There was a pretty big movement of U.S. troops this weekend, and here’s betting you didn’t even hear about it. Some 200 wounded military personnel traveled five miles from the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., to Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland. That’s because, on September 15, after 102 years in operation, historic Walter Reed Army hospital, after a long and mostly glorious life, is in its final days. That day, Bethesda Naval Hospital – officially known as the National Naval Medical Center – will become the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. It’s all because of the Pentagon’s decades-long process to slim down by consolidating operations and closing unneeded facilities. Six years after the government announced Walter Reed would be shuttered, it will finally happen in the middle of next month.
Of course, with two wars underway, Walter Reed has been busy over the past decade. It has hit both highs – like the excellent care it provides amputees who have lost their limbs in Afghanistan and Iraq – and lows – the 2007 Washington Post series that highlighted less-than-wholesome living conditions for Walter Reed outpatients. And it’s special at TIME for another reason.
The folks there provided exemplary care for correspondent Mike Weisskopf, who lost his right hand on Dec. 10, 2003, in Baghdad, when he tossed a hand grenade that had landed in the back of his Humvee, no doubt saving his life and that of several soldiers. He spent a lot of time in Walter Reed’s Ward 57 recovering, and now has a successful real-estate business in the nation’s capital.
Originally built in 1909 for 80 patients, the single-roofed, Georgian hospital grew to 72 buildings spread across 113 acres, hemmed in by residential neighborhoods in the northern-most corner of the capital. The State Department will take over some of the real estate, with the local District of Columbia government getting the rest. The move will cost an estimated $2 billion, including expanding Bethesda and building a new Army community hospital at Fort Belvoir, Va., south of the capital.
“It will be sad to leave the Walter Reed campus,” Dr. John Chiles, a retired Army colonel who still works at Walter Reed as a civilian, wrote in Sunday’s Washington Post. “The old hospital in Building One received casualties from every conflict from World War I to Vietnam and has the refurbished suite of rooms where Gen. John Pershing and President Dwight D. Eisenhower spent their last days. From simple doughboys to heads of state, every patient got the best of care in the world’s preeminent military hospital. In 1977, Building Two became the new hospital and the site of the current valiant effort to treat the most severely injured casualties from Iraq and Afghanistan.”
As a matter of fact, this coming Sunday the final 100 Walter Reed patients will be loaded into ambulances and transferred to Bethesda. A short time later, the flag will be lowered, for the final time, at Walter Reed.