ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. -- This week marks the 70th anniversary of a WWII attack taking place off the First Coast.
On the evening of April 10, 1942, a German submarine torpedoed a U.S. oil tanker, the SS Gulfamerica.
It happened just off Ponte Vedra Beach, but the attack could reportedly be seen from Jacksonville Beach and St. Augustine Beach.
Robert Hall of St. Augustine was 12 years old at the time. He lived in Jacksonville.
He remembered, "My father came home and said, 'Quick, get in the car! We're going to the beach!'"
Hall and his father rushed to Jacksonville Beach that night to see the fire on the water.
So did many other people.
"The beach was jamming with people," Hall remembers. "Cars were all over. And we were standing there watching the tanker burn."
The Gulfamerica was carrying 90,000 barrels of fuel. Models of the vessels are now on display inside the Ponte Vedra Inn and Club.
Hall remembers seeing "flames and black smoke" and "a lot of bright orange and red."
He even remembers the sounds. "I think I recall a boom, boom! Whether that was from something in the tanker or from cannon fire (from the submarine), I'm not sure," Hall noted.
A recently released cartoon from Warren Clark depicts the scene with the sub's commander, as well as the people watching the attack.
"Here's a German U Boat commander who sees his prey outlined against the lit fairgrounds and lights of Jacksonville Beach," Hall said.
Years later, Hall and others learned about the commander's strategy. So to not aim at civilians on the beach, Lieutenant Richard Hardegen maneuvered the Nazi sub between the coast and the tanker.
"So he was able to fire out toward sea," Hall noted.
And not toward civilians on along the coast.
The tanker sank. Nineteen of the 48 member crew and guardsmen on the tanker died.
Meanwhile, as the crowds on the beaches witnessed a WWII battle just off First Coast beaches, none of them were hurt -- including Hall.
Seventy years later, Hall recognizes the German commander's life-saving choice to put his own sub at risk in shallow water.
Hall's eyes filled with tears when considering soldiers and officers who must weigh their options during war times.
"Their consideration and bravery touches me," he said
First Coast News