Madigan General Hospital (Fort Lewis)

  • By Duane Colt Denfeld, Ph.D.
  • Posted 7/21/2012
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 10148

In February 1944 a semi-permanent Army General Hospital opened at Fort Lewis in Pierce County. The hospital cared for wounded and injured from World War II battlefields. By 1945 it was expanded to also serve as a convalescence center. With the convalescence services the expanded hospital became Madigan Hospital Center. Combined with four existing Fort Lewis hospitals it could accommodate more than 4,000 beds. Madigan Hospital remained in use following World War II and continued functioning in its semi-permanent brick facility until a new Madigan Army Medical Center opened in 1992.

Semi-permanent Hospitals

In 1941 and 1942 the U.S. Army Surgeon General reviewed the army's on-going hospital construction program and raised concerns about the safety and functional quality of recently completed temporary hospitals. Additionally, the Veterans Administration complained that the temporary hospitals would not serve well for postwar veteran's medical care. A more permanent construction type was desired. Also lobbying for more permanent buildings were the clay tile and brick business associations. Their lobbying efforts received more attention as the military encountered a lumber shortage. A semi-permanent hospital design satisfied these various interests. Architects drew up designs for what was called the Type A plan. The Type A hospital layout had one-story brick and clay tile buildings connected by a mile and one-half of corridors. A typical Type A would have 60 to 70 buildings, including one-story wards; a post exchange, cafeteria, and officers mess hall; and about six two-story buildings at the head of the complex housing nurses, doctors, and an administration building.

Fort Lewis, the permanent army base located in Pierce County south of Tacoma, became one of twelve locations getting a Type A hospital. Construction was launched on July 29, 1943, and the hospital opened in February 1944. This general hospital included a new 68-building complex plus four existing Fort Lewis hospital complexes. The combined total was 250 buildings that could accommodate 4,300 beds.

Madigan General Hospital

On September 22, 1944, the Type A hospital and the four Fort Lewis hospitals were together named Madigan General Hospital. The name honored Colonel Patrick S. Madigan (1887-1944) who had died of a heart attack the previous May. Madigan joined the Medical Corps in 1917 and served in France during World War I. In 1921 he became a Ward Surgeon in the neuropsychiatric section at Walter Reed General Hospital in Washington, D.C. This began his specialization in neuropsychiatry. In 1941 Colonel Madigan was appointed Chief of the Neuropsychiatric Division, Surgeon General's Office. While chief he directed the expansion of psychiatric services in army hospitals. His tenure dramatically reshaped army psychiatry and recognition of the need for psychiatric care. Madigan became known as the father of army neuropsychiatry.

The official Madigan General Hospital dedication ceremony took place on August 20, 1945. More than 500 people attended the ceremony, including Eileen Madigan (1892-1961), the colonel's widow, and their two sons. Eileen Madigan presented a portrait of Colonel Madigan that today hangs in the Madigan Army Medical Center lobby. Among the distinguished guests was Major General Norman T. Kirk (1888-1960), Surgeon General of the Army, who spoke of Colonel Madigan's substantial role in neuropsychiatry and his overall medical contribution. Kirk noted that Madigan, as chief of the Neuropsychiatric Division, had instituted a program to have psychiatrists in each general hospital. Soldiers with "battle fatigue" or "shell shock" (today's Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) begin to receive treatment.

Caring for World War II Wounded and Sick

Soon after opening, Madigan General Hospital received patients from Pacific battlefields. They arrived on planes flown into McChord Field and special trains stopping at the Fort Lewis train station. The hospital evaluated patients, with some receiving care at Madigan and others sent to other facilities. Patients might go to hospitals near their homes or to specialized care facilities.

By January 1, 1945, one thousand patients a day arrived at army stateside hospitals with an average five month stay. The demand on army nursing could not be met. To ease this critical situation, a Women's Army Corps technical services program was established. In this program Women's Army Corps personnel received training in X-ray, occupational therapy, surgical aids, optical, and dental technical skills. The goal was to have 100 Women's Army Corps technicians for every 1,000 beds, a goal not realized. Madigan obtained a detachment of 250 Women's Army Corps technical personnel in June 1945.

During 1945 the hospital was expanded, with additional wards increasing the bed count by 812 beds. A separate Convalescent Hospital was created on the Fort Lewis main post. With this expansion the hospital could care for 7,000 patients and was reclassified as Madigan Hospital Center. The expansion was made necessary by the large number of former prisoners of war arriving and requiring special attention. They suffered from malnutrition and diseases such as beriberi. The former prisoners had to gain weight as they recovered from diseases. Warrant Officer Leroy Liljegreen (1916-1997) of Seattle was a typical example. He arrived weighing 127 pounds, down from 195 pounds when he entered a Japanese POW camp. His care at Madigan included weight gain as the hospital treated his diseases. While on pass to visit his sister Mary Eleanor Liljegreen (1925-1950), a nurse at Providence Hospital, he met Miriam Smith (1921-2012), another nurse, and after a brief romance they married. Like her brother, Mary Liljegreen joined the armed forces, becoming a navy nurse after the war. In 1950 Lieutenant junior grade Liljegreen served at the Bremerton Naval Hospital and was transferred to the Pacific. She was one of 26 people killed in a September 1950 plane crash at Kwajalein Island in the Marshall Islands. Following his recovery, Leroy Liljegreen returned to active duty and an army career.

A number of high officials came to Madigan to improve patient morale. General of the Army (and future president) Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969) visited twice. On February 20, 1946, General Eisenhower toured the wards and spoke with patients. Among his bedside stops was a visit with Private First Class Norman E. Amundson (b. 1925), from Seattle and a Queen Anne High School graduate. General Eisenhower encouraged Amundson to keep up his journalism interests.

Recreation, Fitness, and Entertainment

Madigan Hospital Center received considerable outside entertainment support. This included boat rides, fishing and hunting, skiing, outings, and United Service Organizations (USO) dances and events. The Gray Ladies made regular visits to the hospital providing reading materials and support. During World War II Evelyn Langlie (1903-2000), wife of Washington governor Arthur Langlie (1900-1966), came to Madigan every week as a Gray Lady volunteer. American Red Cross volunteers met the ships and planes bringing patients to the hospital and offered doughnuts, coffee, and milk.

The hospital also found talent within for entertainment. Sergeant Robert R. "Bob" Roberts Jr. (1921-2003), a talented piano player and singer from Fairfax in Pierce County, was made a performer. A graduate of Stadium High School, he attended Whitman College and was within a few months of graduation when he joined the army in 1942. Sergeant Roberts served with the Fourth Infantry Division in France, Luxembourg, and Belgium, and was wounded by a high-explosive shell in the Hurtgen forest on November 27, 1944. He was treated at two general hospitals before arriving at Madigan on October 29, 1945. During his nearly two years at Madigan he provided ward entertainment. His dream was to become a radio announcer after release. This he realized by working as a newsman and commentator at radio stations in Oregon and Honolulu and then at Seattle's KVI and KIXI. In Seattle he achieved local fame as a controversial conservative talk show host.

Madigan Hospital Center placed a major emphasis on physical fitness as central to recovery. On August 11, 1945, First Lieutenant Ariel Stout (1916-1998), a former University of Washington tennis player and top Northwest amateur, reported for duty in the physical therapy program. A Women's Army Corps officer, she emphasized sports and fitness to speed up the healing process. Ariel Stout made the army a career and later had duty at Auburn Depot and Fort Lawton, Seattle. While in the army she continued to play tennis and won numerous championships. Lieutenant Colonel Stout retired to Seattle and played ten sets a day.     

In 1946, a gymnasium, swimming pool, sports field, and pitch and putt golf course were constructed on the northwest corner of the hospital grounds. The gymnasium was named Keeler Gym in honor of Colonel Maxwell Keeler (1891-1960), the first Madigan Hospital Center commander. He later reached the rank of brigadier general and on retirement settled in Steilacoom.

A "Voice of Madigan" closed circuit radio station was inaugurated in January 1946. Designated KMGH, it was piped into the wards with bedside listening devices. The station broadcast programming provided by the Armed Forces Radio Service (AFRS). Programs were shipped to the station on 16-inch transcription disks (records), and included top recording artists and special programming. In 1951 the station call letters were changed to KMAH when the facility became Madigan Army Hospital. They reverted to KMGH when the hospital returned to general hospital status in 1957. After the hospital introduced television to all dayrooms, interest in the bedside network declined. KMGH went off the air in about 1970. Forty-one years later, in February 2011, Advanced Technology Construction of Renton, while renovating the Keeler gym, discovered 30 large boxes of the old 16-inch records behind a wall. The mystery of how they got there has not been solved. Through the efforts of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Joint Base Lewis-McChord Cultural Resources Program the recordings were saved and became part of the Armed Forces Network (AFN) historical collection.    

Korean War

During July 1948 beds were set aside for veterans. This move was part of a transition to a regional hospital serving active duty service members, dependents, veterans, and retirees. By this time the World War II wounded had left and the hospital shifted to care of the larger postwar Fort Lewis population and regional medical cases. With this expansion a shortage of nurses developed. In September 1948 the first civilian nurses were hired to fill the gap. In 1949 a modernization program completed the transition to a hospital for the entire military community.

The peacetime hospital had to change again with the Korean War. Wounded from this war arrived on aircraft landing at McChord Field and on ships. A group of eleven state wounded arrived on October 10, 1950, including Master Sergeant Wilburn K. Ross (b. 1922) of DuPont, who held the Medal of Honor for heroism in World War II. In 1951 Madigan became the last Type A Army hospital still in active military use. With future modernizations it would continue in operation for a number of years.

During the Korean War famous entertainers visited the hospital to cheer up patients. Actress Rita Hayward (1918-1987), who had visited military hospitals in World War II, repeated her effort. She visited Madigan on October 17, 1951. The great jazz trumpeter and singer Louis Armstrong (1901-1971) appeared there in February 1952.

Madigan Army Medical Center

In the 1950s new barracks were built and in 1956 a theater was added next to the gym and indoor swimming pool. Whenever a major emergency occurred Madigan responded. On May 24, 1961, a U.S. Air Force C-124A Globemaster crashed at Fort Lewis. The four survivors with serious injuries were brought to Madigan.

By 1969 the Madigan complex had grown to 88 buildings. In 1974 the Health Services Command was established and became responsible for what was then Madigan Army Medical Center. During the 1980s the center was modernized. By 1985 it was treating one million outpatients annually with 750 beds occupied daily.

In 1992 a new Madigan Army Medical Center opened. It was an eight-story medical center and hospital. The old hospital became excess and 42 buildings were demolished in 1994. A sufficient portion of the hospital survived to recall its significant medical role. The surviving complex was determined eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. Before demolition, the 42 buildings were recorded in the Historic American Building Survey.


Sources: Clarence McKittrick Smith, United States Army in World War II, The Technical Services, The Medical Department: Hospitalization and Evacuation, Zone of Interior (Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History United States Army, 1989); Anne Bosanko Green, One Woman's War: Letters Home from the Women's Army Corps, 1944-1946, (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1989); "Lewis Hospital Honors Madigan," The Seattle Daily Times, October 21, 1944, p. 15; "Sergeant Wounded," Ibid., December 12, 1944, p. 10; "Reception at Madigan Club for Officers," Ibid., August 22, 1945, p.8;  "Ex-Prisoner of Japan Weds Nurse after Brief Romance," Ibid., February 4, 1946, p. 3; "Swell Guy, Say Soldiers of Ike," Ibid., February 20, 1946, p. 10; "Medical Terms Baffle 'Ike' on Visit," Ibid., August 16, 1947, p. 4; "State Wounded Reach Madigan," Ibid., October 10, 1950, p.9; "Rita Hayward Arrives On Hospital Tour," Ibid., October 17, 1951, p. 1.
Note: On July 18, 2013, this essay was corrected to clarify the dates and changing call letters of the hospital's bedside radio station.

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