LINCOLNTON As July Fourth parades eased along Main Street Jerry Hartman always watched from his business, the Dixie Service Station.
He never waved a flag nor flew the colors from the stucco building where he worked six days a week for more than 40 years.
Family and friends knew him as a quiet patriot.
The World War II veteran cut out the American Flag from the local newspapers July Fourth special edition and displayed it inside his house, usually with magnets on the refrigerator.
After Hartmans death in 2000 at age 92, family members discovered another side of a man who had only an eighth-grade education: his skill as a writer.
Although they knew about the five handwritten journals Hartman kept while serving in the South Pacific, they didnt realize how eloquent the accounts were until transcribing them.
With the guidance of the Lincoln County Historical Association, the family plans to publish a book version of the journals by years end.
These journals are truly unbelievable, said association executive director Jason Harpe, who is assisting the Hartman family in the project. They give a vivid picture of the surroundings, the environment and the people. Theyre well-written, so descriptive and even poetic. This is not just a day-to-day chronicle. Jerry had a talent for words and an ability to express his feelings.
Experts say eyewitness writings like this make history come alive.
First-person accounts, whether in the form of diaries, memoirs, or even notes jotted on the backs of photos, provide invaluable insights into the past, said Peter Thorsheim, associate professor of history at UNC Charlotte. They shed light not only on what happened, but also peoples thoughts and perspectives on the events they witnessed and in which they took part. Its vital that they be preserved and shared so that we and future generations can learn from them.
When Hartman returned to Lincolnton after the war, he seldom spoke of his experiences. He worked hard, made walking canes out of odd-shaped tree limbs or roots. And he sang in the choir at First Methodist Church.
At age 80, he taught himself to play piano. It helped pass the time after he stayed home to look after his wife, who suffered from Alzheimers disease for 13 years.
Family members knew Hartman liked to read, but had no idea of his literary side.
They gradually discovered that in the years after his death.
Elliott Whitesides, who married Hartmans stepdaughter, began transcribing the war journals. Written in military issue ledgers, the accounts cover the period from Hartmans departure from California on Dec. 22, 1943 until his arrival back in Fort Bragg. on Dec. 10. 1945.
In the South Pacific, he served in the Army with an amphibious tank group, working in maintenance and spending much of his time on a ship.
While he was never on the front lines, he was often in the thick of the action and always a keen observer of what went on around him.
Whitesides, 79, a retired nuclear engineer in Kingston, Tenn., was drawn into the story.
He found Hartmans account provided a clear view into the horrors of war along with equally clear views of the beauty of the South Pacific islands.
The entry for Feb. 26, 1944 reads: At sunrise land on our starboard and bow. The Roy Island of the Kwajalein atoll. This was wrested from the (Japanese) by our marines at the same time we were fighting for the opposite end of the atoll Anchored in the limpid waters of the lagoon. Some 40 ships in sight, among them a majestic white hospital ship. Many planes are soaring thru the skies.
Except to the south we are surrounded by a chain of islands like a gigantic painted stepping stones, some perhaps over a mile long; others not a stones throw across. These separated from each other by very shallow beautifully green water and foam as white as snow. No doubt if the ocean drained down just now we would find ourselves in a valley hemmed in surrounded by lofty mountains, the present islands forming high peaks.
June 17, 1944, at the battle for Saipan: As far as I can see our forces line the waters edge men on foot and in tanks, trucks, tractors bulldozers, caterpillars all busy moving, marching, hauling, evacuating wounded. We are here to stay at all costs. We are strong and powerful and have what it takes.
Celebrating the Fourth
Later that same day, Hartman accompanied an officer to search for disabled tanks on the battle-ravaged island.
This takes us some 500 yards from our shop, over an open field into a thicket of young trees (like pines), Hartman wrote. A few bullets whine overhead disagreeable. We pass by two marines sprawled on the ground, dead and swollen. Over by the dusty road is a charred truck, one of ours. The ragged holes show that it was hit by a shell and also machine gun fire.
That night, in a foxhole, Hartman couldnt sleep.
He wrote in the journal: The great artillery pieces just by us shattered the night with ear-splitting, earth-shaking blasts while flares over the front lines lit up our area with an eerie, shadow-casting, quivering yellow light. Small arms fire in our very midst keeps us all too nervous and finally one of our own machine guns wounded two of our men. I was lying in a position wide awake to see the red muzzle blast, hear the staccato reports and then oh, oh, oh from the wounded, the call for a medic. By now, 2200, I am pretty well scared.
On July 4 while still on Saipan, Hartman noted the heavens are overcast with grey clouds, murky and ominous, the winds begin to blow and the elements are turned loose spilling upon us a deluge of rain filling our foxholes, driving us from our beds and wreaking havoc in general.
Being first out trying in vain to divert the little rivulets away from my home I am highly amused upon seeing first one and then another come scuttling out from under the tents, much as a rat from a flooded home. It is a lesson to us, tho. After this first downpour we see that a good rain shelter is necessary. I make my plans now to sleep on top of the ground.
On Independence Day a year later, writing from the Philippines, Hartman observed in the night sky cluster after cluster of red, green and yellow star shells with occasionally a tracer streaming into the clouds.
I dont know what it is, he wrote. Come to think of it, its very likely those boys are simply celebrating the Fourth.
Carrying on tradition
World War II was Hartmans great adventure. He filled five journals with its images then went home and put the books in storage.
Almost everybody in town knew the slightly-built proprietor of the Dixie Service Station. He had a welcoming smile, and treated all with respect. They noticed the pride on his face when the American flag passed by in the Independence Day parades he watched from the sidelines.
After Hartmans death, his family discovered a prayer journal hed kept during his wifes long illness. Again, the quiet patriot surprised them with his insights.
Today, Hartmans family carries on the tradition of displaying an American flag when they find one in a newspaper putting it on a refrigerator or bookshelf.
They see it as a way of not only honoring Hartman but also the nation.
This country is made great by the greatness of its heroes, said Hartmans son-in-law, David Staton, 65, a retired psychologist from Lincolnton. But the strength of the country is also woven from the fabric of everyday lives, people who show a sense of community and family.