Trump’s Treatment at Walter Reed Continues Historic Tradition of Caring for U.S. Presidents


When President Donald Trump was transported from the White House to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Friday to be treated for the coronavirus, it continued a tradition of caring for U.S. presidents and the military that began when it opened its doors in the last century.

Connecting Vets reported on Trump and gave a quick history and evolution of the medical center, including it first being located in the District of Columbia:

Walter Reed General Hospital opened its doors on May 1, 1909. World War I saw the hospital’s capacity grow from 80 patient beds to 2,500 in a matter of months. Through World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, the facility treated hundreds of thousands of injured American soldiers. The facility, originally built in Washington, D.C., moved out of the city and merged with the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda in 2011. It was then rechristened the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

Today, Walter Reed’s 7,100 staff members provide medical services in over 100 clinics and specialties. Walter Reed medical staff also deploy with service members around the globe. In 2003, more than 1,000 of Walter Reed’s medical staff members deployed on the USNS COMFORT serving in the Persian Gulf during OIF/OEF. They performed more than 500 surgical procedures in less than four weeks. Since then, NNMC has treated 1,539 service members, contract civilians and media personnel wounded in Operations Iraqi Freedom-Enduring Freedom.

Over the years, Walter Reed has served and cared for every president of the United States, members of Congress and the Supreme Court, and other leaders. In 1977, the original Naval Medical Center tower was designated a historical landmark and entered into the Registry of Historic Places by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Important Patients

Presidents and vice presidents, however, are not put into the same rooms as other patients. They are placed in the Medical Evaluation and Treatment Unit, a private suite that is outfitted to allow them to continue their officials duties in a secure location, according to Connecting Vets.

But the history of what led up to today’s center is even richer, according to the center’s website:

During the nineteenth century, the area that currently encompasses the Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC) was rural and isolated from the District of Columbia (DC). To the south of the site was a Civil War fort named Fort Stevens. On July 11, 1864, Confederate troops led by General Jubal Early attempted to enter the city, but were turned back by Union troops on what later became the WRAMC site. In the 1880s, 131 acres of land between Seventh Street and Rock Creek was purchased by J. D. Cameron, which included the 110.1 acres WRAMC occupies today.

In 1905, at the time the land was purchased for the Army hospital, the area contained a mixture of woodlands, farmland and summer estates. At that time, a farmhouse and outbuildings, located near Cameron’s Creek, were probably owned by Thomas Carberry. Along the western border were woodlands, and west of Cameron’s Creek was farmland.

Lieutenant Colonel William Cline Borden, also a surgeon, hoped for better facilities and was spurred on by the death of his friend Walter Reed, a renowned doctor and scientist who proved that yellow fever was carried by mosquitoes, who died in 1902 following an emergency appendectomy. Borden lobbied both Congress and the Army Medical Department for an Army medical center containing a hospital, medical school, museum and library. His grand plan took on the moniker “Borden’s Dream.” In 1903 he commissioned local architects Marsh and Peter to produce a watercolor rendering and sketch plans for a medical campus. The plans featured the main hospital administration building set on a curving main drive, with groups of hospital wards, staff housing and a chapel, arranged in a nearly symmetrical pattern around an ample amount of open green space. The curving drive linked the most significant buildings on the site.

Vision Comes to Life

In 1905, Congress appropriated $100,000 for the purchase of 42.97 acres of land in northern District of Columbia. In 1906, $200,000 was appropriated for the construction of a new hospital and the land was designated a military reservation to be known as the “Walter Reed United States Army General Hospital,” named for Borden’s friend Walter Reed.

When it opened in 1909 it had only 75 beds, an operating room, and a kitchen. By 1917, thousands of World War I veterans were being treated at the facility.

The Army School of Nursing opened there in 1918 and its first graduating class had 400 students.

The medical campus for America’s leaders and warriors continued to expand, but it served civilians during a influenza pandemic in 1918-19 that killed 50 million people worldwide and 675,000 Americans.

During World War II, 18,000 service members were admitted there in just 1943 alone, according to Walter Reed’s website.

Other U.S. presidents to be treated there include Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.

The Man Behind the Name

And the man whose name graces the national institution also had an interesting history. Walter Reed was born in Virginia in 1851 and died in 1902, seven years before his namesake opened its doors.

Reed was a U.S. Army pathologist and bacteriologist who led the experiments that proved that yellow fever is transmitted by the bite of a mosquito, according to his Britannica biography:

Reed was the youngest of five children of Lemuel Sutton Reed, a Methodist minister, and his first wife, Pharaba White. In 1866 the family moved to Charlottesville, where Walter intended to study classics at the University of Virginia. After a period at the university he transferred to the medical faculty, completed his medical course in nine months, and in the summer of 1869, at the age of 17, was graduated as a doctor of medicine. To obtain further clinical experience, he matriculated as a medical student at Bellevue Medical College, New York, and a year later took a second medical degree there. He held several hospital posts as an intern and was a district physician in New York. He decided against general practice, however, and for security chose a military career. In February 1875 he passed the examination for the Army Medical Corps and was commissioned a first lieutenant.

After marrying Emilie Lawrence in April 1876, Reed was transferred to Fort Lowell in Arizona, where his wife soon joined him. During the next 18 years—changing stations almost every year—Reed was on garrison duty, often at frontier stations. His letters provide vivid pictures of the rigours of frontier life. In 1889 he was appointed attending surgeon and examiner of recruits at Baltimore. He had permission to work at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, where he took courses in pathology and bacteriology. 

In 1893 Reed was assigned to the posts of curator of the Army Medical Museum in Washington and of professor of bacteriology and clinical microscopy at the newly established Army Medical School. During the Spanish-American War of 1898 he was appointed chairman of a committee to investigate the spread of typhoid fever in military camps. Its report, not published until 1904, revealed new facts regarding this disease. On the completion of the committee’s work in 1899, he returned to his duties in Washington. Almost immediately he became involved in the problem of yellow fever. The result was a brilliant investigation in epidemiology.

After returning to Washington in February 1901, Reed died following an operation for appendicitis the next year.

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