baltimore Medical Center. (Handout)

Dr. Darrell A. Jaques, a noted head and neck surgeon who had been a combat surgeon during the Vietnam War, died from complications of coronary artery disease on June 4 at Brookdale Olney Assisted Senior Living.

The former Pasadena and Annapolis resident was 88.


“Darrell was at the top of his specialty. As a surgeon, he was very exact, confident and quite skilled. He attempted many operations that few surgeons would do,” said Dr. John R. Saunders, a retired head and neck surgeon who was a resident at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center under Dr. Jaques. In 1982 he rejoined his colleague at Greater Baltimore Medical Center.

“He was very close to many of his patients who revered him and were thankful for the treatment he gave them,” said Dr. Saunders, an Annapolis resident.


Dr. Richard M. Hirata, a retired head and neck surgeon who lives in Gaithersburg called Dr. Jaques a “domineering figure and very caring.... His surgical skills were outstanding.”

Darrell Arthur Jaques was born and raised in Jefferson, Iowa, the son of farmers Leonard and Minnie Jaques.

“They lost the farm during the Great Depression and moved around about 12 times,” said a daughter, Linda Kelly of Derwood in Montgomery County.

As a kindergarten student, Dr. Jaques nearly succumbed to pneumonia, and in an 2015 interview with The Jefferson Herald newspaper, he recalled hearing the family doctor saying to his parents, “Mother, this boy may die.” He said the incident was life changing, and he decided he would one day pursue a career in medicine.


When he started elementary school he was placed in a class of “slow learners.” Nevertheless, he graduated in 1947 from Ann Arbor High School, then entered the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor and obtained a bachelor’s degree and, in 1957, a medical degree.

In 1949, he married the former Lorraine M. “Kathy” Comely.

“My wife worked as a nurse, and I [was] a close tolerance machinist to pay for my education,” Dr. Jaques wrote in a biographical sketch.

He enlisted in the Army and completed an internship at William Beaumont Army Hospital in El Paso, Texas, in 1958. From 1958 to 1960, he was a battalion surgeon for an anti-aircraft unit in Mannheim, Germany, and from 1960 to 1961 was an assistant neurosurgeon in Landstuhl, also in Germany.

From 1967 to 1968, he served as chief surgeon for a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (M.A.S.H.) in Vietnam, and was later chief surgeon at the 71st Evacuation Hospital in Pleiku.

During the Battle of Dak To in 1967, more than 1,000 casualties arrived at the hospital during the 19-day battle; 145 in one afternoon alone. By battle’s end 285 Americans had been killed in action.

Robert J. Birrane Sr., a decorated Vietnam War veteran who later rose to become a senior Coast Guard officer, died May 30 of throat cancer at his daughter-in-law's Parkville home. He was 73.

The medical staff wore flak vests and helmets in the operating room, he told The Jefferson Herald. “There were some scary times believe me,” he said. “We lost a few doctors.”

In the interview, he also recalled that one day a wounded South Vietnamese solder arrived at the hospital with an entry wound. An X-ray revealed an unexploded, rocket-propelled grenade lodged in the man’s back.

“It just went in like a huge bullet,” he said in the interview. Dr. Jaques asked for volunteers who “stepped up” while an ordinance team stood by. Forty-five minutes later he successfully removed the RPG, which was then taken outside and detonated.

Dr. Jaques’ decorations included the Soldiers Medal for Bravery, and the Legion of Merit with an Oak Leaf Cluster.

His final assignment in Vietnam was as commander of another M.A.S.H. in Xuan Loc, Vietnam, where he treated 95 casualties in one day, he wrote in his sketch.

After Vietnam, he completed a fellowship at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, studying with Drs. W.O. Mahoney and Robert G. Chambers.

“I saw how this disease affects people where they live — in the face and brain, through their speech and senses, I wanted to help,” he said in a 2010 interview with Greater Oncology Today.

From 1968 to 1977 he was chief of head and neck surgery at Walter Reed and assistant chief general surgeon and consultant to the surgeon general.

Dr. Jaques retired from the Army with the rank of colonel, came to Baltimore and joined the practice of Dr. Chambers, who had trained him at Walter Reed and was an internationally known surgeon at GBMC.

Dr. Chambers died in 1981, and Dr. Jagues continued the practice, adding surgeons Drs. Richard M. Hirata and John R. Saunders. Their practice was the beginning of what eventually became the Milton J. Dance Jr. Head and Neck Center at GBMC.

Dr. Jacques was considered a pioneer in his field. In the early 1970s, the use of preoperative radiation therapy for advanced head and neck cancer patients came to the forefront.

“Adding this modality had benefits, but it also made surgical management of radiation-injured tissues difficult, and increased the risk of carotid artery rupture,” he said in an 2009 GBMC interview. He devised a technique that used muscle tissue to construct a “flap” to cover the exposed carotid artery.

“He was a great surgeon, an innovator and a good teacher,” Dr. Hirata said. “When he started years ago, head and neck surgery was in its infancy, and he’d operate on patients that had been concluded [as] inoperable. He undertook these kinds of things and through careful planning, got reasonably good results.”

Dr. Saunders described Dr. Jaques as a commanding presence who was “not afraid to express his opinions in the operating room when the time was right.”

“He had nicknames for his operating room staff and was always giving nurses hugs. He was a big bear of a man,” Dr. Saunders said. “He was at the top of his specialty.”

Dr. Jaques conducted years of research and wrote 44 published scientific articles in journals and chapters in books. He retired in 1995, and at GBMC’s 50th anniversary in 2015, he was honored among the hospital’s Physician Titans.

When he retired, Dr. Jaques moved to Leisure World in Silver Spring. In his biographical sketch, he wrote: “I now deliver the Leisure World newspaper.”

He was an accomplished woodworker who enjoyed making furniture, said Ms. Kelly, his daughter.

His wife of 68 years died earlier this year.

Funeral services were held June 9 at Oakdale Church in Olney.

In addition to his daughter, Dr. Jaques is survived by a son, David Jaques of Hunt Valley; two other daughters, Kathy Schneider of Olney and Susan Schank of San Antonio, Texas; a sister, Jacqueline Jaques Terpstra of Los Angeles; 11 grandchildren; and 11 great-grandchildren. Another son, Tom Jaques, died in 2016.

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