For 20 years, Walter Reed Army Medical Center has celebrated the memory of Deborah Joel’s father, the first African American combat medic to receive the Medal of Honor. But the honor, it seems, is about to come to an end.
Her father, Lawrence Joel, who served in the Army in the Vietnam War, was presented with the distinction in 1967. And for the past two decades, the Joel Auditorium at Walter Reed has been a testament to his service.
But the hospital is moving in the fall. And when the new Walter Reed National Military Medical Center opens in Bethesda, there will be no more auditorium named in her father’s honor. The Joel head bust and bronze wall plaque kept at the old hospital will be returned to his family.
Deborah Joel said it was shocking for her and her mother to learn that Walter Reed would not re-designate a new space in Bethesda in the name of her father. He received the Medal of Honor for crawling, while wounded, through a hail of machine-gun fire to treat his comrades in Vietnam.
“My father’s name has been there for 20 years – 20 years,” Deborah Joel said. “I thought it would have been very courteous to give an explanation.”
All Joel has received is an e-mailed letter from the Department of the Army’s Northern Regional Medical Command, which stated that “there are no plans to re-designate the Joel Auditorium at the new hospital” but that there “was some discussion of that possibility at the new hospital at Ft. Belvoir,” where other personnel from Walter Reed will be moving.
The letter, signed by U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Carla Hawley-Bowland, stated, “The heroism your father displayed on the battlefield stands as one of the greatest actions of selfless service and sacrifice in the history of the Army Medical Command,” and later added: “You can be truly proud of your father’s distinguished legacy.”
The Joel family says that’s not good enough; Lawrence Joel’s widow, Dorothy, has written a letter to Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) requesting an inquiry into Walter Reed’s decision.
“They don’t have a good reason for removing his name from Walter Reed,” Deborah Joel said.
Officials at Walter Reed did not reply to phone messages and e-mails seeking comment.