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MarketInsight | The Customer’s Man


I have long been fascinated by the 1942 Nazi Submarine attack off Jacksonville Beach. The attack occurred at 9:30 on a Friday night, just four miles off the coast. Thousands stood on the shore and watched in horror as the German submarine shelled the stricken oil-tanker, “SS Gulfamerica.”  One of the people on the boardwalk that night was Phil May, who passed away recently.

I went to interview Phil at his home two years ago and heard his stories. He was a World War II veteran. He served in the 1St Division (the Big Red One) and was severely injured at the Battle of the Bulge. He spent years recovering from the injuries he suffered in Europe. Eventually, he recovered to a normal life. He graduated from Princeton University and became a local stockbroker

Phil May was 17 and on the boardwalk the night of the attack. He and some friends were riding the merry-go-round as the German torpedo slammed into the stern of “Gulfamerica,” causing a massive explosion. They rode round and round and again and again they were treated to the sight of the ocean on fire. One of those friends was the daughter of J. Turner Butler, a long-time state senator from Duval. They named a pretty big road after him, J. Turner Butler Boulevard. Cecil Butler had a curfew and no teenage boy wants to upset the daughter of a state senator, so they all piled into an old Ford sedan and headed back to Jacksonville. They assumed, as did almost everyone on the beach that night, that the explosion off the coast was some sort of accident.

A short while later as they cruised north along the beach, the Germans began to shell the burning tanker and they stopped to watch. It was quite a show: the commander took his submarine around the sinking oil tanker and placed it between the shore and the burning wreck so that everyone on the beach could see the outline of his sub and the flash of his guns. Cecil Butler, who was described in her yearbook as “the heartthrob of femininity,” got home late. I have no idea what her father had to say, but she certainly had one of the best excuses ever.

Years later, Phil May, Jr. was president of the Meninak Club when the commander of that submarine came to Jacksonville. Phil arranged to have him speak to the club. Not everyone was happy, and Phil got some angry calls from people who thought it inappropriate to host the former “Nazi.”

One of the things that popped out about Phil May was his profession: stockbroker. Back when Phil first went to work, it was common to refer to stockbrokers as “customer’s men.” The idea being that the broker was there to help the customer. Somewhere along the line, that concept was lost. Investments were increasingly sold to people by someone trying, sometimes desperately, to earn a commission. Your financial future is too important to be someone else’s commission.

Scott A. Grant is President of Standfast Asset Management in Ponte Vedra Beach. He welcomes your comments or questions at

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