A farm boy from Ohio, Robert Blatnik enlisted with the Army in 1938 in determined desire to serve his country. Assigned to the 1st Division, 26th Infantry, he worked with combat intelligence and proved skilled in drafting topographical maps following training with the Corps of Engineers.
Prior to the 1st Division’s initial WWII combat at Oran, North Africa in early November, 1942, Blatnik was handpicked by General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. to serve as his unofficial Sergeant Major. During WWI, Roosevelt learned the position was key for the morale of troops and valued that resource. The Division would storm the beach of Oran and later was first ashore on Sicily’s tortuous terrain in July, 1943. Following the Italian campaign, the 1st Division returned to England for D-Day’s intensive preparation.
In attacking Omaha Beach on D-day, 6 June 1944, there were units suffering 30 percent casualties in the first hour, although Formigny and Caumont were secured in the beachhead. Assault boats, mined and shelled, were piled upon obstacles and formed additional obstructions. Men were cut down as their landing crafts dropped their ramps or died wading through the surf. A few of the early assault waves, having gained the dubious shelter of the shale ledge, were riddled by artillery bursts. Most supporting weapons were swamped or destroyed on the beach.
By the time Sergeant Major Blatnik hit the water with command of 900 men at Omaha, he was considered seasoned infantry. His new recruits, however, feeling the tendency to dig in when facing the onslaught of tremendous firepower, were told the only way to survive was move forward. Instructed not to tend to the wounded, the medics would follow from the rear. Of the 900 men initially in his command, only 380 would survive to march inland. Blatnik, wounded several times during his own WWII service and a recipient of a Silver Star and 4 purple hearts, was subsequently able to return to each period of combat.
Theodore Roosevelt Jr, rising to the rank of Brigadier General during WWII, served as Assistant Commander of the US Army’s 4th Infantry Division during D-Day landings at Normandy, France on 6 June, 1944. The only General officer to land with the invasion forces that day, he led his men through France into the next month before dying of a fatal heart attack, July 12, 1944, following involvement in fierce fighting. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery on D-Day. Buried at Omaha Beach American Cemetery, he was laid to rest alongside his brother, Quentin Roosevelt, who was killed in the first World War.
The 1st Division would follow a St. Lo break-through with an attack on Marigny, July 27, 1944 and drove across France in continuous offensive, reaching the German border at Aachen in September. Laying siege, they took the city following a direct assault on October 21, 1944. Then attacking east of Aachen through Hurtgen Forest and driving to the Roer, they moved to a rest area on December 7th, the Division’s first real break in six months of combat. When the von Rundstedt offensive suddenly broke loose on December 16th, the Division raced to the Ardennes and fought continuously from December 17, 1944 to January 28, 1945, helping blunt and turn back the German offensive. Thereafter, the Division attacked and again breached the Siegfried Line, fought across the Roer on February 23, 1945 and drove on to the Rhine, crossing at the Remagen bridgehead on March 15-16, 1945. Breaking out of the bridgehead, they took part in the encirclement of the Ruhr Pocket, captured Paderborn, pushed through the Harz Mountains, and were in Czechoslovakia, at Kinsperk, Sangerberg, and Mnichov, when the war in Europe ended on May 8, 1945.
Decades later, in remembrance of D-Day’s 70th Anniversary at Normandy, Sergeant Major Blatnik fell to his knees on Omaha Beach, praying for the souls of 400 men lost and a salute to Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt Jr, “a soldier’s soldier loved by his men.”
In the years following retirement, Robert Blaknit has devoted his time to the Golden Age Olympics and Veterans Hospital. A recent recipient of a Presidential Award for over 9,000 volunteer hours for the Dallas veterans facility, he still proudly wears his uniform. With an abundance of patriotism and enduring faith, Blaknit starts each morning with a rendition of God Bless America and religious hymns.
IN GRATITUDE FOR YOUR SERVICE
74th ANNIVERSARY OF D-DAY
GOD BLESS YOU