ONCE UPON A TIME when he was an important figure in Congress, F. Edward Herbert has an expensive dream. How wonderful it would be, he thought, if America could have a special military medical school - a "West Point for Doctors," as he fondly called it. For 25 years, Mr. Herbert introduced bills to create such a college, only to have them defeated by all sorts of colleagues who didn't think the facility was the least bit necessary. Then one day, when Mr. Herbert became big, important chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, he managed to win the support of the then-Secretary of Defense, Melvin Laird, and eventually a majority of Congress.
Thus was born another Expensive-Project-American-Taxpayers-Don't-Need. It is called the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, and it is located on a large campus-like site near Bethesda Naval Medical Center. In July 1975, President Ford broke ground for the facility, and last November it opened the first of its doors to 32 students.
But now come the fiscal surgeons of the Carter administration, who have decided that the school's life supports should be removed. The Defense Department has announced that it will close the facility; and the present chairman of the committee Mr. Hebert headed, Rep. Melvin Price (D-Ill.), though a supporter of the school, believes the House won't really challenge the decision.
So perhaps just this once a boondoggle under construction won't just go ahead on the argument that it's too late now to blow the whistle. Construction of this facility was to have cost anywhere from $100 million to twice that - plus countless millions annually to operate as future classes grew. Moreover, the General Accounting Office and the Defense Manpower Commission have estimated in the past that it would cost between $150,000 and $200,000 to train each graduate - some 5 or 6 times the amount it would take through scholarships in civilian schools.
As for what's already been built at Bethesda, there's one building about 75 per cent complete and another about 20 per cent done. Surely the government can make legitimate use of these structures. The Washington Technical Institute, for one, is apparently interested in operating the facility for some sort of medical training program. In any event, the killing of the "West Point for Doctors" is neither a blow to higher education nor an exercise in unilateral disarmament that will weaken this nation's defenses. It's a welcome halt to a pointless waste of land and money.