MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

June 15, 2013

VAMC celebrates anniversaries

Flag, Army, Muskogee Soldiers Hospital share honors

By Cathy Spaulding
Phoenix Staff Writer

— Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center officials and employees showed plenty of patriotism Friday.

Not only did June 14 mark Flag Day, not only did it mark the 238th anniversary of the U.S. Army. It also marked the 90th anniversary of what originally was Muskogee Soldiers Hospital.

The medical center, located atop Agency Hill, celebrated nine decades of service with a ceremony and reception Friday afternoon.

“Through the doors of this building came America’s heroes,” Congressman Markwayne Mullin said in a congratulatory letter, read by caseworker Jason Self.

The letter noted that since opening on June 14, 1923, the hospital served 37,000 veterans.

In an opening prayer, Medical Center Chaplain Forrest Kirk gave thanks for “a place of comfort and healing.”

“We give thanks to every patient who has trusted us to care for them,” Kirk said in the prayer.

Medical Center Director James R. Floyd said the hospital opened as a gift to veterans.

He said that while other states were awarding bonuses to World War I veterans, Oklahoma chose to give “a more lasting gift of free health care.”

Floyd said the original hospital had inpatient beds, a library, a large pool hall and a place for dancing.

A statue, “The Spirit of the American Doughboy,” was erected at the hospital a year after it opened. The federal government bought the hospital and the adjacent city hospital in 1925, an anniversary program said.

Floyd related the progress the medical center made since then. In 1998, the medical center dedicated a $36 million replacement bed building. In 2006, the hospital opened a 15-bed inpatient mental health unit. Also that year, the hospital was rededicated as the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center in honor of World War II veteran and Medal of Honor recipient Jack C. Montgomery, a Cherokee.

Mullin’s letter said it is the first VA medical center named for a Native American.

Vicki L. Rogers, a business office manager at the center said she has worked at three VA medical centers.

“This one is the friendliest by far,” she said, adding that she has worked in Muskogee for 13 years. “It’s the small town atmosphere. People are friendly.”

The VA health care system continues to be “dedicated to opening doors for all our veterans,” said Rica Lewis-Payton, director of the Southeast Central VA Health Care Network.

“What does the future hold for the VA? We will continue to meet the needs of a new generation of veterans while we will not forsake our existing veterans,” Lewis-Payton said. “It will always be a real honor to serve all our veterans.”

The ceremony also included a sheet cake cut by the oldest and youngest Army veterans in attendance.

The older veteran, Curt Working, volunteers at the VA Medical Center.

“It is a chance for me to return something back to them,” he said.

Reach Cathy Spaulding at (918) 684-2928 or cspaulding@muskogeephoenix.com.