CAMP LESTER, Okinawa - Staff at the U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa lowered the colors at the facility on Camp Lester for the last time March 26, marking the hospital’s official closure.
Commissioned in 1958 as a U.S. Army hospital, the hospital changed hands from the Army to the Navy and was recommissioned as the U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa in 1977. The hospital has offered medical treatment to military personnel in the Pacific since the day its doors were opened.
“This hospital has a legacy, which is rich with tradition,” said Brig. Gen. Craig Q. Timberlake, the commanding general of 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade and one of the guest speakers at the ceremony. “I will forever be proud to have participated in this event.”
Following the guest speakers, the audience stood as the color guard retired the colors for the final time. The color guard marched in front of Navy Capt. Pius A. Aiyelawo, the commanding officer of USNH Okinawa, and presented the carefully folded flag to him. Aiyelawo called for the final report, which is a naval tradition at the decommissioning of vessels and facilities.
“I am proud to have been the commander of this hospital and to be here when it was decommissioned,” said Aiyelawo. “We will continue to provide the same professional care and treatment at our new facility as we did here.”
For the staff of the hospital, working in the facility and being a part of this historical point in time is a great source of pride and a moment they will never forget, according to Seaman Recruit Warren D. DeLong, a corpsman with the mother and infant care center at USNH Okinawa.
“This is the highlight of my military career so far,” said DeLong. “Not everyone can say they were present to witness the decommissioning of a hospital.”
A function-for-function relocation of medical services on Okinawa will not affect services provided. The only difference will be the improvements in the safety and quality of these services due to advances in medical technology, according to Aiyelawo.
The new hospital has been built to withstand earthquakes and is located above the tsunami flood zone. Other features include state-of-the-art technology, climate control to further ensure patient comfort, and modern electrical and medical gas systems to provide the best quality care available.
The Camp Lester facility was the site of medical care for half a century and will be remembered by all who worked and were treated there, according to Navy Capt. Rick Freedman, the executive officer of USNH Okinawa.
“Our Marines, sailors and soldiers have always known that this hospital would be there to take care of them,” said Freedman. “The spirit of this hospital will live on in all of us and will be remembered forever.”