War! Oahu Bombed by Japanese Planes
1500 Dead in Hawaii; Congress Votes War
Japs Open War on U.S. With Bombing of Hawaii
Japs Declare War on U.S.; Bomb Pearl Harbor Base; 350 Americans Are Killed
U.S. Declares State of War; One Battleship Lost, 1,500 Killed in Hawaii
—headlines around the United States Dec. 8, 1941
Dec. 7, 1941, was a dark day in the history of the United States. It was a dark day in the Blitz family, too.
Twin brothers Rudolph and Leo Blitz, 21, were serving aboard the U.S.S. Oklahoma stationed in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. They were within weeks of finishing their tours and coming back home to Lincoln, according to Ed McLaughlin of Seward.
McLaughlin’s grandmother, Betty Pitsch, who is now 93, was the twins’ younger sister. She was 16 when they were killed.
She described them as ornery and tricksters. Betty eventually married Richard Pitsch and moved to Seward in 1954, McLaughlin said. His mother, Kathy, was raised in Seward.
Richard Pitsch was a doctor in Seward from the 1950s until he retired in 1996. His office was located where the Seward Police Department is now. Betty was the office manager.
One family story said the twins dated the same girl at the same time, he said. They’d take each other’s places sometimes.
McLaughlin said his grandmother didn’t talk about them much, although everyone in the family had pictures of them.
In the Blitz family, “Grandma is the last person alive who knew them,” McLaughlin said. “She was 16 when they died.”
Rudy and Leo volunteered for the service when they were 17.
Meghan Shannon, a niece of the brothers, said Pitsch wrote them letters while they were gone, and they wrote back. Rudolph was a fireman on deck of the Oklahoma, while Leo worked below decks, Shannon said.
The family heard stories about the twins from that morning. One said Rudy went back to find Leo after the Oklahoma was torpedoed by Japanese bombers. Later, the family heard that Leo died when the battleship sank and Rudy disappeared swimming back to find him.
“It was probably the first,” McLaughlin said. “They didn’t like to be apart, so that doesn’t surprise anyone.”
The family assumed the twins’ bodies would remain with the Oklahoma in Pearl Harbor. Imagine their surprise when the U.S. Navy contacted them to say the brothers had been found. This marked the first time the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency had identified twins, McLaughlin said.
McLaughlin was at the 2019 NAIA Outdoor National Track Meet when he got the news. He described his response as shock and awe.
The Navy had gotten a DNA sample from Pitsch as the only surviving direct family member. Identification was done at Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha.
“There’s less chance every year to have someone alive who knew them,” McLaughlin said. “That they can even do this is amazing.”
The military conducted two interment ceremonies for the brothers, who are buried now at Lincoln Memorial Park. The first was for the family. The second in August was for anyone who wanted to come.
McLaughlin said the Legion unit who carried the flags arrived about 90 minutes before the ceremony. The Navy provided pallbearers, with both brothers receiving the same treatment.
The service included a presentation of the folded flags to Betty.
“We had no idea it would be so big,” McLaughlin said. “People who didn’t even know them were there. They made a huge production of it in a good way.”
The burial was the third for Rudy and Leo. Bodies recovered from the Oklahoma were buried in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii.
“I’m really happy for Grandma,” McLaughlin said. “It was such a sad part of her life. There was not joy but peace for her to know the boys are back home.”