Harmon General Character Interview:
Dr. Stuart Lemming, Colonel, U.S. Army Medical Corps
Setting: the lobby of the KFRO Radio Station in Longview, Texas. May, 1943
Dr. Lemming is sitting in a straight back chair, flipping through the pages of the Longview Morning News—not reading the headlines, just looking for something to do while he waits for the production assistant to take him back for his radio interview. The receptionist brings him a cup of coffee.
“I hope I got it right. Just a splash of milk?” the woman in a pink blouse asks as she wipes her hands on her brown skirt.
Stuart holds the cup close, letting the steam warm his cheeks. “You have a good memory.”
“It comes from having to remember all the yahoos who roll through the station week-after-week.” She smiled as if to imply a man in uniform didn’t qualify for the same treatment as those giving the farm reports and sports broadcasts. “You’re not from around here?”
“I’m stationed at Harmon General these days, but I call North Carolina home.” He sipped the dark roast. “Boone, actually. In the mountains.”
She smiled wistfully. “I’ve only ever seen mountains in the movies.”
“Where I’m from, they’re a little more tamed than the ones you see in the westerns.” He stood because the receptionist hadn’t moved on and his mother had taught him to stand when speaking to ladies.
“Well, what must you think of Longview then after being in the military and travelling all over the world?”
“I haven’t been allowed off our shores yet, but I’ve done most of my schooling and training on the east coast. Spent a lot of time in Washington, D. C. That’s a bit different from here.”
“We’re just country bumpkins compared to all the folks you’d meet in Washington.”
Stuart’s expression softened as if he was enjoying replaying the faces of people he’d met during his medical training and Army career. “I met Clark Gable once.”
She gasped. “I adore Clark Gable.”
“He was learning medical procedures for a movie role, and I actually explained to him how to read slides under a microscope.”
She fanned her face. “Did you get his autograph?”
Stuart didn’t have the heart to tell her the actor was rather grumpy and had bad breath. “I forgot to ask.”
The woman let her gaze take new inventory of Stuart’s beige uniform and military brass. “I know you’re here to do one of those “Heroes of Harmon” radio interviews that everyone is raving about, but if you’re not busy after—would you like to grab a sandwich together? We could walk down the street to Deb’s?”
He smiled. It had been a long while since someone—outside Harmon—had shown much interest in him, and now with Lane Mercer out of the picture it was time to get back out in the mix. “Sure. If the interview doesn’t go too long.”
The receptionist gestured to the thick door leading back to the production studios. “They’ve been whipping those soldiers in and out of here all week. It shouldn’t take more than half an hour for them to ask you about your work, how you got here, who you want to say hi to back home, and what’s your big heroic moment from the war.”
Stuart froze. He didn’t have a big heroic moment, short of what happened in the chapel—and that was more of a reflection on Lane than it was him. “I’m a pathologist, not a hero.”
She brushed away his humility. “Anyone who suits up for this war is a hero to me. Come on, I’ll take you back and show you the green room. Babe Ruth once ate a hot dog in there—he was here as a guest of our old baseball team, The Cannibals.”
Stuart followed the woman and worried about the notion of naming a local baseball team after a people-eating subset of humanity—but that’s how his brain worked. Where most folks took things at face value, he was always consumed by the details beneath.