Western New Yorker was captured in Germany during WWII
United States Army Corp. Norman T. Blatner was captured during the Battle of Hurtgen Forest and held as a prisoner of war during World War II. He made it back to Western New York, thanks to a brave escape and special encounter with a German prison guard. Earlier this week, North Tonawanda Mayor Robert Ortt and others joined Congressman Brian Higgins as he presented the Blatner family with the Bronze Star, Prisoner of War Medal and other recognitions Blatner earned for his service.
"Corp. Blatner's story is one of selfless service, unimaginable circumstances, and an incredible Buffalo connection," Higgins said. "It is truly our honor to deliver these medals to the Blatner family on behalf of a grateful nation."
"It is great to see these medals delivered to the family of Corp. Norman Blatner for his service to our country," Ortt said. "We should all be proud of all Western New York veterans."
Blatner was born in 1915 and lived in Buffalo before entering active service in the Army Dec. 20, 1943. During WWII, he served with Company D for the 112th Regiment, 28th Division, and rose to the rank of corporal.
His company was involved in the Battle of Hurtgen Forest. The terrain was difficult, with steep hills and a dense mass of trees that limited visibility. Under intense fire, many were hit in their foxholes. It is believed more than 130 men were captured in total, including Blatner.
Blatner was taken by his captors to Camp Stalag 2a in northern Germany and held as a prisoner of war for seven months (Nov. 8, 1944, through June 8, 1945). The camp, controlled by Nazi Germany, and outlying sub-camps held more than 25,000 prisoners, including 950 Americans. The conditions were very difficult, especially during those cold winter months. Food was hard to come by, and prisoners were worked seven days a week.
But an interesting connection between Private Blatner's family in Western New York and a German prison guard may have saved his life. The guard asked if he was related to the Blatners who owned Blatner's Delicatessen on Greenfield Street in Buffalo. Blatner confirmed his aunt and uncle owned the store. It just so happened the guard and prisoner's family members were friends. The German guard's relatives recently visited Buffalo.
The two never spoke again but, after their encounter, Blatner was transferred to a prison farm and provided with meager nourishment, which got him through the next several months until his escape in June of 1945.
On Nov. 7 1945, Blatner was honorably discharged from the Army. When he returned home, he married Theresa. Along with his wife of 71 years, Blatner had three sons: William, Richard and Norman.
In 1947, Blatner opened a Texaco service station at the corner of Michigan Avenue and Best Street in Buffalo. He operated it for several years before he took on a new career in trucking. His son, William, later reopened Blatner's Auto, which is now located on Erie Street in North Tonawanda.
Blatner died July 4, 2013 - Independence Day - at the age of 97.
Blatner's sons recently reached out to Higgins to request assistance with obtaining the military medals their father earned.
Subsequently, 71 years and three days after Blatner began his active duty, Higgins presented the Blatner family with a number of military commendations, including:
The Bronze Star Medal is awarded for meritorious service in a combat zone. The POW Medal is issued only to those who were taken prisoner and held captive while engaged in an action against an enemy of the U.S.