The passing of Major Walter Reed’s sword marked the end of an era for the United States Army Walter Reed Army Hospital. The sword was passed to the United State Navy. Services and patients will shift to the United States Naval Hospital in Bethesda. The hospital in Bethesda will be called the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, and it’s because of that new relationship that Reed’s sword was handed over during the ceremony from Army Major General Carla Hawley-Bowland to Navy Rear Admiral Matthew Nathan.
Major Walter Reed was an Army physician whose research in 1900 proved yellow fever was transmitted by mosquitoes. Reed’s findings lead to several major medical breakthroughs in epidemiology and bio-medicine.. It also allowed for the completion of the Panama Canal, after construction had been halted due to the outbreak of yellow fever.
Wounded troops have been treated in the hospital facilities at Walter Reed since it opened its doors in 1909 with 80 beds. It currently serves approximately 770,000 outpatients. Many lives were saved and many medical innovations, most recently in the field of prosthetics, are part of the history of this aging facility. Unfortunately, in 2007, a scandal that uncovered the substandard living conditions that existed on the hospital grounds tarnished the reputation of the Walter Reed facilities. The scandal did lead to many improvements but no mention of the scandal or the improvements was mentioned at Wednesday’s ceremonies.
There was much fanfare as paratroopers jumped out of a plane and flags that had flown unfurled on the hospital grounds representing many units there were now cased in black. The Army band played too.
Many staff – both current and former – joined with patients and family members gathered to say goodby to the Army’s flagship hospital. Many of the patients were wounded troops from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. And many of the staff, patients and families were from Baltimore City and County as well as surrounding locations who had called Walter Reed home at some point.
Sgt. Jake Johnson (Ret’d) said, “This place saved my life and taught me how to walk again. Without them, me and my family would have given up hope.” Johnson now works for a security firm designing plans for appropriate placement of security systems within major industrial buildings. His Army training has come in handy, he admits. His lost limbs have not hindered, and the new prostheses have allowed him to regain his ability to support his family in Reisterstown. Johnson’s wife also admits that, “we are saddened to see Reed close, but are also glad that the Naval hospital in Bethesda will be able to provide continuous support to Jake and his fellow comrades who have served their country in the Middle East.”
Nurse Nancy, 88 years young, said, “I worked here in a time when protocol was formal but no one ever called me by my last name. The wounded soldiers returning from World War II were happy to see a young pretty face. The troops returning from Vietnam were just happy to return alive and didn’t seem to notice my wrinkles! After I retired, I could drive down here from Arbutus to visit the wounded returning from Desert Storm. I’m glad my family could bring me here today to see the end of an era.”
It is expected that newly returning wounded troops will report directly to the facilities in Bethesda.