WATERVLIET ARSENAL, N.Y. (Dec. 11, 2012 - ANS) -- 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.
December 6, 2012 - Ernie Blanchet, from Troy, N.Y., was employed at the Watervliet Arsenal, N.Y., when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941. He 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. Photo by John B. Snyder
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
"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
"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
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.
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
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.
By Army John B. Snyder
Army News Service
Comment on this article