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Amsterdam POW was World War II hero

Amsterdam POW was World War II hero

Pork chops, mashed potatoes and bread comprised the last meal Jack Blanchfield ate with his fellow Americans before he was captured by German troops in World War II.

In the coming months the 115 pound, 5-foot, 4-inch soldier had little to eat and lived in harsh conditions, losing over 25 pounds.

Born in Schenectady, John Joseph Blanchfield was raised on Trinity Place in Amsterdam, the son of James and Teresa Blanchfield.  James Blanchfield was circulation manager of the Recorder.

James Sheridan grew up in the same area as Blanchfield and his brothers.  Before sending the Sheridan children off to school each day, their mother Ursula would urge them to look as good as the Blanchfields.

Sheridan said of Blanchfield and his brothers, “All were scholars and athletes and all had a great sense of humor.  They came to school impeccably dressed.”

Jack Blanchfield graduated from Amsterdam’s St. Mary’s Institute and was attending Niagara University when he enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1943.

Arriving in Europe in 1944, Pvt. Blanchfield was assigned to Gen. George Patton's Third Army.  Sent with another soldier to a forward outpost, his comrade was killed and Blanchfield was captured by SS troops on Nov. 4, 1944.

Taken to a POW camp near Dunnwald, Germany, he and his fellow prisoners built a new road. When that project ended, Blanchfield was taken to a prison camp in Neubrandenburg, 115 miles north of Berlin.

In early 1945, the Germans led Blanchfield and 160 others five miles away to a smaller camp for another work project.  This time the POWs built concrete road blocks to hinder the advancing Soviet army.

Pvt. Blanchfield, who by then had a working knowledge of German, was elected interpreter and camp leader by his fellow prisoners.  The Germans called him Shorty.

When the concrete road blocks were finished, the Germans organized a ceremony as the wooden forms were taken away.  The barriers crumbled.

In late April with the end of the war approaching, six German guards left the camp with 161 American captives, who were led by Pvt. Blanchfield.  Five of the guards were overpowered the first night, one cooperative guard continued with the Americans.

With Blanchfield now in command, they headed toward the American front line along with other refugees.  A Russian plane strafed the road causing many casualties.  Thirteen of the Americans from the prison camp hopped into a railroad box car heading west.  A Russian plane bombed the train killing the men.

Blanchfield sent out forward scouts and one returned on board an American tank that led the former prisoners to safety.

Information for this story came from a book on Amsterdam residents during World War II, “Where Do We Find Such Men,” researched and written by the late attorney and judge Robert Going.

Going wrote that Blanchfield and his men crossed into American-held territory, “Mustering all their energy, they marched proudly and smartly. Bedraggled, tired, sore, hungry. Crying.”

Blanchfield made it back to his grandparents’ home in Schenectady on June 8.   After fixing a flat tire, he drove to Amsterdam the following day and spent the next night in his own bed on Trinity Place.  He was 21.  He was discharged from the Army as a corporal in December.

He married Patricia Ann Southard in 1948.  She was educated as a nurse at Amsterdam’s St. Mary’s Hospital.  They relocated to Westchester County and also Lake George.  They had four children. 

Blanchfield was a manager for Nationwide Insurance and owner of Work in Westchester Employment Agency.

Jack Blanchfield died at age 88 in 2012.  His widow Patricia died in 2016.

Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Anyone with a suggestion for a Focus on History topic may contact him at 346-6657 or [email protected].


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