Wednesday, September 7, 2011

War Off the Beach

Historic Hartman House circa 1930s
Posing on the front stoop is my father, Norman Hartman,
and his big sister, Marjorie Ann
             When my father, Norman Hartman was ten, the world was at war. In Europe, World War II raged and Germans were the enemy.  There was more going on during that time in South Florida than I realized.
               In the summer months when it was hottest in Delray Beach, Norman and his siblings would sleep on the second floor front porch of the house they grew up in to catch whatever sea breeze might still be moving. More than once, they heard a boom and, turning east toward the sound over the ocean, would see the sky lighting up in bright yellows and oranges.  It wasn’t fireworks.  The flaming sky was a sign that a German U-boat had torpedoed another ship trying to make its way up or down the coast. The neighbor a couple of doors down, Sam Ogren, Jr., and others would run for their boats and race out into the ocean to pick up survivors. Sam actually received a commendation for his rescue work during the war.  My Uncle Allen remembers survivors huddled in my Great-Uncle Lloyd Benson’s kitchen at his dairy farm near where Briny Breezes is now located. The day after an explosion, my father and his brother Warren would hike over to the beach to pour through the debris that came ashore—mattresses, wood, odd bits of belongings and once, even the wing of a plane.
               Germans actually controlled the Atlantic Ocean for the first years of the war and caused quite an interruption to shipping along the entire east coast of the United States. The big ships that couldn’t make it down the Intracoastal Waterway had no choice but to take their chances on the open sea.  Airplanes flew numerous missions up and down the coast trying to spot German submarines. There’s a great book by Michael Gannon named “Operation Drumbeat” which details the German military action of the same name. Operation Drumbeat was meant to cause major trouble and it was highly successful for a while.
             Because my great-grandfather, Fred Hartman, was a German immigrant, the FBI came calling. My dad remembers the children being shooed out of the house by his mother while the interview with “Grosspapa” was conducted.  The FBI wanted to make sure that even though he had relatives and family in Germany, Grosspapa would contact the FBI if he were ever contacted by a saboteur, even if it were a family member.
               There was a huge military base in Boca Raton, part of which is now the campus of Florida Atlantic University. Instructors at the base were teaching the brand new field of radar.  My grandparents rented rooms to several officers and their wives, some of whom came back year after year after the war to rent a room, vacation in Delray Beach and visit with the family. My dad’s favorite was named Gordon “Gordy” Apple. Although it’s claimed that Norman and Warren tormented Gordy and teased him unmercifully, it was Gordy who took the two young boys to the garage at the back of the house and worked with them to build a working radio.

The Historic Hartman House 2011

               The house my father grew up in is still in its original location at 321 N.E 7th Avenue in Delray Beach and has just recently been reopened as The Historic Hartman House Bed & Breakfast. Benita and Jordon Goldstein, the owners, have lovingly restored and renovated the 1926 house and it is truly a trip into the past, albeit quite a bit more luxurious than the original version. If you stay in the Highlands Park Suite, you can stand in what was the second floor front porch and look east. If you use your imagination, you can imagine being ten years old and realizing the battle was not an ocean away in Europe, but mere miles away, right off of your beach.
(This column appears in Southern Exposure, September issue published by Seabreeze Publications, Inc. at


  1. Ruth, that was a very interesting story...and as usual very well written...

  2. Thank you, Anon. I'm glad you enjoyed it and I appreciate you taking the time to post a comment!

  3. What an awesome story. I was particularly nervous around the part where Grosspapa had to have a special talk with one of the government alphabet groups.

  4. Love the history! We forget how close WWII actually was to our country.

  5. Hello fellow campaigner! As a member of the nonfiction group (otherwise known as #53), I wanted you to know I will be featuring you on my blog during the campaign period. Every Friday from 9/23 through 10/28, I will feature several of the writers from our group. This will include a link to your site (the same link you used when joining the campaign) as well as an excerpt from your About Me page. Be sure to check my blog to see when you are featured. I will be going through the list in order.

    You can visit my blog at

    I look forward to getting to know you and your work, and helping others get to know you as well!

    Happy Campaigning!
    Elizabeth Flora Ross

  6. Elizabeth, what a wonderful idea! I'm going to borrow it. Thank you and I'm looking forward to learning more about you and your work, too. I've been amazed at the totally different types of writing and all very interesting and entertaining!

  7. Hi Ruth - Nice write-up on the Hartman House in Delray Beach. I do a website on Delray Beach and I'm also personal friends of Benita and Jordan. The Hartman House is very special in Delray Beach and they have done a beautiful job with it.

    Now that I've discovered your blog (via the Hartman House Facebook Page), I would like to subscribe to it via RSS but I don't see one. Do you have one? Or do you Twitter or Facebook? I would like to stay in touch with your posts.

    Thank you,
    Danika Dahl