Our Early History – The Soldiers Memorial Hospital - Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System
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Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System

 

Our Early History – The Soldiers Memorial Hospital

The Soldiers Memorial Hospital

A picture of The Soldiers Memorial Hospital in the 1920s.

By Nathan Schaeffer
Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Following World War I, many states chose to give Veterans a bonus for their service in World War I.  Instead of a bonus, the state of Oklahoma preferred to give its Veterans a more lasting gift – free medical care.

In 1922, Oklahoma began construction of a 25-bed hospital for Veterans in the city of Muskogee.  View a photo of The Soldiers Memorial Hospital from the 1920s. 

Officials appointed Dr. Hugh Scott as the first director of the $500,000 hospital and chose Flag Day, June 14, 1923, to officially open the new facility.

At 2:30 p.m. on June 14, hospital staff, Oklahoma political representatives, dignitaries and an estimated crowd of 2,000 people gathered at the crest of Honor Heights Park in Muskogee to witness the opening ceremony of The Soldiers Memorial Hospital, which today is the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center.

However, severe lightning and a looming thunderstorm threatened to spoil the grand occasion.  A reporter from the Muskogee Weekly Phoenix compared the lightning and thunder to the cannons on the Western Front during World War I and wrote that it was a “warlike scene.”

Shortly after the opening invocation by Reverend A. E. Moody, officials moved the ceremony inside the hospital and Frank Lee, U.S. District Attorney for the Eastern District of Oklahoma and Muskogee resident, delivered the welcome address.

“As a proud host, Muskogee extends her welcome to all,” said Lee in a speech to the crowd.  “Honor Heights now forms the pedestal of the Soldiers Memorial Hospital whose doors stand open and remain for all time to welcome sick and disabled Veterans.  It stands the fulfillment of a promise long ago made to bind up the heroes’ wounds and care for those who won the struggle.”

Following Lee’s address, officials resumed the ceremony outdoors after the weather improved.  The crowd listened to remarks from several speakers including Dudley Monk, state commander of the American Legion; R. B. Butts, state commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars; Jennie Stewart, president of the Women’s Auxiliary to the American Legion; and U.S. Senator John W. Harreld.

During his speech to the crowd, Senator Harreld declared that the federal government would attempt to purchase the hospital from Oklahoma.  Several months later on September 28, it was announced that Oklahoma had agreed to sell the hospital to the federal government and the sale became official on March 6, 1925.

In 1930, Congress established the Veterans Administration, the predecessor of the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the hospital was formally known as the Veterans Administration Hospital, Muskogee, Okla.

Other Facts from Our Early History

  • Eugene R. Lewis of Oklahoma City was the first patient admitted to the hospital.
  • During the first year in operation, the hospital treated 1,500 patients.
  • In 1923, Dr. W. P. Fite, Sr. performed the hospital’s first surgery.
  • Earl P. Porter was the hospital’s first pharmacist and he claimed that when the facility opened he could carry all the hospital’s drugs in a single basket.
  • On June 14, 1924, the hospital’s 165 employees celebrated the one-year anniversary of the hospital with a picnic, swimming party and a dance.
  • During Fiscal Year 1925, the operating budget of the hospital was $484, 732.32 and the average per day cost to treat an inpatient was $3.72.
  • A “Spirit of the American Doughboy" statue was dedicated on Sept. 5, 1925, which was erected near the South entrance to the hospital and recognizes the contributions of Native Americans from The Five Civilized Tribes, which are the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Seminole, Cherokee and Creek, who fought in World War I.  Read more about our “Spirit of the American Doughboy" statue.

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