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Walter Reed (actor)

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Walter Reed
Walter Reed in Perry Mason 1960.jpg
Walter Reed in Perry Mason 1960
Walter Reed Smith

(1916-02-10)February 10, 1916
DiedAugust 20, 2001(2001-08-20) (aged 85)

Walter Reed (born Walter Reed Smith, February 10, 1916 – August 20, 2001) was an American stage, film and television actor.

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  • Diary of a Sergeant, 1945


This was the day I lost both my hands. On this June day in 1944, Someone else's fingers were writing down my words in my diary. There just weren't any words for many of the things I'd thought of. I had a lot of time for thinking. I had all day and more of the night than anyone knew. Crazy thinking at first, like remembering a kid's party where they tied my hands behind my back and made me take a bite of an apple hanging by a string. I thought of the time in the meat market where I worked before the war when I sliced the tip of my right middle finger and had to get along with my left hand for a week. Just the tip of one finger, yet I was fifty percent helpless. How would it be now with stumps instead of fingers and thumbs and wrists? How would it be when I couldn't even handle a cigarette by myself? Then I began to remember stories from civilians days of armless men who learned to paint good pictures with the brushes held between the toes. And back home I'd heard of a woman without hands who knitted sweaters for the Red Cross with her feet. That wasn't much of a comfort. It was clever. And was OK if someone's ambition were to paint portraits or knit sweaters with his feet. But it wasn't what I wanted. With the help of my neighbors, I could get by, I found that out early and felt better for it. But I didn't want to go through life dependent on others. Most of us in the war had felt that way. Days we'd kid each other and have plenty of laughs but after 'lights out,' I wasn't the only one who'd stare into the dark thinking. I still thought of that kid's game with the apple on the string. Rip, who fixed it up for me to smoke, probably thought of other things like walking across a frozen lake on stilts. He lost both feet at Antiam. One thing I envied the others though. They got theirs in combat. I got mine on D-day all right but it was in North Carolina when half a pound of TNT exploded ahead of schedule. I didn't have a German scalp hanging from my belt. I didn't have a purple heart. I didn't even have an overseas ribbon. All I had was no hands. Then three weeks after I went into the ward, something came along that made a big difference to all of us lying there day after day, worrying and wondering. They'd shown us movies before, but they said this one was special. This one was made by the Army just for us. <military music> There wasn't a single blonde in it, but they said we would all feel better if we'd take time out to meet McGonegal. <audio track from the film> This is my neighbor, Charles McGonegal. I'd like you to meet him. I think he's an interesting fella. Watch him shaving for instance. Whats unusual about that? Well, Charlie has no hands. No hands other than these ingenious substitutes. But he does things as easily... <end of movie soundtack, narrator returns> We were a tough audience for movies. The day before, one of our guys who left a foot at Quadra Lang had thrown his crutch at the screen when the hero recited poetry to some pinup girl. But we listened hard this day, all of us. Johnny with one leg.... Buck, one leg.... Frenchie, one arm... Bailey, one leg... Red, one arm... Credella, no legs... Papa Frank, one leg... and me. I listened because here was a man named Charlie McGonegal -- a man without hands since the last war -- doing all the everyday things I thought I'd never do again. Doing them with hooks. Nothing fancy like pole vaulting or repairing watches or even knitting with his feet... just the acts of normal living like shaving and eating and dressing himself. <soundtrack of movie> He does it alone from the first sock to the final tilt of his hat. His vest, instead of buttoning up from the regular way, hooks together for convenience sake. Charlie can handle buttons, but the hooks are a time saver. In a world where the tendency has always been to streamline time. there are four casts to the zipper vests you and I will be wearing when Hitler and Hirohito are things you talk about only in the past tense like Dillinger and Model T's. <end of movie soundtrack> Even the leg boys seemed encouraged by what they saw in the screen. It showed them what a man could do if he tried. <soundtrack of movie> Charlie has none of the characteristics of a superman. He's a man who lived normally before the war and he set himself no goal to live normally after. He succeeded because he had patience. He had faith in himself. And he knew it could be done. It took a little while. But he got there. <end of movie soundtrack> Right then I knew I could get there too. Perhaps even a little faster than McGonegal. After seeing the picture for the first time, I really put something into the daily calisthenics. I didn't just fan the air with my arms anymore. I worked out as though i had a date to play in the Rose Bowl on New Years Day. Actually it was going to be a bigger show than the Rose Bowl. The date I had was with McGonegal's way of living. Place? the normal world. Time? um, that was a big question mark. I spoke to the doc about it and said I was figuring on about three months, like McGonegal. "Well," he said, "maybe six." If I'd said six months, he'd he probably have said "maybe nine." That's the way they were in the hospital -- cautious. They didn't want to build us up to a let down. The doc told me to begin toning up in what we called the workshop which was less of a mouthful than the orthopedic occupational therapy shop. With the cuff attachment, things became easier right away. I wrote the words "Dear Mother" again. I hadn't done that since June the 5th, five weeks before. The writing wasn't as pretty as it used to be, but it could be read. And it was my own. I discovered that I owed a great debt to the man who invented the typewriter and to the nurses who were patient when I got the keys into a traffic jam. Ping pong helped limber up my arms and shoulders. I couldn't reach the ones on the far outside, but my control was good and I won more games than I lost. <writing in journal> August the third was a great day. Less than six weeks after my accident, the doctor told me my stumps looked OK and it was time he gave me some new hands. Well I felt like turning a couple of cartwheels but that wasn't quite possible so I just thanked him and made a date to go downstairs. It used to take Chubby an hour to make the plaster cast in civilian life, but he was having more customers these days and could do it in a breeze. Chubby assured me I'd be dealing myself a pat royal flush a month from now. A month. That was more like it. "Well," said Chubby, "maybe six months." Everyone was playing it cozy. There was nothing left to chance with the plastic forearms called buckets. They had to fit snugly with no more tolerance than you'd find in the cylinders of a P38. The reach had to be just right. Everything had to be just right because these were going to be my new hands, strong enough to carry a trunk, sensitive enough to thread a needle. Some fellas have dress hands with fingers that would fool anyone when covered with a glove but there's not much you can do with them except look pretty. I got my prostheses, as they're called, a week after Chubby took the mold. And the doc explained just how to work them. The normal position with the hooks is with the tips together, locked by strong elastic bands. Each hook is opened by a cord which is pulled by moving the opposite shoulder. It had been nearly six weeks since I had held anything under my own control and that had been half a pound of TNT in North Carolina. I got quiet a kick out of holding that pencil. When I came back to the ward I couldn't help flashing my new hooks. I sure felt cocky. I puffed casually on a cigarette and swaggered as though I'd won the medal of honor with oak leaf cluster. I wanted to drink a toast to the world with my own new hands, even if it had to be milk. Boy was I riding high, no straw for me. <spills milk> It was like catching one in the belly. Maybe the doc's schedule was right and mine was a lot of optimistic hooey. Instead of trying to run before I could crawl, I started off from scratch, practicing every chance I got. I had to keep adjusting the hooks to find out the best angle and tension for different jobs. I had to develop new muscles in a whole new sense in place of the sense of touch that I had lost. For instance, it seemed unnatural to have move my left shoulder if i wanted to do something with my right hand. I began to think of it as a sort of remote control, like looking in a submarine periscope to see something up on top. After a few days and nights it came more easily, but I wouldn't be satisfied until I could do it automatically without having to tell myself "left hand, right shoulder, right hand, left shoulder" every time I took a pencil or a box of matches. It was slow dull work and it was hard. There's no sense pretending it wasn't. But one thing I knew. It wouldn't do any good to cry over a bottle of spilled milk. Things were better in the orthopedic workshop where they dressed up teaching to make it more like a game. The checkers were different shapes and weights and I didn't win often because the nurse could figure out her next three moves while I was making one. It was a funny feeling coming face to face with gadgets that a child could operate and realizing that I had to learn them all over again. In the first couple of weeks with my hooks I dialed more numbers than there are Smiths and Jones in the New York phone book. And they weren't just collect calls either. I dropped enough coins in the fare box of a bus to take me all the way across the country. A cup was more difficult because it was slippery and breakable and from the time I'd sat in a highchair, I'd always picked it up with a thumb and two fingers. Every time I handled a glass I thought of a certain bottle of milk . and that saved the war department plenty of petty cash for breakage. Maybe it wasn't the most exciting work in the world but they'd rigged it up for our benefit and every hour a man spent practicing brought him just that much closer to home, which is what the hospital wanted for us. It wasn't all work and no play. They provided us with just about every kind of sport there is, outdoor and in. I would never play basketball in Madison Square Garden but in the pool I found that I could breeze along because speed in swimming comes as much from the legs as from the arms. Most of us had jalopies in the garage back home and we used to wonder sometimes how it would be to sit behind the wheel again. They had a practice car for us and I soon found out I wasn't going to have to be a backseat driver all my life. Though there was one time I wished I'd had a chauffeur. <dance music begins> I wasn't the only one who was making progress. It was wonderful to see how quickly the fellas who'd lost a leg -- or both legs -- had learned how to handle themselves. <louder dance music> Watching them I learned something about guts and the knack of having fun again. <dance music continues> On September the sixth, exactly three months after I lost my hands, I got a furlough. I was going home for the first time in a long while. I was way ahead of the doc's schedule. And it felt great. <music playing> A furlough's a beautiful way to spend a piece of calendar. I was hopped up about it. But something happened on the train that got me unhopped. I spotted a seat. Then I saw who was on the other half of it and well, I didn't want to scare her away like Little Miss Muffett. So I sat there thinking of how I would have done it if I had met a girl like that when I still had my hands. I 'd have had a conversation going in two seconds flat. "Tough traveling now a days," I'd of said. If that hadn't worked, I'd have talked about the weather, which works when nothing else does. And then I'd offer a cigarette. If she took it, I could see whether she wore a wedding ring or not. But somehow I was sure she didn't. I'd have asked her where she was going and, wherever it was, I'd have said that I was going there too. And what's more, I had gone there, whatever was written on my furlough papers. But there I was sitting across the way, scared that it would scare her to see my hooks. I thought about the dress hands that looked natural covered with gloves. I thought, "is this the way its gonna be with me from now on?" And I thought about the weather. That's what i thought for twenty miles of track or maybe thirty. <music playing> Wherever a man's home is, that's where the water is softest. And I never felt so clean in my life for the first day home. It was easy to work up a lather with the sponge gadget Fred Selby next door whipped up in less than half an hour. I had three showers that one day. Nothing had changed at home The grass was in pretty bad shape because Mother wasn't husky enough for the lawn mower and there aren't many men left in our neighborhood since the war. But I took care of it the first afternoon. Everything else was the same. I don't know how they managed all the food. They must have been saving up points for weeks. By the second day, I wondered if I'd have difficulty fastening my belt. Not because of my hooks, but because of those meals. Make arrangements to go to college. Before the war, i wasn't able to do much about it but now with a good pension and generous educational allowance from government I could easily afford to take a crack at something I'd always wanted -- a college degree. Inside the university, getting myself oriented, it occurred to me that study might come hard at after all these years away from school. They had some fairly impressive names for most of the courses. And every one of them looked a lot different from basic training. Almost every one that is. But I was soon convinced that going back to school wouldn't be as tough as I thought. When I was a kid I was somehow always in dutch with my teachers. But here was the president of Boston University asking me to sit down with him instead of making me stand in the corner. He told me there was no course I had to reject because of my physical disability. I could learn to be just about anything except maybe a brain surgeon or a concert violinist. And for the first time I knew how long something would take. Four years, not maybe six, or maybe eight, but four years flat. That made good listening. That night I dressed as carefully as if I were going to stand Saturday inspection. And, in a way, I was. I had a date and there couldn't be a hair out of place. I kept thinking of two things -- that train ride from the hospital and the weather. I thought about them so hard I'd still be getting into my blouse if it hadn't been fitted with those time savers I saw in the McGonegal picture. It had been quite a train ride after those first twenty or thirty miles of track Yes, when you want to meet somebody, whether it's snow or sunshine, whether its very warm for May or very cool for September, it's the weather that gives you the opening. I guess it always works, hooks or hands. This time anyway, it worked like a charm. As for the hooks, she didn't ignore them completely that day on the train. That would have been more embarrassing than staring at them all the time. She noticed them, but she took them for granted -- like too many freckles or flaming red hair -- and after five minutes, I didn't feel I was much different from anyone else she knew. A bit luckier, that's all. Because she lived only a mile from me and now here I was dancing with her. <dance music playing> I had a swell furlough. I saw all my old friends and made lots of new ones. The only girl who turned away when she saw me was Peggy someone. I forgot her name. And she'd been doing that ever since we were twelve when I put gum in her inkwell at school so I almost liked her for not changing. It certainly was good to know that I hadn't lost my touch. <music increases in volume> And so that night, just a little more than three months after I was hurt, I found myself writing. This is the last entry in my diary because I think a diary is mostly to help remember things in the past. Right now I'm more interested in the future and I'm really looking forward to the next forty-five years of my life. Or, as the doc would probably say, maybe eighty. <closing music>


Reed was born in 1916 in Fort Ward, Washington. Following a stint as a Broadway actor, Reed broke into films in 1941. He appeared in several features for RKO Radio Pictures, including the last two Mexican Spitfire comedies (in which Reed replaced Buddy Rogers as the Spitfire's husband). Perhaps his most memorable role was as the spineless wagon driver husband of Gail Russell in the western Seven Men from Now. Reed also appeared in the very first Superman theatrical feature film Superman and the Mole Men in 1951.

In 1951 Reed made two film serials for Republic Pictures; Reed strongly resembled former Republic leading man Ralph Byrd, enabling Republic to insert old action scenes of Byrd into the new Reed footage. Republic wanted to sign Reed for additional serials but Reed declined, preferring not to be typed as a serial star.

After appearing in 90 films and numerous television programs, such as John Payne's The Restless Gun, Reed changed careers and became a real estate investor and broker in Santa Cruz, California in the late 1960s.

Selected filmography

External links

This page was last edited on 31 May 2021, at 17:45
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