Harry J. Blatt
US Army, 15th Cavalry Group – Master Sergeant
World War II
At age 23, Harry J. Blatt was drafted, enabling him to join the army shortly before he was called to service. He was the manager of a menswear department before December 7, 1941, and was told that he would probably be called to service in the middle of January. Blatt was fine with this because he wanted to be at the store for Christmas, when the store was very busy. Blatt thought he could wait until the middle of January and still join as a volunteer, if he felt like it. He was called to service on December 7th: the day Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. Blatt enlisted at Fort. Custer, and started his life-altering journey as a private. Harry J. Blatt went into the war with what very little training he received: shoot at the enemy.
Fort Custer, located in Michigan, was erected in 1917 by men from across the Midwest. It is one of the most heavily used training facilities in the Midwest because it is close to Ohio, Illinois and Indiana. It was originally called Camp Custer, after the calvary officer General George Armstrong Custer. On August 17th,, 1940, however, it was dubbed Fort Custer. During World War II, more than ninety thousand people completed the training there, and in World War II, over three hundred thousand men trained there. Harry J. Blatt was among them.
After that, Blatt was sent off to England, where he and other men of the 15th Cavalry Regiment received chaps and boots to wear while riding. Blatt said that he didn’t mind riding a horse, but if he was just a G.I. then he would be the one cleaning up after the horse (which he didn’t want to do). A few days later he and everyone else showed up only to be given regular clothes and find that they had switched from cavalry with horses to cavalry with jeeps. Blatt said that was one of the nicest that had happened to him during his experience. Another good thing that happened to Blatt was meeting one of his close friends during the war, Charlie Kerns. Every morning, in order to avoid the rush to the showers, they would wake up at six am and shower before everyone else. Blatt didn’t want to go to the freezing showers, but Kerns made him. Kerns would be with him thoughout the war and all of his jobs.
Blatt’s first job was doling out clothing and supply items, most likely because he used to be in charge of a men’s clothing department. He issued clothing for about two weeks until a Major asked him if he would take a different job. Blatt said, “Sure. Make me a Corporal and I’m your man.” The major gave him the rank, and Blatt went in as the Intelligence Helper.
After a while, Blatt worked his way up to Master Sergeant. On one occasion, Blatt’s buddy, (the Major who had made him Intelligence Helper), asked him to take two jeeps with mounted machine guns to arrest five Germans who were out of fuel. When he got there, Blatt ordered the Germans to put their hands up, turned to his gunman and said, “If they move, shoot them!” Blatt found it somewhat ironic when looking back on it, that he was a Jewish man ordering these German troops around. Blatt confiscated their guns and Range Rover, and left when American MPs (Military Police) showed up. The Major asked Blatt if he would trade the coveted German guns: Mauser K98ks, for his revolver and strap. The Major also said if Blatt gave him the Range Rover, he would give Blatt an assigned jeep and driver. Of course, Blatt exchanged the weapons, and also gave the Major the car. Now, Blatt wasn’t just another soldier walking around, he was a big operator. He was then put in charge of transferring the radio messages from the rear to the beginning of the line of troops. Receiving a jeep and driver seemed like a great thing for Blatt, but it turned out to be the thing that would lead to his termination as a soldier.
The Mauser K98k was the primary weapon of the German army (Wehrmacht). Its origin started in World War II, when it became known as the Gewer 98. Then it was modified and became a bolt action rifle, meaning that it fired one shot at a time, with a minimum rate of fire: 15 rounds per minute. That was called the Mauser 98. Around 1935, it was modified again to have a short length, making it easier to move with and faster to bring up to the shoulder. This was named the Mauser K98k, the gun Adolph Hitler claimed to be his favorite. The Whermacht entered World War II with over two and three quarters of a million Mauser K98ks. It was a very nice weapon, and the US was eager to obtain them.
When another unit was coming toward them on a road near Herkenbosch, Holland, Blatt told his driver to park off the road to let them pass. As his driver was backing up, they ran over a land mine. The driver was blown out of the jeep and kept on running. Unfortunately, because the mine was on his side, Master Sergeant Blatt didn’t have as much luck. There was blood coming out of his nose, mouth, ears and eyes. Two minutes later medics ere working on him. Blatt was loaded onto a plane by his friend, Charlie Kerns. Everyone thought he was dead including Kerns.
This happened at the beginning of the battle of Cherbourg. When Blatt was blown up, the troops realized that the Germans had taken advantage of the bad weather a few weeks before, and covered the terrain with mines. That gave the Germans a chance to kill off troops left and right. The fighting was so bad that even the people with desk jobs were given guns and joined the fight. 8,000 troops were killed or missing, and 30,000 were captured. Everyone was evacuated.
Two days after he was blown up, Blatt woke up in a hospital. When the war was over, the men of Blatt’s rank were made into officers and became the mayors of the captured towns. Blatt didn’t get to be a mayor or an officer because his injury took him out of the service. This is just one of the many bad ramifications of Blatt entering the war. Another major one was that he didn’t get to go to college, and therefore, was at a disadvantage when looking for a job. But the most important thing is that he survived it all.
Fifty years later, Blatt received a phone call from Charlie Kerns. For all that time, Kerns had thought Blatt was dead, but his son found Blatt’s number, and made his father call. When Kerns and Blatt talked, Blatt didn’t remember Kerns, most likely because the explosion had erased some of Blatt’s memory. Kerns told Blatt about the cold showers at six in the morning, and then Blatt remembered him: “I remember you, you son of a gun!” Blatt regained a friend, and earned a special spot in the book Kerns later wrote, so that their story wouldn’t be forgotten. For his bravery, Harry J. Blatt was awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart Medals.
Interview by Adam McLaughlin in June 2010.
St Mark’s School 8th Grade Veteran Oral History Project
St Mark’s Faculty Advisor: Mike Fargo