HARMON GENERAL HOSPITAL
HARMON GENERAL HOSPITAL. Less than four months after the United States entered World War II, Longview civic leaders, led by Carl Estes, publisher of the Longview Daily News, and by Grady Shipp, director of the Longview Chamber of Commerce, secured an army general hospital for the city. The hospital was built just outside the southern city limits on 156 acres of the James A. Holloway farm. Construction began in May 1942, and the facility opened with 1,525 beds in 119 builds on November 24, 1942. Additional improvements continued to be made throughout the existence of the hospital, which ultimately had 2,939 beds in 157 buildings and a total of 232 barrack-type buildings connected by 3 1/2 miles of enclosed walkways. The facility was named after Col. Daniel Warrick Harmon, who had served in the Army Medical Corps thirty-six years at the time of his death in 1940. Col. Gouverneur V. Emerson, a twenty-six-year Medical Corps veteran, commanded the hospital from its opening until the deactivation process began. Harmon was one of fifty-nine army general hospitals in the nation and one of five in the Eighth Service Command, which included Texas and its four bordering states. The other hospitals in Texas were Beaumont in El Paso, Ashburn in McKinney, Brooke in San Antonio, and McCloskey in Temple.
In addition to the permanent hospital staff of over 700 who worked in the hospital's ten medical sections, Harmon also housed 270 Women's Army Corps personnel and two or three training hospitals of 300 people each. In addition, it housed German prisoners of war, perhaps as many as 200, during its last six months of operation. At its peak period Harmon Hospital had a community of 4,000 to 5,000 staff, trainees, and patients served by a railroad spur and depot, bank, chapel, newspaper, Western Union office, library, and post exchange. The average daily patient load rose from 824 in 1943 to 1,247 in 1944 and to 2,108 in 1945. The peak load of 2,804 occurred on April 4, 1945. Due to its specialties in central nervous system syphilis and psychiatry, and its designation as a center for tropical and dermatologic diseases, the great majority of Harmon patients were ambulatory upon arrival. It was unusual to have patients on the seriously ill list. Over 73 percent of the patients in 1944 and 1945 were admitted due to disease, less than 15 percent for battle wounds, and 12 percent for injuries. Only thirty-eight deaths occurred among the 23,405 military personnel treated at Harmon.
In June 1944 Harmon was recognized as a hospital for the special treatment of central nervous system syphilis. Patients with the disease could choose either the traditional thermal therapy or they could volunteer for the malaria therapy. The volunteers were inoculated with malaria by anopheles mosquitoes, and resulting temperatures of 105 to 106 degrees killed the syphilis. Patients were then treated for malaria with quinacrine, which suppressed malaria but did not cleanse the blood of the plasmodia. Working closely with the Syphilis Center was the Laboratory for Imported Malarial Studies, which used malaria patients to determine which native species of mosquitoes could transmit malaria. These mosquitoes were used in the fever therapy. Colonel Emerson encouraged his staff to use other innovative medical techniques and drugs. Harmon developed an enteric-coated penicillin capsule months before the technique appeared in medical journals. Surgery was performed only if absolutely necessary, and early walking was encouraged. Harmon's pathological laboratory was recognized as the most efficient in the Eighth Service Command. Harmon physicians spoke to local, state, and national medical societies, and they had thirty-three medical research papers accepted for publication in 1944 and 1945.
Other features of the hospital helped it contribute to patient welfare and to the good of East Texas. Harmon provided various recreational and entertainment opportunities for the patients—a gymnasium, for example, which relieved monotony and promoted reconditioning. The more physically fit patients took bicycle tours around the countryside, refreshed their marching skills, and participated in athletic tournaments. A circular swimming pool was opened in September 1945. The hospital provided performances by USO-sponsored celebrities, by a patient band and orchestra, and at a movie theater. Harmon contributed significantly to the patriotism generated during the war. A Shreveport radio station broadcast from the wards a daily program, "Heroes Come to Harmon," during the last two years of the War. Colonel Emerson held a military award ceremony each Friday, and patients and personnel participated in the fourth through the seventh War Bond drives. East Texas citizens contributed their time, money, and household items to various needs at the hospital. Dozens of ladies volunteered as Red Cross Gray Ladies to provide games and reading material to the patients and to write letters for them. Other women formed the Red Cross Motor Corps, which ran errands for the patients and took them on outings. Harmon helped Longview to continue the economic and population growth begun a decade earlier in the East Texas oil boom. The population grew from 14,000 in 1940 to 30,000 in 1946. The hospital brought to Longview, for the first time, large numbers of people from outside the South. The Federal Housing Administration designated Longview as a Defense Housing Area, an act that enabled the city to construct houses and apartments during the war.
In October 1945 Colonel Emerson was transferred to another assignment, and the process of closing the hospital began. The last patient was released and all wards were closed on December 6. In February 1946 Christian industrialist R. G. LeTourneau acquired the 156-acre hospital and all equipment and auxiliary buildings from the federal government for an industrial training school for veterans. The site today is the main campus of LeTourneau University. All of the old barrack buildings have been removed except for few, including the hospital chapel, which has been refurbished as a memorial to the hospital personnel and patients. The chapel was awarded a Texas state historical marker in 1999.
Ken Durham, "Harmon General Hospital," East Texas Historical Journal 1 (Spring 2000).