Though questions linger about Naval Hospital Beaufort's future, local government and military leaders gathered Friday to celebrate the 62nd birthday of Beaufort's second-oldest military base.
Officials from Beaufort and Port Royal and about 50 members of the hospital's military and civilian staff gathered in the front lobby to browse old photographs and study artifacts excavated from the hospital's grounds along the Beaufort River.
Capt. Joan Queen, the base's commanding officer, said the small gathering was a chance to celebrate the hospital's relationship with the community and reflect upon its history. The hospital was commissioned in April 1949.
"This is a reminder of how old (the hospital is). But it's not the building; it's the people that make this place great," Queen said. "The staff at Naval Hospital Beaufort loves being a part of the community. We're glad that the community appreciates the hospital. They make us feel like we belong here and we love it."
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It remains to be seen where the hospital will be spending the next 60 years.
A plan to build a new Naval Hospital Beaufort awaits funding, and it could be built at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, Laurel Bay or on the hospital's current 127-acre site along Ribaut Road in Port Royal, Navy officials have said.
In 2009, a $261 million proposal to rebuild the hospital was bumped off a list of military projects slated to receive federal stimulus dollars.Navy officials "are talking about it, but there's nothing definite yet," Queen said. "They are still in the discussion phase."
The hospital employs more than 400 people and serves Beaufort's active-duty Marines and sailors, their families, and area military retirees.
As long as the base is in Port Royal, Naval Hospital officials can expect the support of the town's residents, Port Royal Mayor Sam Murray said.
"Port Royal has always had a very good relationship with the naval hospital and (Marine Corps Recruit Depot) Parris Island, which is also within our limits," Murray said. "We will continue to work with them and do anything we can for them."