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Memorial Day

Buddy Blanchette: A casualty in Korea

  • Charles "Buddy" Blanchette, the only soldier from Peterborough to die in the Korean War, is memorialized with a plaque and a cross in downtown Peterborough<br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Charles "Buddy" Blanchette, the only soldier from Peterborough to die in the Korean War, is memorialized with a plaque and a cross in downtown Peterborough<br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Charles "Buddy" Blanchette, the only soldier from Peterborough to die in the Korean War, is memorialized with a plaque and a cross in downtown Peterborough<br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

Charles C. Blanchette Jr., known to his friends as Buddy, went off to war in January 1951, leaving his hometown of Peterborough and heading to Fort Dix, N.J., for basic training in the U.S. Army.

Less than a year later, he was sent to Korea, where war was raging. The 17-year-old infantryman was assigned to the front lines and on Nov. 9, 1951, just 12 days after he arrived in Korea, Blanchette was fatally wounded by shrapnel after an enemy artillery shell exploded in the ranks. He was the only soldier from Peterborough to die in the Korean War.

“It was very hard,” said Blanchette’s sister, Barbara Hanson of Peterborough, on Monday. “My Mom and Dad and I were deeply affected. Even to this day I have a hard time. When this time of year comes around, it brings back memories.”

“His death turned the town upside-down,” said Jim Grant of Peterborough, who will be telling Blanchette’s story on Monday during the town’s Memorial Day ceremonies. “It was so unusual that a 17-year-old would be in the front lines and be killed. It took the Army 13 weeks to get the body home, but a train from New York arrived on Feb. 18, 1952, in the middle of a 24-inch blizzard. Still the townspeople turned out. A huge contingent from Cheney-Armstrong Post No. 5 met the train and escorted the body to Woodbury’s funeral home on Pine Street.”

Hanson recalls that Phil Woodbury, the funeral director, was the one who came to notify the family of Blanchette’s death. He delivered a brief and straightforward telegram, which Hanson has saved. Major General William Bergin wrote: “The Secretary of the Army has asked me to express his deep regret that your son Pvt. Blanchette Charles C. Jr. was killed in action in Korea 9 Nov. 51. Confirming letter follows.”

Hanson’s scrapbook also contains several of her brother’s letters home. On July 7, 1951, he wrote from New Jersey: “I just started my training today... It is about 114 degrees in the shade and boy is it hot when you have to run a mile one day and then they add a mile a day on until you run four miles.”

In another letter, he wrote, “OK, I forgot to ask if any of the kids are working or not. Ma, tell Dad I have another pair of boots for him if I ever get up home but if I don’t I will send them some time but I hope to soon. Well, not much to say but so long and loads of love. God Bless You All.”

Hanson said her brother only got home one time before being sent overseas.

“I had just been married,” she said. “I was probably 18. What I remember about Buddy is that he was funny. He would help anybody and he loved sports. An uncle taught him to drive a dump truck. He probably wasn’t old enough, but he was a worker.”

In 2003, on the 50th anniversary of the end of the Korean War, Hanson and her family gave the 8-foot-wide American flag that had been draped over her brother’s casket to the town of Peterborough. Grant said that flag is still flown every Memorial Day and Veterans Day in Blanchette’s memory. And this year, Cheney Armstrong Post No. 5 will honor him with the American Legion cane. The walnut cane, made by Charlie Stevenson, has an American Legion emblem on the head and a tip made from a brass machine gun shell casing. Legion members will also give Hanson a bronze commemorative medal struck to mark the 60th anniversary of the Korean War.

“The Korean War is often referred to as the forgotten war, but not in Peterborough,” Grant said. “When you pass the memorial gates, stop and take a moment to say Buddy’s name.”

Grant’s talk will occur after the Memorial Day parade reaches the memorial gates next to the Town House on Monday. Marchers in the parade will muster at the Community Center at 8 a.m. and the parade will step off at 8:30 a.m.

Dave Anderson can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 233 or danderson@ledgertranscript.com. He’s on Twitter at @DaveAndersonMLT.

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