He joined the Navy at age 16, later receiving a high school diploma through a GED program and attending George Washington University.
After training as a pharmacist's mate, he was transferred in 1940 to the Philippines. While he was serving on the submarine Sealion, the ship was hit by Japanese bombs during an attack on Cavite Naval Yard on Dec. 10, 1941. Cmdr. Lipes suffered minor injuries -- "That's where I got this extra part in my hair" -- and he became the new pharmacist's mate aboard the Seadragon.
Wheeler Lipes was a pharmacist's mate when he did an appendectomy.
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In 1951, Cmdr. Lipes was commissioned an ensign in the Navy's Medical Service Corps. He attended the Naval Justice School in Newport, R.I., and participated in defense work in court-martial proceedings.
His final active-duty assignment, in 1962, was as a finance officer at the naval hospital in Memphis. He did hospital administration work in Tennessee before retiring in 1991 as president of Memorial Medical Center in Corpus Christi, Tex.
His military decorations included the Purple Heart. More recent lobbying by Navy historians led to his receiving the Navy Commendation Medal in February at a ceremony at Camp Lejeune, N.C.
His first wife, Myrtle Peterson Lipes, whom he married in 1939, died in 1997.
Survivors include his wife, Audrey Lipes of New Bern; a stepson who took his surname, Bruce Lipes of Corpus Christi; four grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.
Cmdr. Lipes once flew to Chicago for a meeting of the American Hospital Association. Next to him a man was looking incredulously at a "Ripley's Believe It or Not!" sketch, which showed the submarine appendectomy and the spoons used.
"He looked at me with a strange look on his face," Cmdr. Lipes recalled, "and said, 'Do you believe that?' And I said to him, 'I wouldn't believe a word of it.' "