99-year-old World War II veteran, retiree recalls Pearl Harbor, war years
December 11, 2012
- A 99-year-old former Watervliet Arsenal, N.Y., employee tells of World War II life at the Arsenal.
WATERVLIET ARSENAL, N.Y. (Dec. 11, 2012) -- To help put this year's Pearl Harbor Day remembrance into perspective, one of Watervliet Arsenal's oldest living retirees this week recalled life at the Arsenal during the early days of World War II.
Ernie Blanchet, from Troy, N.Y., said that his father was once a machinist at the Arsenal during World War I and as a kid, he often walked along the Erie Canal that once flowed through the Arsenal.
As one of 12 children, Ernie found that he had to go to work at an early age to help support his family. He worked in local textile mills for $12 a week making underwear. He ventured out of state for awhile, but even that job did not provide him a sense of purpose that he was looking for. Tired of going from job to job, he decided to settle down and to build a career.
At age 28, and just months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Ernie landed a job at Watervliet Arsenal. The date was June 16, 1941.
"I was at my sister's house on December 7th, 1941, when my nieces brought in the news that Pearl Harbor was attacked," Ernie said. "I remember thinking that maybe the Arsenal was going to be a target, too, because of the important work we were doing to help prepare our country for war."
"When I reported for work on Monday, the day after Pearl Harbor was attacked, armed security guards had closed all the gates except for one," Ernie recalled. "Lines of cars, as well as workers, were backed up as security guards checked every vehicle and person coming into work."
Most of the Arsenal workers, which numbered nearly 1,000 at the time, walked in through the gate versus drove in during the early 1940s. When the lines at the gate got backed up, hundreds of workers scaled the Arsenal walls to get to work on time, Ernie said.
Security also tightened inside the gate, Ernie added. New security badges were issued that granted limited access to the buildings. The days of being able to freely walk through one building to get to another had ended.
"I was lucky because I was on the quality control inspection team," Ernie said. "What this meant is that I had access to every building, which made me feel very special."
Ernie has great praise for the World War II era leadership and workforce. What the attack did to the workforce was that it brought everyone together as a team, Ernie said. Within a few months, the Arsenal workforce went from several hundred to several thousand workers.
From the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor until the Normandy Invasion in 1944, the Arsenal manufactured more than 23,000 cannons with an on-time delivery rate of 99.6 percent.
Ernie was part of this unprecedented achievement, an achievement that has yet to be equaled.
And so, on this 71st anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, there is a sense of reflection by the Arsenal workforce. Arsenal history books speak volumes about the World War II era, or what former NBC anchor Tom Brokaw called "The Greatest Generation" years. But the books pale in comparison to the stories told this week by Ernie.
Ernie eventually enlisted in 1944 and served on a U.S. Navy Destroyer Escort ship until he was discharged after the war. He came back to the Arsenal after his discharge where he worked until he retired in 1971. He is now 99-years-old and he said he plans to help the Arsenal celebrate its 200th anniversary in July 2013, when he will be 100.
The Watervliet Arsenal is very proud of Ernie's service to the Arsenal and to his country. And on this Pearl Harbor Day, our thoughts and prayers are with those who gave their lives for our country on that fateful day in December 1941.