Fayetteville, N.C. — Authorities say the victim of a weekend plane crash in Robeson County was an Army doctor who was acting chief of surgery at the Fayetteville VA Medical Center.
Retired Col. Virgil Thomas Deal Jr., 63, died Sunday when his single-engine Piper PA-28 Cherokee crashed in some woods near Parkton, about 5 miles short of the Fayetteville Regional Airport. He was alone in the aircraft, which had left from Summerville, S.C.
Deal had served as command surgeon of Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa and was commander of the Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
"For him, that guy who fought in World War II was just as important to him as the guys who fought alongside him in Afghanistan, Iraq and wherever he was at," his son-in-law, Hunter Glass, said Tuesday.
Deal had been in private surgical practice in his native Tennessee, but returned to active duty for the first Gulf War, where he earned a Bronze Star.
"When the war broke out in the Gulf, that call to duty – I mean, that clarion call – that's just him. He just jumped right back in, both feet," Glass said.
Deal later served on a classified Special Operations medical contingency force to support counter-terrorism efforts. He commanded hospitals in the U.S. and in the field, and served in a variety of positions at Fort Bragg and with the 7th Special Forces Group.
“He just never carried himself ever as anybody who was more important – I don’t think he ever thought of himself as more important than the next guy to him,” Glass said. "(He was an) all-American Joe. I mean America was America, (and) he truly epitomized everything there was."
He said his father-in-law was returning from visiting Special Operations friends in Tampa, Fla., when he died.
"We don't know just what happened, but it appears to be engine failure of some sort. Something was going on with the engine," Glass said.
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash.