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The National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Marylandmarker, United Statesmarker, also known as the Bethesda Naval Hospital, is considered the flagship of the United States Navy's system of medical centers. A federal institution, it conducts medical and dental research as well as provides health care for American leaders, including the president and his family.

Early history

In 1938, the United States Congress appropriated funds for the acquisition of land for the construction of a new Naval medical center, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt selected the present site in Bethesda, Maryland, on July 5, 1938.

Ground was broken by John McShain Builders for the Naval Medical Center on June 29, 1939 by Rear Admiral Percival S. Rossiter, MC, USN, (Ret.). President Roosevelt laid the cornerstone of the Tower on Armistice Day, November 11, 1940.

The original Medical Center was composed of the Naval Hospital, designed to hold 1,200 beds, and the Naval Medical School, the Naval Dental School (now the National Naval Dental Center) and the Naval Medical Research Institute. In 1945, at the end of World War II, temporary buildings were added to accommodate up to 2,464 wounded American Sailors and Marines.

On May 22, 1949, Secretary of Defense James V. Forrestal allegedly committed suicide here by jumping from a sixteenth floor window. His body was found on the third floor roof. Forrestal was staying as a patient at the time, suffering from exhaustion and depression.

Kennedy assassination

In November 1963, the autopsy of U.S. President John F. Kennedy was performed at Bethesda. On November 22, 1963, President Kennedy was shot and killed while riding in a motorcade in Dallas, Texasmarker with his wife, Jacqueline, Texas Governor John Connally, and his wife, Nellie. The wounded president was taken to Parkland Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. The Parkland doctors and local coroner insisted that they perform the autopsy, since he had been murdered in Dallas Countymarker. However, with concern for the security of the new president, Lyndon B. Johnson, the Secret Service demanded that the assassinated president's body would be taken to Washington, D.C.marker immediately aboard Air Force One. This decision was made to overrule Texas law. An autopsy was performed at Bethesda Naval Hospital during the evening of November 22, 1963. The manner in which the autopsy was conducted and photographic analysis of it have become the subject of controversy.

U.S. Presidential visits to NNMC

When NNMC was dedicated in 1942, its original intention was to provide medical care to military personnel only. But since Franklin D. Roosevelt had paralysis of his lower extremeties, the medical center immediately offered to provide the president with any medicine or treatment necessary to keep him physically fit for the presidency. With that, an official White House doctor was appointed by the president to sort out medical issues with him. Since FDR, most presidents have used a military hospital close to Washington, D.C. (either Bethesda or Walter Reed AMC) as the primary facility for them and their immediate family to receive medical care. The president pays for any of his medical expenses personally. It is important to note that six presidents since FDR at one time served in the U.S. Navy — a possible reason to choose Bethesda over Walter Reed.

Franklin D. Roosevelt: Selected the site of the hospital, laid the cornerstone, and made formal dedication remarks at the hospitals opening on November 11, 1940.

John F. Kennedy: In all likelihood, Kennedy probably visited the hospital at sometime during his presidency (1961–1963). It is clear, however, that Bethesda was instrumental in providing drugs and other kinds of medicine to hide the president's Addison's disease and other medical issues (these were usually administered to him at the White Housemarker). Kennedy's doctor, a Navy Admiral, worked closely with the hospital during his time in office. Kennedy's autopsy on November 22, 1963, is one of the most well known events that has occurred at Bethesda. The results concluded that the president had been shot twice from a point behind and slightly above him.

Ronald Reagan: On July 13, 1985, Reagan underwent surgery to remove polyps from his colon. He sent a letter transferring power to then vice president George H. W. Bush, deliberately invoking the Acting President clause of the 25th Amendment, and on January 5, 1987, Reagan underwent surgery for prostate cancer which caused further worries about his health. At this time, the President was 76 years old.

First Lady Nancy Reagan: On October 17, 1987, Mrs. Reagan underwent a mastectomy due to a recent diagnosis stating she had breast cancer.


In August 1960, a $5.6 million expansion project was initiated and consisted of two five-story wings attached to the main building's east side. Completed in the summer of 1963, Buildings 7 and 8 provided space for 258 beds and replaced the World War II temporary ward buildings.

In January 1973, the mission of the Naval Medical Center was modified to include the provision: "to provide coordinated dispensary health care services as an integral element of the Naval Regional Health Care System, including shore activities, as may be assigned." This change established the National Naval Medical Center Region and placed all naval health care facilities within the Naval District Washington under the authority of the commanding officer of the Medical Center.

The new inpatient buildings and the Naval Medical Center were consolidated into one command on September 1, 1973 to form National Naval Medical Center. In 1975, an extensive renovation began which included the construction of two new buildings: Building 9, a three-story outpatient structure, and Building 10, a seven-story, 500 bed inpatient facility, with a combined area of more than 880,000 square feet (82,000 m²).

In 1979, the remaining temporary buildings were replaced with a multi-level staff-parking garage. This addition made National Naval Medical Center one of the largest medical facilities in the country. The original Naval Medical Center tower has since been listed on the National Register of Historic Places by the U.S. Department of the Interiormarker.

Base realignment and closure, 2005

On August 25, 2005, the Base Realignment and Closure Committee recommended that the Walter Reed Army Medical Centermarker (WRAMC) be closed, and that its operations be merged with the NNMC to create the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC), a modernized joint-forces central medical facility created by expanding the current Bethesda Naval Hospital. The new facility is to be operational by September 2011.


In addition to the NNMC hospital complex, the installation hosts a number of other related activities and organizations.


  • Current Commander: Matthew L. Nathan, Rear Admiral, Medical Corps, U. S. Navy, National Naval Medical Center; Commander, Navy Medicine National Capital Area

  • Current Deputy Commander: Daniel J. Zinder, MD, Captain, Medical Corps, U. S. Navy, National Naval Medical Center

  • Current Deputy Commander (Integration): Leon E. Moores, MD, Colonel, Medical Corps, U. S. Army, National Naval Medical Center

  • Current Command Master Chief: Wendy L. Fischer, CMDCM(FMF), U. S. Navy, National Naval Medical Center


See also

External links

Source document: As a non-copyrighted publication of the Federal Government of the United States, this material is in the Public Domain.

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