Walter Reed hospital has rich presidential history

By Trevor Marshallsea, PA
·2-min read

The Walter Reed hospital, where Donald Trump has been admitted after contracting Covid-19, has a long and rich history when it comes to matters presidential.

Bearing the a full title of the Walter Reed National Military Medical Centre, the facility was founded on a site eight miles north-west of the White House at Bethesda, Maryland, chosen by President Franklin D Roosevelt in 1938.

Ground was broken for the building of the hospital, then known simply as the Naval Medical Centre, two months before the outbreak of the Second World War in Europe.

While originally containing 1,200 beds, its capacity was expanded at the end of the war to accommodate almost 2,500 wounded US sailors and marines. Permanent capacity later grew through through various expansion programmes, including during the Korean and Vietnam wars.

The hospital endured a dark early chapter when James Forrestal, battling depression and having recently been forced to resign as secretary of defence, plunged to his death from a 16th floor window. He is buried in nearby Arlington National Cemetery, which is also the resting place associated with the hospital’s most famous case.

In 1963, when President John F Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, a local coroner insisted his post-mortem examination should be held at the city’s Parkland Memorial Hospital, where he was first taken, since the shooting occurred in Dallas County.

However, the Secret Service intervened, and Kennedy’s body was immediately flown back to Washington for an examination at the Bethesda facility.

The hospital says on its website it has “served and cared for every president of the United States”, as well as members of Congress and the Supreme Court.

Virus Outbreak Trump
A member of the security team watches from a roof before President Donald Trump arrives at Walter Reed National Military Medical Centre (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

Its presidential link came about almost by accident, with officials offering Roosevelt, who was paralysed in his lower extremities, any medicine or treatment required to keep him physically fit for his job after he opened the hospital in 1940.

In 1985, Ronald Reagan became another famous guest, undergoing colon surgery. Two years later, aged 76, he was back for surgery for prostate cancer. His wife Nancy underwent a mastectomy at the hospital later in 1987.

Famed for its main 20-storey tower, which has official designation as a historical landmark, the facility only gained its present name in 2011.

This occurred when the National Naval Medical Centre was merged with the Walter Reed Army Medical Centre, named after a pioneering army medic, Major Walter Reed, best known as the leading researcher to discover yellow fever was transmitted by mosquitoes.