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Martinsburg VA reflects on 80 years of service

In January 1944, with WWII still raging, the newly constructed Newton D. Baker U.S. Army Hospital began receiving wounded service members. Located 90 miles from Washington D.C., the hospital was built in just 11 months and consisted of 100 buildings and 3,000 beds.

Robert Leckie

Later renamed the Martinsburg VA Medical Center, the campus now marks 80 years of continuous service to the nation.

When a young Marine named Robert Leckie arrived in 1945 to recover from wounds, no one could have guessed he would write about Martinsburg in one of the most powerful and famous autobiographies to come out of WWII.

His book, Helmet for my Pillow, was published in 1957 and details his experiences as an infantryman in the war. It was central to HBO’s hit miniseries, “The Pacific,” released in 2010.

“The ward in Newton D. Baker Army Hospital in Martinsburg, West Virginia, was quiet, shocked, still,” Leckie wrote. News had just been received that an atomic bomb had been dropped on Japan. He described confusion giving way to understanding that the war would soon end and he would survive.

“The war did end and there was a celebration.”

Baker Army hospital ward

“A few days later, the war did end and there was a victory celebration in downtown Martinsburg,” he added. Leckie goes on to talk about being thanked by a local gentleman in the crowd and how, “That was victory, that was jubilation…”

Soon after, he was discharged and returned to his family as a civilian once again.

Eight decades later, the medical center is still proud to care for service members like Leckie. While only a small part of his famous book, the story highlights Martinsburg VA’s enduring service to our nation’s men and women in uniform.

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