Saturday, April 21, 2007

Walter Reed

For those of us in the DC area (or anyone who actually tunes into the evening news), the scandal of Walter Reed hospital will linger for a good long time. I live just north of Bethesda Naval Medical by two miles. The Sasquatch lives probably a quarter mile from its giant post-9/11 reinforced gates. Soon, the original Walter Reed facilities in DC will be closed, and Bethesda Naval Medical will be renamed "Walter Reed." I've been to the old Walter Reed grounds a handful of times in the company of the Sasquatch to visit the U.S. Army Medical Museum. The full name of the museum is actually the "National Museum of Health and Medicine of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology at Walter Reed Army Medical Center." U.S. Army Medical Museum is easier to spit out, thanks.

The museum has all sorts of odd, funky, and sometimes historically significant things on display, including the bullet that killed Lincoln and the skeletal leg of Daniel Edgar Sickles, Civil War general and the first guy in the United States to get off a murder charge on an insanity defense. Go figure. (Lincoln = historically significant. Sickles leg = odd and funky. Historically significant if you're a criminal defense attorney.)

When you visit the museum, you have to actually enter the Walter Reed base, past armed soldiers at the gate, and past, often, the wounded, wheeling or limping around the grounds. It's a rather direct reminder of just what kind of Hell the White House has unleashed on the world. I always want to smile or wave at the wounded - just some sort of contact. A quiet way of saying, "I'm so, so very sorry that you have to be here." The whole place looks utterly benign - a set of brick buildings on a quiet, tree-lined street, giving the impression of a college campus.

Except for what we know about the treatment of the wounded there. There's such an ugliness hidden behind the ivy-covered walls.

Back in 2005, Michael Penn released his 5th cd, Mr. Hollywood Jr. 1947 (and don't forget: April is Michael Penn Appreciation Month.) The first single off that recording is titled "Walter Reed." It's a great track, vastly under-appreciated, but it was used, to very nice effect, in an episode of "House." I think the song in my head just about every morning on my way to work as I pass the enormous campus that will become the new Walter Reed - a place that is already overflowing with casualties from Iraq. (Of course, the only time you see the press outside the gates there is when a network news correspondent is injured and getting treatment there, which is more than a little disgraceful.) And I think about the servicemembers getting sub-sufficient care at the old Walter Reed. As Michael Penn sings in his song, "Make no mistake, I'm mad."

And I can almost hear the soldiers sing back the next line, "'Cause every good thing I've had, abandoned me."

Here's the video for Walter Reed, which was posted to YouTube by its director, Thomas Horne:

Hey, MP - if you want to see Walter Reed (and the bullet that killed Lincoln) while you're in DC, drop a line. You have a chauffeur.

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