Walter Reed Closes, Legacy Lives On, Commander Says

WASHINGTON, Aug. 27, 2011 — An ambu­lance car­ry­ing the last inpa­tient from Wal­ter Reed Army Med­ical Cen­ter here slow­ly made its way out of the Geor­gia Avenue gate this morn­ing, paus­ing briefly for the crowd of flag-wav­ing troop sup­port­ers and shouts of “Thank you for your ser­vice! We love you!”

One of the last patients leaves Wal­ter Reed Army Med­ical Cen­ter in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., Aug. 27, 2011, for the Nation­al Naval Med­ical Cen­ter in Bethes­da, Md., mark­ing the end of an era before the two flag­ship hos­pi­tal merge.
DOD pho­to by Sebas­t­ian J. Sciot­ti Jr.
Click to enlarge

As the ambu­lance turned north on Geor­gia Avenue toward the Nation­al Naval Med­ical Cen­ter in Bethes­da, Md., the once-bustling Wal­ter Reed hos­pi­tal fell silent. 

This ear­ly morn­ing move of inpa­tients — one to an ambu­lance — marked the end of an era for Wal­ter Reed and its 102 years of Army med­i­cine that has saved hun­dreds of thou­sands of mil­i­tary lives.

Wal­ter Reed and the Nation­al Naval Med­ical Cen­ter are con­sol­i­dat­ing as one med­ical cen­ter as man­dat­ed by the 2005 Base Realign­ment and Clo­sure Act. The Army and Navy com­plex on the grounds of Bethes­da will be renamed the Wal­ter Reed Nation­al Mil­i­tary Med­ical Center.

“It’s been 102 years for Wal­ter Reed, but the lega­cy lives on,” Army Col. Norvell “Van” Coots, Wal­ter Reed com­man­der, told reporters this morn­ing at the hos­pi­tal. “The name lives on, and it’s a new begin­ning for our health care system.”

Ear­li­er expec­ta­tions were to move 150 inpa­tients this week­end, Coots said, but the num­ber was reduced to 50, and grad­u­al­ly became 18 this morn­ing after eight were moved to Bethes­da yes­ter­day. Wal­ter Reed’s staff also was able to dis­charge and relo­cate many oth­er patients who want­ed to be hos­pi­tal­ized clos­er to their homes. With Hur­ri­cane Irene bear­ing down on the East Coast today, the move was made a day ear­li­er than planned.

As the Red Cross flag came down from the front of the hos­pi­tal this after­noon, it sig­naled the final clos­ing of the icon­ic med­ical cen­ter. “The Red Cross flag is the sym­bol of health and heal­ing, and sym­bol­izes the end of phys­i­cal patient care at Wal­ter Reed,” Coots said.

Wal­ter Reed has been the Army’s flag­ship of mil­i­tary med­i­cine since 1909, and cared for sol­diers dur­ing World War I and World War II, the Kore­an con­flict, the Viet­nam War, and the decade-long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A small post, Wal­ter Reed had no room to expand and accom­mo­date more wound­ed war­riors, Coots said in a press con­fer­ence ear­li­er this sum­mer. The med­ical cen­ter strad­dles a cou­ple of neigh­bor­hood blocks between Geor­gia Avenue and 16th Street.

The Wal­ter Reed gar­ri­son and instal­la­tion will remain open until Sept. 15, Coots said. When the U.S. flag comes down that day, he added, the instal­la­tion and the gar­ri­son will close for good.

Some­time after­ward, Wal­ter Reed will become the prop­er­ty of the Dis­trict of Colum­bia gov­ern­ment, and the State Depart­ment is expect­ed to take over the hos­pi­tal build­ing. Look­ing for­ward to a new begin­ning, Coots said today was emo­tion­al as he walked the wards ear­ly this morn­ing, stop­ping in to check on each of the remain­ing 18 patients. “There’s still an ener­gy you can feel in those halls,” he said. “It’s an ener­gy that’s left behind from the hun­dreds of thou­sands of patients we’ve treat­ed in these 102 years, and the tens of thou­sands of staff members.

“We take Wal­ter Reed with us,” Coots added. “And we leave a piece of it here.” 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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