The cannon blast echoed between the red-brick buildings of Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the military’s flagship hospital. It was 2005, and the century-old medical facility was struggling to keep pace with the thousands of veterans who had begun returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with post-traumatic stress disorder or other psychological problems. Most of them were extraordinarily sensitive to loud noises, and the cannon blasts that marked the start of each day at Walter Reed triggered unsettling memories of the carnage that had hospitalized them in the first place. The base’s commanders argued that Walter Reed, like any Army post, needed to abide by the military protocols mandating that each morning begin with soldiers raising the American flag, snapping to attention, and standing in formation until the cannon blast sounds. Dr. John Bradley, a retired Army colonel who was the head of Walter Reed’s psychiatry program, said that the hospital’s top doctor repeatedly petitioned its military commander to end the practice, only to be rebuffed each time. At a certain point the medical staff decided to take matters into their own hands. “Our hospital commander actually disabled the cannon so it couldn’t fire,” he said.
— Adapted from The Invisible Front: Love and Loss in an Era of Endless War, by Yochi Dreazen (published this month by Crown)