An October Day at Walter Reed Hospital
It’s an October afternoon on the grounds of the nation’s most renowned military hospital. A bitter presidential campaign is in its stretch run. In his room at Walter Reed, a grievously ill man much more accustomed to life in the Oval Office looks out the window, to be greeted by a surprise.
Dwight D. Eisenhower glances at the lawn and is startled by the sight of hundreds of people looking up toward him. Today—Oct. 14, 1968—is his 78th birthday. His wife, Mamie, stands behind his wheelchair; she, his doctors and nurses have carefully planned this.
The conductor of the U.S. Army Band and Chorus raises his baton. The crisply uniformed musicians and vocalists, on signal, commence with a program of Eisenhower’s favorite songs. He has been a patient here for months, having suffered his seventh heart attack. He is more than 24 years removed from the D-Day invasion, seven years from his last day of work in the White House. He brings a handkerchief to his face and dabs his eyes.
Somewhere else in America, two men—Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey—are courting voters. Here on the grounds of Walter Reed Army Hospital people hear the music, and word passes among them about why it is being performed. Soldiers home from Vietnam for treatment, their family members, medical personnel, hospital support staff, all hurry to where the band is playing and look up toward the side of the brick building.
在美国的其他地方，理查德·尼克松(Richard Nixon)和休伯特·汉弗莱(Hubert Humphrey)这两个人正在拉拢选民。在沃尔特里德陆军医院的院子里，人们听到了音乐，他们之间传出了为什么要演出的消息。从越南回国接受治疗的士兵，他们的家人，医务人员，医院支持人员，都匆忙赶到乐队演奏的地方，抬头看着砖瓦建筑的一侧。
Here is what they see in that window, pulled to the up-and-open position in its wooden frame: the 34th president of the United States, with eyeglasses he will sometimes remove, wearing a robe over a pair of pajamas. They sing a greeting to him, using the honorific he prefers postpresidency: “Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday, General Eisenhower...” With the first two fingers of his right hand he flashes them the V-for-victory sign.
The selection of music has been made with care; his wife knows each song will please him. There is “The Yellow Rose of Texas,” commemorating the state where, in small-town Denison, he was born. There is “Army Blue,” traditionally played and sung at West Point graduation ceremonies. There is “The Army Goes Rolling Along.” At the sound of that one, he salutes.
Someone hands him a miniature flag, bearing five stars to signify his rank. He briefly waves it in time with a tune. The crowd beneath the window grows. A song he loves from “The Sound of Music” is played: “Climb every mountain, ford every stream...”
What a life he has led. Within six months, it will have ended. For now, in what will turn out to be his last appearance in public and the final birthday he will ever celebrate, the crowd on the lawn continues to gather, wanting to show their love, respect and gratitude. They look at the man in the window, and he looks back, and the band plays on.
Mr. Greene’s books include “Chevrolet Summers, Dairy Queen Nights.”