Memorial Day honors and remembers the sacrifices that American soldiers have made on behalf of this country since the holiday originated following the Civil War.
While everyone who has served has made their own personal contribution, one family in particular can claim the unusual honor of having five of seven brothers on active duty during World War II with another brother serving in the reserves.
Dan Hartman, now 85, is the last surviving member of these brothers in arms.
A resident of Cameron Park along with his wife Jean, Memorial Day has a special meaning for him even though he was somewhat reluctant to talk about it.
“Everyone was mad after the attack at Pearl Harbor. It was a terrible time. We were attacked with no provocation. I was in high school at the time but I was getting itchy feet even then.” said Dan.
Jean, Dan’s wife, also recalls what it was like during World War II.
“I was a little girl and my father was an air raid warden. I was terrified. Whenever there was an air raid drill, he’d have to go house to house telling people to turn off their lights or pull down their shades.”
Jean also recalls all the sacrifices that people made. “During the war we couldn’t get sugar or coffee. There are so many things people couldn’t buy. Every year you got a coupon to buy two pairs of shoes. Gas was hard to get and was rationed. And you could forget about buying a raincoat or rubber shoes.”
In the midst of all the turmoil, George Eichstedt, who is Dan’s half-brother, decided to enlist first. “He didn’t even want to talk about it. He just felt he had to do his duty.” Entering the Navy in 1942, George went on to become a chief petty officer stationed in the South Pacific.
The second brother to join was William Hartman. He enlisted in the infantry and ended up fighting in central Germany. “He received the Victory Medal in 1944 and ’45,” said Dan.
Phillip Hartman was the third brother to go. He ended up serving with the 155th Engineer Combat Battalion. “He helped build airstrips in the Philippines and was with the occupation in Japan after the war,” said Dan.
Along the way, Charles Eichstedt, another half-brother, enlisted in the army reserves and was stationed at Fort Robinson in Nebraska.
Ray Hartman, the baby in the family, enlisted shortly before the war ended. He became a corporal in the military police. While he never left the U.S., Dan said he did receive an award when he and another guard recovered a prisoner who tried to escape while they were delivering him to the military prison at Ft. Leavenworth.
Meanwhile Dan, who was only 17 at the time, was also eager to enlist. “I wanted to do my part. I kept bugging my mother but she didn’t want me to go. She didn’t want any of us to go. So I told her I wouldn’t. But then in 1943 she died, so I joined after convincing my father to sign for me.”
However, even after enlisting Dan didn’t go in immediately because he got the mumps and had to leave again. “They told me to get over it, wait two months, and then come down and see them again.”
So at age 18 he reenlisted and joined the 7th Fleet in the Pacific shortly after the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan.
A fireman second class, Dan was assigned to the USS Fred T. Berry, a destroyer. According to Dan, “It’s now stripped and sunk off the Florida coast for the fish to play in. But that destroyer had more fighting power than any of the destroyers before it.”
On their way to Japan, Dan still remembers steaming into Pearl Harbor and seeing the remains of the destroyed ships in the harbor. Then once they reached Japan, they had to clear a minefield in Tokyo Bay to enter the harbor. “It was nerve-wracking.”
Dan was able to see where the bomb was dropped at Nagasaki but they wouldn’t allow sailors near it for fear of radiation. Later they were assigned shore duty.
“We had to go in and confiscate guns in Japan. The Japanese were very scared of us especially after the atomic bombs were dropped. It was a surprise to everyone. I couldn’t believe you could wipe out an entire city with one bomb and the firestorm afterwards was terrible.”
In 1946, Dan left the Navy and a few years later married Jean. They’ve now been married for 63 years, have three children, six grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.
All his brothers survived World War II, but have since passed on, with Dan the last of the brothers still alive.
“We are doing this as a tribute to his brothers and to others who have served,” said Jean. “Someone needs to talk about it and not forget. Dan didn’t want to do this interview, but when he considered everything we went through, his brothers and him, he changed his mind.”
“I always put the flag out,” said Dan. “It’s a constantly memory of what took place in my younger days.”