Richard A. Hartman, CEO of Automobile Club of Md.

World War II veteran had been taken prisoner of war at the Battle of the Bulge

  • Richard Hartman
Richard Hartman (Baltimore Sun )
March 07, 2014|By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun

Richard A. Hartman, former president and CEO of the Automobile Club of Maryland who fought at the Battle of the Bulge, died Feb. 28 of complications from cancer and renal failure at Gilchrist Hospice Care in Towson. The former longtime Cedarcroft resident was 91.

"Dick was the most ethical person I have ever known. He did everything that was right, and he demanded that out of the people who worked with him. He was truly a wonderful person," said William U. "Bill" Bass, who succeeded Mr. Hartman as president of the Automobile Club of Maryland when he retired in 1987.

The son of Willard Hartman and Nellie Spence Hartman, who were Maryland Casualty Co. workers, Richard Allen Hartman was born at the old St. Joseph Hospital on Caroline Street in East Baltimore.

He moved with his family in 1926 to a home on 33rd Street and later to Rosebank Avenue in Govans, where he was raised.

After graduating from Loyola High School in 1940, he attended night school at the Johns Hopkins University, where he studied English. He worked during the day as a timekeeper at the old Glenn L. Martin Co. plant in Middle River.

"As the war progressed and more and more people were being called into the service, I began feeling guilty about just working there at Glenn Martin's," Mr. Hartman related in "A Baltimore Boy's Life," an unpublished memoir.

"I remember going into a Marine recruiting office down on Greenmount Avenue in Waverly and talking to them about enlisting in the Marines. And I don't know whether they tested my eyes or asked me about my vision, and I was wearing glasses at the time and they told me my eyesight would not meet their standards," said Mr. Hartman.

He launched a campaign of eating carrots and read a book, "Sight Without Glasses," which contained ocular exercises.

"I did the exercises but still to no avail. I was not able to bring my eyes up to the level required by the Marines and Air Force," he recalled.

Mr. Hartman was 20 when he was drafted into the Army in 1943, and after training, joined the 590th Field Artillery Battalion of the 106th Infantry Division, where he served in Europe as a staff sergeant.

As German forces gathered in the Ardennes for a final Western offensive in late 1944, Mr. Hartman found himself swept up in the furious fighting of the Battle of the Bulge, which raged from Dec. 16, 1944, to the end of January 1945, when the stranglehold along a front that extended for 60 miles was finally broken.

At the Bulge, Mr. Hartman was taken prisoner by the Germans.

"He was a POW for six months, surviving unbearable winter cold, a 'death march' in snow to the German prison, hepatitis contracted while in the prison camp, and near-starvation there until he was released at the end of the war in Europe," said a daughter, Claire T. Hartman of Monkton.

"We chatted about his being a POW, and he wasn't reluctant to talk about it," said Jack Eck, a friend and co-worker who lives in Stoneleigh. "He talked about ... being held in the basement of a building. He went back years later, and the German owner was still there."

Ms. Hartman said that a commendation on one of her father's decorations read that he "participated in, endured, and survived the greatest land battle, the Battle of the Bulge, ever fought and won by the United States Army."

"He remained scrupulously humble about the experience until his dying day," Ms. Hartman said. "On his 90th birthday, he received letters from President [Barack] Obama, the secretary of defense, Sen. [Barbara] Mikulski, Supreme Court Justice [John Paul] Stevens and others congratulating him on his milestone and thanking him for his heroism as a POW in World War II. He was moved by the letters, but underplayed his heroism by saying, 'I guess all you have to do to be a hero is get yourself captured.' "

After being discharged, Mr. Hartman attended what is now Loyola University Maryland on the GI Bill of Rights and earned a bachelor's degree in 1948 in English.

He worked briefly in the advertising department of the Gunther Brewing Co. until taking a job in the fall of 1948 with what was then the Automobile Club of Maryland as director of traffic safety.

Mr. Hartman rose through the ranks until being named president and CEO in 1972 of both the Automobile Club of Maryland and the AAA Insurance Agency. During his tenure as president and CEO, the organization's membership tripled.

"Dick was truly a wonderful person and always very considerate of others. He was very outgoing and loved to travel," recalled Mr. Bass. "He was a great AAA convention-goer. He was a man who really enjoyed life."

Mr. Eck, who worked with Mr. Hartman when he was at AAA's national headquarters, said Mr. Hartman was "interested in all aspects of the organization."

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