Sitting on a hilltop outside Milwaukee and a baseball toss from Miller Park is the General George H. Wood Veterans Home. The building, commissioned in 1865 by President Abraham Lincoln as one of the original federal hospitals for veterans, was initially called the National Asylum for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers. And for decades, the facility housed generations of injured war heroes from across the nation. Now abandoned, the only sign of life in the building are pigeons roosting in the broken windows on the tower.
Built in a Victorian Gothic style made evident by tall pointed arches in windows and doors and the use of contrasting colors, the hospital once housed over 1,000 men. Long before the evolution of medicinals and rehabilitation allowed injured soldiers to return to their homes and farms, the Wood Hospital was built for those who made great sacrifices for their country, not out of charity, but instead as a reward.
Life at the Wood Hospital paralled life in the military. Men were grouped in companies based on their ailments and issued uniforms, fostering a continuing sense of fraternity and purpose. Rank and discipline ruled their daily existence, just like on the battlefields of Gettysburg and Normandy. Those who were able held jobs taking care of those who weren't. Brass military bands with legless musicians played songs to cheer up the invalid and blind actors performed in plays for men with tuberculosis in wheelchairs. While a modern VA medical center was later built nearby and currently houses many of our soldiers coming back from Iraq, the old Wood Hospital embodies the spirit of a time when those wounded in war lived in dignity amongst themselves. And, according to a source who has been in the building, the sound of old men talking and playing cards or the muted bleet of a calvary bugle can still be heard from the long hallways and empty rooms covered in cracked plaster and water stains.
Along the western edge of the hospital is the Wood National Cemetary, the permanent resting place for 37,661 soldiers and sailors. The first internment was Pvt. John Afton, a Michigan infantryman who died in the Civil War in 1861. Veterans from every war since lie among the orderly rows. Most are from northern states, but two Confederate soldiers from the Civil War represent Southern Pride. If the South someday does rise again, they will be outnumbered significantly.In the sea of white gravestones, one is of Marine Cpl. David Gander, killed in Beirut, Lebanon on October 23, 1983. 240 other American Servicemen died that horrific day. May they also rest in peace under the shade of lofty oak branches among their fathers and grandfathers and brothers and let us never forget the wives and mothers and daughters and sons whose forever loss gives us our freedom.