POST TIME: Posh Breakers Hotel was a military hospital in World War II


Readers: All year we’ve been marking the 75th anniversary of Florida being plunged into World War II, up close and personal. We’ll note other places and events in 2018. For now, we look back on Dec. 12, 1942, when one of Palm Beach County’s most exclusive resorts became a haven for heroes in need.

The military quickly had realized Florida’s value as a home to military installations. The number jumped from eight in 1940 to 172 in 1943. And waves of boys, some still in their teens, came from the tenements of chilly northern cities, or the sparse farms of the nation’s heartland, and found themselves in a tropical paradise. When the war ended, many of those boys decided this was where they wanted to live. From 1940 to 1950, Florida’s population leaped from 2 million to 3 million.

Photo gallery: World War II comes to Florida: palmbeachpost.com/offshore

With Americans now fighting in North Africa, authorities knew it wouldn’t take long for some to come back on stretchers, or worse. So Palm Beach’s The Breakers hotel became the 500-bed Ream Army General Hospital, named for a a flight surgeon killed in combat.

It specialized in neuro-psychiatry and plastic surgery. Officers and nurses used the “Breakers Cottages” along the ocean to the north and south of the hospital as barracks. Notable Palm Beach matrons donated their time as volunteers. Visitors included First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and her husband’s future successor, then-U.S. Sen. Harry Truman.

“One reason they chose The Breakers was because its large elevators and wide hallways could accommodate stretchers,” Kay Brainard Hutchins said in June 1999. Hutchins, 23 at the time, had been secretary to the hotel’s manager when it was converted. Kay’s brother later would be shot down over Germany and she’d find out only decades later that he was captured alive and then tortured and murdered. She died in July 2006.

Legendary Palm Beach historian Jim Ponce recalled in 2008 that at least three dozen children of servicemen were born at The Breakers. Leslie Watts, born at Ream in 1943 — her father had been stationed nearby — returned that year, 65 years later, with her 88-year-old mother. Mother and daughter recalled the bill for two weeks at one of the world’s most posh resorts was a whopping $12.48, which included a pink hair ribbon.

The Army complained the facility was not air conditioned and decided the $250,000 annual lease payment was too steep. And it was being pressured by tourism officials. So it returned control to the Florida East Coast Hotel Company. On April 10, 1944, The Breakers, after 18 months as a military installation, again became a hotel.

More stories of World War II in Floridamypalmbeachpost.com/WW2Fla

Submit your questions to Post Time, The Palm Beach Post, 2751 S. Dixie Highway, West Palm Beach, FL 33405. Include your full name and hometown. Email EK@pbpost.com or call 561-820-4418. Sorry; no personal replies.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

Palm Beach Gardens voters to get 3 ballot questions in August
Palm Beach Gardens voters to get 3 ballot questions in August

Palm Beach Gardens voters may have a sense of deja vu come August when they see similar questions on their ballots to those that appeared in March. Palm Beach Gardens is revisiting proposed changes to term limits and the city charter, after a judge tossed questions from the March ballot. The judge determined the questions were misleading after the...
Trump in Palm Beach: First lady but not president will attend Barbara Bush funeral
Trump in Palm Beach: First lady but not president will attend Barbara Bush funeral

The White House announced today that Donald Trump would not attend former first lady Barbara Bush's memorial service Saturday "to avoid disruptions due to added security, and out of respect for the Bush Family and friends attending the service." The president is expected to stay at Mar-a-Lago while first lady Melania Trump flies to Houston...
Pilots find small monkey at shopping center in Hallandale Beach 
Pilots find small monkey at shopping center in Hallandale Beach 

A monkey was seen by a group of pilots getting coffee today at the Diplomat Shopping Center in Hallandale Beach. Several monkeys have been spotted in South Florida recently, WPLG reports. Monkeys were also seen in North Miami Beach and Cooper City. The Aventura Police Department received calls Tuesday about a similar monkey that may be in the area...
Shake up in PBC judicial races: McAuliffe switches seats; Tendrich out
Shake up in PBC judicial races: McAuliffe switches seats; Tendrich out

With more than a week to go before candidates officially begin qualifying for the August elections, there has already been some shake-ups in Palm Beach County’s judicial races. Former Palm Beach County State Attorney Michael McAuliffe has switched seats and will no longer run against Scott Kerner, the brother of County Commissioner David Kerner...
Boca High co-valedictorian inspired by grandfather
Boca High co-valedictorian inspired by grandfather

When she was a sophomore at Boca Raton High School, Lauren Morejón co-founded and led an organization called Project Outreach with her twin sister, AnaMichele. They developed a team of volunteers to produce an inspiring, uplifting show of dancers and singers titled “I Rise,” dedicated to their late grandfather. For Lauren, 17, the...
More Stories