Reed, Walter, MAJ

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Last Rank
Major (Staff)
Last Service Branch
Medical Corps
Last Primary MOS
Last MOS Group
Medical Service Corps (Officer)
Primary Unit
1953-Present, Walter Reed Army Institute Of Research (WRAIR)
Service Years
1875 - 1902

Medical Corps

Major (Staff)

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This Military Service Page was created/owned by SSG Trey W. Franklin to remember Reed, Walter, MAJ.

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Last Address
Not Specified

Date of Passing
Nov 23, 1902
Location of Interment
Arlington National Cemetery - Arlington, Virginia
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Not Specified

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Medical Shoulder Cord Order of Military Medical Merit

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Major Walter Reed, M.D., (September 13, 1851 – November 23, 1902) was a U.S. Army physician who in 1900 led the team which postulated and confirmed the theory that yellow fever is transmitted by mosquitoes, rather than by direct contact. This insight gave impetus to the new fields of epidemiology and biomedicine and most immediately allowed the resumption and completion of work on the Panama Canal (1904–14) by the United States.



Walter Reed
  He gave to man control over that dreadful scourge, yellow fever
  Arlington National Cemetery


Walter Reed was born in Belroi, Virginia and moved to Lebanon, Missouri, an unincorporated community in Laclede County, to Lemuel Sutton Reed (a Methodist minister) and Pharaba White.

After two year-long classes at the University of Virginia, Reed completed the M.D. degree in 1869, at the age of 18. He then enrolled at the New York University's Bellevue Hospital Medical College in Manhattan, New York, where he obtained a second M.D. in 1870. 

He competed for and won a position as assistant physician at Infants' Hospital at Randall's Island. He served his internship at Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn and also worked at the Brooklyn City Hospital. While interning at Kings County he was described as being "sociable and companionable with a special gift for conversation." After further in hospital work at Brooklyn City Hospital with consultant status at Kings County, he was appointed one of the five inspectors on the Brooklyn Board of Health in 1873 at the age of twenty-two. He approached all his duties with enthusiasm and optimism, traits which contributed immeasurably to his success, both social and professional.

He worked for the New York Board of Health until 1875. 

The turmoil of city life excited and stimulated him. He attended concerts at the Hippodrome and the Academy of Music and good lectures on literature and scientific subjects. In 1874, having served on the Boards of Health in Brooklyn and New York, he traveled to North Carolina to visit his father who was living in Murfreesboro. There he met his future wife, Emilie Lawrence, the daughter of a North Carolina planter. His letters to her revealed that he had decided to give up his civilian career and enter the Army as a surgeon. Because he felt the Army offered a good opportunity for travel, and also the financial security he felt he needed to marry his winsome fiancée, he applied and was accepted for an appointment in the Medical Department of the Army. Walter Reed passed the required examinations and was appointed Assistant Surgeon with the rank of first lieutenant on June 26, 1875. He married Emilie (born Emily) Lawrence on April 26, 1876 and took her west with him

So began for the young couple eighteen years of garrison life. After five years at Fort Lowell and Fort Apache, Arizona, where he served as a beloved family doctor visiting patients in the wild country surrounding his posts, he was promoted to captain, on June 26, 1880, and soon thereafter was transferred to Fort McHenry in Baltimore. In his spare time he became a student of physiology at Johns Hopkins University during 1881 and 1882.

After serving at Fort McHenry, Walter Reed was again assigned to the western frontier at Forts Omaha, Sidney and Robinson in Nebraska, and then to Mount Vernon Barracks, Alabama. One Walter Reed historian points out "one of the marvels of his life is that his relegation to frontier garrisons, unfavorable for intellectual contacts, did not ruin him.

Dr. Reed returned to Baltimore in 1890 as examiner of recruits. This assignment was quite welcome since it provided him with the opportunity for further study. He became a student of bacteriology and pathology under the tutelage of Dr. William Henry Welch, head of the Pathological Laboratory at Johns Hopkins and one of the foremost pathologist and medical bacteriologist in this country. These subjects had not been previously taught as part of the medical curriculum. It was during this period, that the mature scientific investigator began to be formed. He conducted his own individual research much to the delight and satisfaction of Dr. Welch who had been one of Pasteur's students. His ties with Dr. Welch were strengthened, and Dr. Welch's mutually admiring relationship with Sternberg was quite advantageous to Walter Reed.

From 1891 to 1893 Walter Reed spent his last western tour at Ft. Snelling, Minnesota. A man of sterling character, religious by nature, prepared for practice and research, a soldier who had learned to endure hardships, a student and pathologist of the highest caliber, Walter Reed was now ready for the great achievements of his lifetime. He would live for only fifty-one years, but between 1893 and 1901, a year before his death, he was engaged in some of the most important work in the history of medicine. This took the form of research into the etiology (cause) and epidemiology (spread) of typhoid and yellow fever

Reed joined the faculty of the newly-opened Army Medical School in Washington, D.C. in 1893, where he held the professorship of Bacteriology and Clinical Microscopy. In addition to his teaching responsibilities, he actively pursued medical research projects and served as the curator of the Army Medical Museum, which later became the National Museum of Health and Medicine (NMHM).

Reed first traveled to Cuba in 1899 to study disease in U.S. Army encampments there. Yellow fever became a problem for the Army during the Spanish-American War, felling thousands of soldiers in Cuba.

In May 1900, Reed, a major, returned to Cuba when he was appointed head of the Army board charged by Surgeon General George Miller Sternberg to examine tropical diseases including yellow fever. Sternberg was one of the founders of bacteriology during this time of great advances in medicine due to widespread acceptance of Louis Pasteur's germ theory of disease as well as the methods of studying bacteria developed by Robert Koch.

During Reed's tenure with the US Army Yellow Fever Commission in Cuba, the board confirmed both the transmission by mosquitoes and disproved the common belief that yellow fever could be transmitted by clothing and bedding soiled by the body fluids and excrement of yellow fever sufferers – articles known as fomites.

The board conducted many of its dramatic series of experiments at Camp Lazear, named in November 1900 for Reed's assistant and friend Jesse William Lazear who had died two months earlier of yellow fever while a member of the Commission.

The risky but fruitful research work was done with human volunteers, including some of the medical personnel such as Lazear and Clara Maass who allowed themselves to be deliberately infected. The research work with the disease under Reed's leadership was largely responsible for stemming the mortality rates from yellow fever during the building of the Panama Canal, something that had confounded the French attempts to build in that region only 30 years earlier.

Although Dr. Reed received much of the credit in history books for "beating" yellow fever, Reed himself credited Dr. Carlos Finlay with the discovery of the yellow fever vector, and thus how it might be controlled. Dr. Reed often cited Finlay's papers in his own articles and gave him credit for the discovery, even in his personal correspondence

Following Reed's return from Cuba in 1901, he continued to speak and publish on yellow fever. He received honorary degrees from Harvard and the University of Michigan in recognition of his seminal work.

In November 1902, Reed's appendix ruptured; he died on November 23, 1902, of the resulting peritonitis, at age 51.  He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. On his simple monument is inscribed the following epitaph, taken from the remarks of President Eliot when Harvard University conferred the Master of Arts degree: "He gave to man control over that dreadful scourge, yellow fever"


Reed's breakthrough in yellow fever research is widely considered a milestone in biomedicine, opening new vistas of research and humanitarianism.

  • Walter Reed General Hospital (WRGH), Washington, D.C. was opened on May 1, 1909, seven years after his death.
  • Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC) opened in 1977 as the successor to WRGH; it is the world-wide tertiary care medical center for the U.S. Army and is utilized by congressmen and presidents.
  • Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR), near Washington, DC, is the largest biomedical research facility administered by the DoD.
  • Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, a new hospital complex to be constructed on the grounds of the National Naval Medical Center, Bethesda, Maryland by 2011.
  • Riverside Walter Reed Hospital in Gloucester, Virginia (near Reed's birthplace) opened on September 13, 1977.
  • Walter Reed Medal (1912 to present) was awarded posthumously to Reed for his yellow fever work.
  • Walter Reed Middle School, North Hollywood, California is named in Reed's honor.
Other Comments:

The Walter Reed Medal is a military decoration of the United States Army which was created by an act of the United States Congress on February 28, 1929. The medal recognizes the accomplishments of both United States civilian and Army doctors who investigated the cause and treatment of yellow fever between 1901 and 1902.

The Walter Reed Medal, named for Major Walter Reed (1851 to 1902) was a one time only decoration which was retroactive by design. The award was intended to denote the accomplishments of a group of American medical personnel who had discovered that the cause of yellow fever was that of infection caused by the mosquito. As part of the so named “Yellow Fever Investigation”, twenty four Americans had exposed themselves to yellow fever in certain areas of Cuba between 1900 and 1901. The Walter Reed Medal recognized the bravery of both living in a disease infested area for the cause of science, and also the enormity of discovering the cause of yellow fever.

The original Walter Reed Medal was first bestowed upon the following Americans:

  • Aristides Agramonte

  • John H. Andrus

  • John R. Bullard

  • James Carroll

  • Robert P. Cooke

  • Albert W. Covington

  • William H. Dean

  • Thomas M. England

  • Levi E. Folk

  • Wallace W. Forbes

  • Paul Hamann

  • James L. Hanberry

  • James Hildebrand

  • Warren G. Jernegan

  • John R. Kissinger

  • Jesse William Lazear

  • John J. Moran

  • William Olsen

  • Walter Reed

  • Charles Sonntag

  • Edward Weaterwalks

  • Clyde L. West

Around the time 1957, the Medal had also been awarded to Gustaf E. Lambert and Roger Post Ames.

Surviving Walter Reed Medals appear as bronze medallions, upon which is the image of Walter Reed. Earlier versions of the medal depicted the figures of a man and a woman, with the woman holding a caduceus and the medal bearing the words “Conquest of Yellow Fever”. There are no known original Walter Reed Medals in existence with the later version being the only surviving examples.

While the Walter Reed Medal was an official United States Army award, the medal was never designed to be worn on a military uniform and did not appear on any military precedence charts nor are there any photographs of the medal being displayed on an active military uniform. A red ribbon for the medal did exist and was authorized for wear on civilian attire.

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 Unit Assignments
HQ, US Army Medical Command (MEDCOM)Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington, DCGarrision Hospitals/Clinics
  1890-1891, Fifth Regiment Armory (MDNG) Baltimore, MD
  1891-1893, Officer Field Training School, Fort Snelling, MN
  1893-1902, HQ, US Army Medical Command (MEDCOM)
  1909-Present, Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington, DC
  1953-Present, Walter Reed Army Institute Of Research (WRAIR)
 Combat and Non-Combat Operations
  1898-1898 Spanish-American War/Battle of San Juan Hill1
 Colleges Attended 
University of VirginiaJohns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD
  1867-1869, University of Virginia1
  1869-1870, University of New York1
  1893-1895, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD
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