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DeWitt Army Hospital Celebrates 50 Years

Time capsule to be placed at site of new DeWitt Hospital.

June 1957 was a time of relative quiet and peace for the United States and its citizens. The Korean Conflict had ended and Vietnam was not on anybody's radar. Eisenhower was President and there was more interest in creating the Interstate Highway network than in international policy initiatives.

But, almost as an omen of the future, a new medical facility was dedicated on June 26, 1957 at the then home of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, known as Fort Belvoir. That new facility was named in honor of Brigadier General Wallace DeWitt, MC, USA.

Last Thursday DeWitt Army Community Hospital celebrated its 50th Anniversary. By 2011, as an element of the Base Realignment and Closure Report (BRAC) of 2005, it is scheduled to be replaced by a 21st century, multi-building structure with all the latest medical technology.

"DeWitt has supported veterans and their families from the Korean and Vietnam wars, Desert Storm and the Iraq/Afghanistan wars. Although it was designed to administer care to 50,000 patients it has served more than 156,000 active duty and retired military personnel and their loved ones residing in Northern Virginia," said Staff Sgt. Jon Smith, in commencing the celebration as the event's master of ceremonies.

JUST FOUR YEARS AGO, DeWitt was scheduled to be reduced to no more than an out-patient clinic with very few beds for inpatient care. Most of the in-patient care was scheduled for Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C. Then came BRAC.

"Those who thought they would replace you will now be calling for jobs," Brig. Gen. Stephen L. Jones, keynote speaker for the event, told the assembled crowd gathered on Jones Field immediately in front of the main entrance to the hospital.

"Quality of care is not determined by bricks and mortar but the professionalism of the staff. We need to transform Army medical to a unit prepared to deal with troops at war. The new DeWitt will make a major contribution to that effort," Jones said.

That multi-structure facility will be located near where the present hospital stands. It will encompass the latest 21st century technology and treatment methodologies

Once the Commander of DeWitt, Jones recalled that when the present hospital opened in 1957 it was considered a state-of-the-art facility with a $1.3 million budget. Jones now serves as Assistant Surgeon General for Force Protection, Office of the Surgeon General, U.S. Army.

IN ADDITION to all the other medical care administered over the past five decades, DeWitt has overseen the birth of nearly 64,000 babies. "In fact, this past week we have been extremely busy in the maternity area," said Col. Kenneth G. Canestrini, commander, DeWitt Heath Care Network.

The first of those 65,000 births, in attendance at the anniversary celebration, received special recognition by Col. Canestrini. Patricia Ewers, RN, born at DeWitt in 1957 now serves as management coordinator of the Mother/Baby Unit at Inova Fairfax Hospital. A resident of Fairfax Station, her father served 26 years in the U.S. Army. Her son is now in the U.S. Air Force.

Also honored during the ceremonies were three nurses who have amassed more than 110 years of service at DeWitt. Alice Wright and Martha Coffey each have served 35 years while Maxine Heyer has logged in more than 40 years at the hospital. They were presented with plaques recognizing their years of service.

Presently, DeWitt Health Care Network features four family centers located at Belvoir, Fort Meyer, Fairfax and Woodbridge. Together they provide diverse specialty care, and ancillary services as well as medical education and training. In 1995, the Network became part of the Walter Reed Health Care System, and is responsible for the third largest enrolled beneficiary population in the Army Medical Department.

In recognition of its long history, and to preserve that history, the ceremony featured the creation of a time capsule that will be buried at the site of the new DeWitt Hospital and opened in 2057. Into the capsule, among other things, were placed the uniforms of Army nurses as worn in the each of the five decades of the hospital's existence. These were accompanied by the construction plans for the new DeWitt Hospital and the official hospital flag.