Samuel Nathan Blatchford
Master Sergeant, United States Air Force
By BRODIE FARQUHAR
Courtesy of the Star-Tribune
January 03, 2006
A warrior died here last month.
Samuel N. Blatchford, 81, great-great-grandson of Navajo war chief Manuelito and decorated war hero with service in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, died December 23, 2005.
A memorial service will be held at Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Lander at 11 a.m. today, with interment of his cremated remains at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C., later this spring.
To say that he qualified for that military
honor is an understatement. His military service included:
Blatchford earned 28 medals, including the Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross with one oak leaf cluster, four Purple Hearts, six Air Medals and the Prisoner of War Medal. The French government presented him with its Freedom Medal for his work with the French Resistance, a Citizenship Medal bestowing honorary citizenship, as well as the key to the city of Lisio.
Along the way, he earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, a master’s degree in business administration and served as a site manager for Boeing Services International at an Air Force base in Turkey. In addition to his native Navajo and second language of English, he also learned to speak Turkish, French, German and Japanese.
Yet Sam Blatchford was more than a warrior: He lived a love story in which he waited 56 years to wed his first sweetheart, the former Cecelia Birdshead.
“We both were working for the (Civilian Conservation Corps),” Cecelia Blatchford said. “I worked in the office, and he drove a truck before the war.”
The two fell in love and were engaged on July 15, 1941, before he enlisted with the 7th Cavalry.
When the 7th Cavalry switched over from horses to mechanized armor, Blatchford transferred into the Army Air Corps, where he served as a radio operator and gunner for a B17. He and his crewmates were shot down three times, ditching twice over the North Sea and in a third incident, a flaming crash landing in England. A standard tour of duty was 25 missions, and Blatchford’s crew was assigned a “milk run” for its 25th mission n a bombing run over submarine pens near Nantes, on the coast of France.
Their B17 was shot down, and Blatchford was the last one out.
“He couldn’t get out, trapped by centrifugal force as the plane spiraled down. He was thrown free when it blew up,” Cecelia Blatchford said. He managed to pull his ripcord before he blacked out.
Because no one saw their parachutes, the entire crew was pronounced missing and presumed dead.
Blatchford was found by a French farmer, who hid the badly wounded airman from roving German patrols. Members of the French Resistance smuggled him to the isolated town of Lisio, where the local butcher used a carving knife to remove the shrapnel. Blatchford recalled that his friends made him drink a lot of cognac and champagne before the operation. Dosed with boric acid, water and sunlight, Blatchford’s wounds healed.
Meanwhile, Cecelia waited and hoped, but with no news of Blatchford, came to accept that he was dead. Cecelia married in January 1945 -- about the same time Blatchford was working his many escape attempts from Stalag 17-B.
Blatchford was lucky he wound up in the prisoner of war camp. He’d been working with the French Resistance in Paris for about a month, before the Gestapo swept Blatchford up in a raid. He and his compatriots were lined up against a wall, and three machine guns opened up. Abruptly, a German officer kicked over a machine gun to save someone for interrogation. That act saved Blatchford’s life, but set him up for months of brutal beatings. Finally, German authorities decided he was an airman and not a spy, and shipped him off to Stalag 17 in February 1944.
He remained a prisoner of war until May 5, 1945, when he was liberated by Patton’s 14th Armored Division, near Braunau, Austria, where the prisoners had been marched at gunpoint.
Returning to the United States, Blatchford left the Army Air Corps and went to find Cecelia, only to discover she’d thought him dead, had married someone else and was pregnant with her first child. Cecelia returned her engagement ring to Blatchford in what she described as “a bad scene,” and he left. Two months later, Cecelia’s husband was killed in Okinawa. She eventually remarried and raised eight children.
Blatchford re-enlisted in 1952, after earning his civil engineering degree.
He served as a radio operator in a troop carrier, flying combat missions between Japan and Korea before being wounded again and sent back to the United States with another Purple Heart. After recovery from his wound, Blatchford was one of the first Air Force people trained in computers.
Shortly after the Gulf of Tonkin incident, Blatchford was shipped to Bien Hoa as a computer operator to the 3rd Tactical Fighter Wing. When officials found that he had a radio background, he was reassigned as a ground forward air controller with the 173rd Infantry, 1st Army Division, calling in air strikes on nearby enemy positions near the Cambodia border. While he was riding with his captain in a jeep, a land mine blew up, killing the captain and sending Blatchford to the hospital for his fourth Purple Heart.
Reassigned back to the United States, Blatchford served another 10 years in the Air Force, retiring as a master sergeant on December 30, 1976. He worked about 15 years for Boeing Services International in Turkey, then a few more years at Scott Air Force Base with the land mobile radio section.
He had married, raised a daughter and a son, and retired in Illinois.
Cecelia was widowed after 33 years of marriage and retired in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
When Blatchford’s wife, Dorothy, died in open-heart surgery, he decided he needed to make peace with Cecelia.
Their ensuing courtship led to an August 1, 1998, wedding ceremony atop Snow King Mountain in Jackson. Sam and Cecelia attended sun dances on the Wind River Indian Reservation and house sat for three winters in Fort Washakie for Cecelia’s niece, Stephanie, who is married to sculptor Richard Greeves.
“Sam asked me if I wanted to move to Lander,” Cecelia said. “We loved it here.”
They moved into a house on Wood Street in 1999.
Their home is filled with paintings of Sam’s Navajo country, as well as
sculptures by Greeves.
By NOELLE STRAUB
Courtesy of the Billings Gazette
19 April 2006
The world seemed to stop for a moment as one of the four planes roaring overhead broke away from a tight formation and shot alone up into the cloudless blue sky Tuesday in honor of a fallen warrior, U.S. Air Force Master Sergeant Samuel Nathan Blatchford.
Mournful bagpipes accompanied the flyover at Arlington National Cemetery as hearts broke on the ground for the Navajo man whose survival after getting shot down three times during World War II and enduring 18 months in a German prison camp marked only the beginning of his amazing life story.
Six Air Force Honor Guards dressed in crisp blue uniforms and white gloves slowly unfolded an American flag and held it tight over Blatchford's remains, honoring him with the symbol he had fought for through three conflicts: World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
In the distance, seven more honor guards fired three shots into the air and another played taps, which echoed across the seemingly unending field of white headstones where Blatchford has come to rest after dying at age 81 in Lander, Wyoming. In precise movements, the six men folded the American flag at the end of the burial ceremony and presented it to his widow, Cecelia, his first sweetheart, who shared a remarkable love story with the man she came to marry only late in life.
"It's very special," Cecelia said after the burial. "It's quite an honor to be buried here. I'm glad we were able to do this for him because he certainly deserved it."
Family members laid roses to the sound of an eagle whistle, a tribute to Blatchford's American Indian roots. He was the great-great-grandson of Navajo war chief Manuelito and was adopted by the Sioux in 1990 and given the Yellow Eagle Feather, the highest honor a Lakota warrior can receive.
Blatchford's daughter, Natalie Russo, said he had specifically requested to be buried in Arlington. "We did our best to honor him as best we could," she said after the service. "I think it was fitting."
During the ceremony, an Air Force chaplain sketched the impressive outlines of Blatchford's military life. He earned 28 medals during his career.
Blatchford first enlisted in 1941 and scouted for the 7th Calvary before it switched from horses to tanks. He became a radio operator on a B-17 in the Army Air Corps during World War II, leaving behind his fiancee Cecelia to serve overseas.
He was shot down three times during the war. On what would have been his last mission for a standard tour of duty, Blatchford and his crew went on what was expected to be a fairly easy bombing run near the French coast.
His B-17 was shot down, but Blatchford managed to escape with his life. He was rescued by a French farmer, and members of the French Resistance smuggled him to the town of Lisio, where the local butcher used a carving knife to remove the shrapnel.
Blatchford worked with the French Resistance but eventually was captured by the German Gestapo. His life was spared, but he endured months of brutal beatings. He spent 18 months as a prisoner of war, spending time in the infamous Stalag 17-B.
An honor guard held a black POW-MIA flag throughout his interment ceremony Tuesday.
Finally liberated in May 1945 by the U.S. Army, Blatchford returned home and went to find Cecelia. But after waiting and hoping, Cecelia had eventually accepted that her fiancee, who had been declared missing and presumed dead, had lost his life.
Cecelia had married another man in January 1945 and was pregnant with her first child when Blatchford found her. The two had what she has called "a bad scene," and he left. Cecelia's first husband was killed two months later in Okinawa. She eventually remarried and raised eight children.
Blatchford re-enlisted in 1952 and saw combat service in two more conflicts. He flew combat missions in Korea before being wounded again and sent back to the United States. He served as a ground forward air controller with an Army unit in Vietnam, earning another Purple Heart after being injured by a land mine.
Blatchford retired from the military in January 1977. He worked for about 15 years for Boeing Services International in Turkey. He also married and raised a daughter and a son.
After Blatchford's wife died, he decided to track down Cecelia and make amends. By then she was a widow, and the two decided to finally marry after 56 years. The wedding took place atop Snow King Mountain in Jackson in 1998, and the pair moved to Wyoming and lived there until his death on December 23, 2005.
All told he earned 28 medals, including the Silver Star, the Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross with one oak leaf cluster, four Purple Hearts, six Air Medals and the Prisoner of War Medal.
Blatchford's grandson, Dwayne Damba, said his grandfather had urged him to join the Air Force, but Damba became a physician with the Army Reserve and served recently in Iraq. Damba, 39, expressed awe Tuesday over his grandfather's 28 medals and said he'd never be able to catch up.
"He was just always full of love and support," said Damba, accompanied by his daughter, Emily, Blatchford's great-granddaughter. "He was just a super human being. ... We're quite proud of him."
Besides his native Navajo and English, Blatchford
also spoke Turkish, French, German and Japanese. He was honored several
times by the French government and by the Resistance.