School kids used to learn that, in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War, Walter Reed helped to discover that yellow fever was transmitted by mosquitoes. Many of us have heard of “Walter Reed Hospital” as a place where for many years Presidents and wounded warriors alike have received medical care. What I didn’t realize is that Major Reed died only a year after he left Cuba. His friend Major William C. Borden, head of the Army General Hospital, was so devastated by Reed’s death that he worked for years to raise funds for a new hospital to be named after his friend. Walter Reed General Hospital opened in May 1909 and, as Walter Reed Army Medical Center, celebrated its centennial last year.
Walter Reed Army Medical Center Centennial: A Pictorial History, 1909–2009, one of Library Journal’s 2009 Notable Government Documents, provides both text and photos of this remarkable institution. Of course, the emphasis is on the treatment of armed forces personnel, not Presidents; the latter appear as visitors, not patients, as do Bill Cosby, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Bob Hope (twice) and others. The real focus is on regular GI’s being cared for and undergoing rehabilitation. I was interested to learn that occupational therapy was a part of Walter Reed’s activities from its earliest days. Some of the photos are grim, depicting the struggles of seriously wounded GIs to regain use of their limbs or learn to use prosthetic ones. There are also numerous shots of construction as Walter Reed expanded over the years.
The verdict: A part of military history that all of us should remember, far from the parades and worth thinking about as we approach the Memorial Day weekend.