Life Before the War

3rd Division Battle Patrol

Toughening Up

Patrols and Ambushes

War is Scary

Feelings on War

Judge Advocate General

Annotation

William Blanckenburg had an upper middle class upbringing, but they struggled during the Depression. Blanckenburg was born and raised in Berkeley, California. His father was a successful lawyer and was able to put three of Blanckenburg’s siblings through college. It was not until many years later that Blanckenburg was able to fully appreciate what his family did. Blanckenburg led a typical life and he actually met Dr. Richard Lyons [Annotators Note: Dr. Lyons was a battalion surgeon on Iwo Jima and was interviewed on the same trip as Mr. Blanckenburg]. Blanckenburg had a typical upbringing. He was a history major in college and liked military history, especially the Civil War. Blanckenburg could see war coming when he was in college. He knew that if there was a war he would be in it. Blanckenburg thought that it would be a fight for survival because Hitler had worldwide aspirations. The Japanese brought the United States into war on 7 December [Annotators Note: 7 December 1941]. Blanckenburg signed up for a volunteer officers’ training course. After basic training they were to go to Officer Candidate School. Blanckenburg had been practicing law for three years before the war started. He thought that being the cream of the crop would cause him to rise up, but he ended up being an infantry soldier lugging a rifle and bayonet. Blanckenburg went through the basic training for the volunteer officers’ school. They were told that since they had enough second lieutenants they had to go home and wait for the draft. There were 28 guys and 27 went home, but Blanckenburg stayed in. He was sent all over the United States. Blanckenburg found out about Pearl Harbor on that Sunday morning while at a local store. He knew they were in it now. They knew Hitler had to be stopped and someone had to do it. Western Europe was not able to accomplish that. From the time Blanckenburg was eight years old he wanted to be a lawyer. He wanted to be proficient in country law. Blanckenburg had a girlfriend that he had met at University High School in Oakland. Most people that went there went on to college. Blanckenburg was originally separated from the girl, but she ended up disliking the guy she ended up with and went back to Blanckenburg. They were married in 1938 and they decided to wait on children until after the war.

Annotation

William Blanckenburg was met by a lieutenant colonel who knew that Blanckenburg was married and was an older fellow. Blanckenburg was plucked from the infantry and sent to the Judge Advocate as a clerk. Blanckenburg’s combat experience extended from Anzio to Rome. It took them four months to go 26 miles. Lieutenant Colonel Merns was a friend of Blanckenburg and he ran into him in Italy. Blanckenburg asked who he was and someone replied he was a Lieutenant Colonel. Blanckenburg said he would just call him Bud. Merns came over and informed Blanckenburg not to call him a nickname. Blanckenburg volunteered for what was called the 3rd Division Battle Patrol. He felt that he had a better chance of survival in the battle patrol. They worked hard as a unit to patrol. They would go out for two or three days and at the end of the mission they would usually be relatively safe. They had only three casualties in that outfit and those were incurred because people were coming back to the line at night and getting shot at before getting challenged. Blanckenburg had a West Virginia coal miner in his outfit. He was killed by one of their own men who was trigger happy. Their First Sergeant was an Irishman from San Francisco. The coal miner and the Irishman were both drinkers and Blanckenburg displayed his disgust with that one time. He asked the men to not drink before they went out on patrol. Blanckenburg instead was instructed to go out on several missions as volunteer. Blanckenburg felt that his days were numbered and eventually he was plucked from the infantry and sent to the Judge Advocate. Bud Merns and Blanckenburg had two different levels to their military career. Eventually Merns was stationed in Washington, D.C. Blanckenburg eventually became a 1st lieutenant, not because of his scholastic ability, but because of his combat experience. Merns eventually died of Alzheimer’s, but he did have a wonderful military career.

Annotation

William Blanckenburg wrote a book called Private Blanckenburg Goes to War. During his combat experience they had a long march. They started out with an under strength company which was Company A [Annotator’s Note: Company A, 1st Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division] and they had about 100 guys. By the afternoon, they had about 30 guys left. Blanckenburg was very fortunate to come out with just a little scratch. Blanckenburg’s middle to upper class upbringing did not toughen him up at all. After experiencing combat and being in the mud and the dirt and the foxholes it toughened him up. This experience helped out later on when he became a judge. Blanckenburg entered the service on 19 March 1943 and he was in until 19 March 1946. Three years to the day. Blanckenburg could stand the physical rigors of boot camp. It was harder on Blanckenburg than it was for the younger guys in training. The Irish and the Germans were well represented in America. Blanckenburg did take some grief for being the old guy in the outfit. Some of the younger guys joked that he must have been a lousy lawyer to be stuck in the mess he was in now. Blanckenburg was toughened up physically by boot camp and after five minutes of combat he was toughened up all around. Blanckenburg passed through North Africa as a part of the replacement pool that was being passed along for the invasion of Italy. North Africa was a tough camp because of the weather. Blanckenburg went with a group of several hundred replacements to southern Italy then was moved up by truck to the replacement depot that led to the 3rd Infantry Division. The 3rd Infantry Division suffered more casualties than any other unit in the military during the war. When Blanckenburg was near Anzio his unit suffered almost 100 percent turnover. Blanckenburg carried a M1 Garand. He did not make the amphibious landing at Anzio. In 1944, they landed at Anzio almost unopposed. Blanckenburg went up to the line on 7 February 1944. He was in Company A, 7th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division. It was a little chilly at first but got warmer. There was a range of mountains on the coast that opened up into a valley that led to another mountain range. These mountains were covered in snow. They moved into the valley and fought their way along the ridge mountain area. If they had gotten out all by themselves they would have been a prime target for ambush. They had some exciting experiences that proved not to be deadly.

Annotation

William Blanckenburg realizes that taking four months to go 26 miles was not exactly a lightning attack. He took ribbing from the guys who thought that someone like Blanckenburg should be as far away from this mess as anyone. Blanckenburg wanted to be in a unit where he had a chance of staying alive. The army was terrible in generating patrols for the Anzio campaign. People needed to know the units they were fighting against and the ones they were serving with. They would send out patrols where no two guys were from the same unit. A patrol of five to six men would be selected from different units. Blanckenburg went out one night with a 1st lieutenant and no one knew anybody. Their job was to patrol out in no man’s land. They would go out there and their mission was to take a prisoner. The lieutenant told them they were going to patrol about 200 yards then find a hole and hunker down for the night. When dawn broke they would return and report that they did not find any prisoners. They did just that. It was so hopeless to be patrolling under those circumstances. After that they called for volunteers for the battle patrol unit that would receive special training on patrols. Blanckenburg volunteered and that was what they did. Even though some of the guys he served with were wild men and drunks, they got the job done. On their first patrol they got close enough to hear the Germans talking. It turned out that the job was not deadly, but they were lucky. Blanckenburg never found out what happened to the guys after he got transferred to the Judge Advocate. Being within a few yards of the Germans was a memorable experience for Blanckenburg. They went up the sides of some of the mountains. One time Blanckenburg ran into some Italian soldiers who were very grateful to see the Americans. They were the first unit to reach Junction City which was where a bunch of roads converged. The local population came out and greeted them. They had an ambush set up well ahead of the American lines. They set up an ambush along the road and if a German car came by, they blasted them. Italian girls were around and the guys paid great attention to them. Multiple cars loaded with Germans would come by and they lit them up. The local kids would make a game of it and when the firing started they would run and hide. It was unbelievable for Blanckenburg to see how those kids handled the situation. When they got to Rome, Blanckenburg and his unit were stationed on the Tiber River which was just past Rome. Blanckenburg saw a great amount of German activity on the other side of the Tiber. Blanckenburg and some of the guys fired on these Germans. It was neat for Blanckenburg to be near Rome before it was declared an Open City. In the days before they had good patrolling Blanckenburg was in a jeep patrolling the line. It seemed like a bad idea so the jeep driver in charge of the patrol went to a place where there was a cave full of Italians. They came back and reported no activity. [Annotators Note: Blanckenburg’s wife jumps in to remind Blanckenburg that he is telling the wrong story.]

Annotation

William Blanckenburg was alongside a creek and the Germans were on the other side. This was before Blanckenburg got into the battle patrol. A couple of guys were wedged into a hole which had been created by an artillery shell. A couple of other guys tried to dive in their hole and they were lying on top of Blanckenburg and another guy. It was a tense moment. Blanckenburg was terrified much of the time. It had a strange effect. An icy cold would come over him and he operated fine under fire. He was able to aim and fire his rifle with no problem. Once they got into the battle patrol they would flush out groups of Germans that wanted no more part of the war. They would recognize the Americans were getting close and they would get up and run. This provided an excellent opportunity for the GIs to fire their weapons. War is a crazy place. War is scary. Seeing guys getting killed was a tough experience because you could go your whole life without seeing someone killed. The battle patrol guys got to be pretty close and they worked hard to learn the patrolling trade. Blanckenburg did not like being thrown into a unit as a replacement with guys who did not know each other. The battle patrol gelled together a lot better. In training, Blanckenburg made some good friends. The camaraderie that would have normally existed between guys who had trained together was absent as the replacements began to fill the ranks. Blanckenburg found out that he could take combat as well as the next guy. He always had an interest in the military but he did not come from a military background. It toughened him. When Blanckenburg became a judge later in life he was tough and he thanks his training with the battle patrol. After going through a bunch of harrowing experiences the rest of life did not seem so hard. Blanckenburg was a half Kraut battling other Krauts. In the battle patrol they had a guy named Hurtz. He announced that if the situation was right, he could kill a man. They told Hurtz that they were going to get a prisoner for him to shoot. Blanckenburg can vividly remember witnessing this. Blanckenburg suspected he was drunk. A lot of the time they had no opportunity to get alcohol, but whenever they did get it they gobbled it down. Any chance to get drunk they took. Colonel Merns, who was in charge of the regiment, got the transfer to the Judge Advocate for Blanckenburg. He got this because they all knew he was married with kids. Since he was in combat he requested to be sent to Washington, D.C. Merns was sent there eventually too. Since Blanckenburg had combat experience they gave him the assignment of the enlisted man’s branch which dealt with the enlisted man’s problems. Blanckenburg made 1st lieutenant rather quickly which was a big jump from private. A colonel in Washington, D.C. took a shine to Blanckenburg. Blanckenburg has fond memories of riding around Washington, D.C. He was given multiple enlisted men’s cases. He fought one time to get a private 120 dollars. [Annotators Note: Blanckenburg requested that the camera be turned off for a second so he could think his next story over.]

Annotation

Much of what William Blanckenburg is talking about is in his book [Annotators Note: Blankenburg authored a book titled Private Blanckenburg Goes to War]. A problem occurred when Blanckenburg was at the Judge Advocate in Washington, D.C. He was given an assignment regarding line of duty. Posted beaches were a source of many drownings and if a person was killed on a beach that he had been told not to swim at he and his dependents would lose their benefits. It seemed like a dirty trick to Blanckenburg. Any time someone got a hold of a foreign weapon and killed themselves with it by accident it was not considered to be in the line of duty and they would lose their benefits. Blanckenburg thought this was a terrible way to run a war. He sounded off to the colonel about that and the colonel agreed that the policy was unreasonable. Blanckenburg wrote it up the way he thought it should be. Two cases of drowning and accidental death by foreign weapon were brought before the Judge Advocate. Blanckenburg was able to argue his case. The judge’s name was Hoover and it turned out that his son went to school with Blanckenburg in California. He agreed on it and it became the law. It changed the rule. World War 2 made Blanckenburg a more rounded person. It toughened him up and helped him prepare for his postwar career. It showed that being blessed with good fortune helps. As a judge, he had to do a lot of things he did not like but he also did a lot of things he was happy to be a part of. Whenever there were arguments Blanckenburg felt confident. It made him more hard-nosed. Blanckenburg believes it is important that young kids study and learn not only about World War 2, but all American wars. They should also be exposed to the military. If Blanckenburg had his way there would be a wartime and peacetime draft. We should either be at war and have a draft or no war at all. Blanckenburg thinks it is wrong to have only a handful of people fight our wars. People should not be going on multiple deployments. There should be a draft for everybody and if not we should not be fighting. Blanckenburg believes we have the greatest country the world has ever known. It has been run pretty well a lot of the time. Blanckenburg believes that our country needs to shape up and that millionaires should not be profiting when everyone else is doing poorly. Blanckenburg believes this country was run well by other presidents. We have a great country with tremendous leaders who have made tough decisions. Blanckenburg does not see a real leader on the horizon.
$60.00
Product: 
$60.00
Product: 
$60.00
Product: 
$60.00
Product: 
$60.00
Product: 
$60.00
Product: 
$60.00
Product: 

All oral histories featured on this site are available to license. The videos will be delivered via mail as Hi Definition video on DVD/DVDs or via file transfer. You will be purchasing the oral history in its entirety but will be free to use only specific clips. Please contact the Museum at digitalcollections@nationalww2museum.org if you are interested in licensing this content. Please allow up to two weeks for file delivery or delivery of the DVD to your postal address. See more information at http://ww2online.org/faqs.