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Kenneth L. Hatter, retired advertising salesman, youth sports coach and World War II veteran, dies

Kenneth L. Hatter coached youth baseball and softball.
Kenneth L. Hatter coached youth baseball and softball.

Kenneth L. Hatter, a retired advertising salesman and a World War II veteran who served in the Pacific, died of renal failure Nov. 13 at his Towson home. He was 94.

Born in Baltimore and raised on Clifton Avenue in Walbrook, he was the son of Charles Nicholas Hatter, a streetcar motorman, and Dorothy Elnora Darnall.

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He was a 1944 Baltimore Polytechnic Institute graduate.

While in middle school, he was taught and coached by Arnold Ortmann, an experience that sparked a lifelong passion for sports, including football, fast-pitch softball, boxing, baseball and youth coaching.

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“On December 8, 1941, he was sitting in the living room listening to the radio with his oldest brother, Charles, when he learned of the bombing of Pearl Harbor,” said his son, Kenneth L. Hatter Jr. “Less than two years later, and just a month after his high school graduation, he convinced his father to sign a permission slip so that he could enlist at 17.

“The hitch would be Victory plus six months. His mother cried and said, ‘Make sure you come back.’”

Mr. Hatter discussed his World War II service with his son, who recorded his remarks.

“Most of my friends were older and they were enlisting. I felt like I had to go, too,” said the elder Mr. Hatter.

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Mr. Hatter enlisted at the 5th Regiment Armory.

“I remember they said, ‘Line up over there, boys.’ Then they swore us in and said, ‘Congratulations, men, you’re in the U.S. Navy.’ Five minutes later, we were on a bus headed to Bainbridge in Cecil County for boot camp,” Mr. Hatter said.

After boot camp, he boarded the USS General M.B. Stewart and headed to the Philippines and the island of Samar. On the way to the Philippines, his ship stopped at Pearl Harbor for a night.

“When I saw all of the damage still there two-and-a-half years later — saw where all the men were entombed in their ships — I felt sick to my stomach,” Mr. Hatter said.

He arrived at the Lingayen Gulf before disembarking at the island of Samar, where the Navy, Seabees and Air Force were stationed.

“There were people from all over the country, representing different states, different backgrounds, different socioeconomic groups. Day-to-day life was busy,” Mr. Hatter said. “Things needed to be done immediately. They didn’t tell you much, but when they told you to do something, you did it. You didn’t question it.”

Mr. Hatter recalled the sailors’ pet monkey named Tuba. When the animal died, he was outfitted in a Navy uniform and given a military funeral.

“When the rifle was fired over the little guy’s grave, I don’t think there was a dry eye,” Mr. Hatter told his son.

He participated in the Battle of Leyte.

“We were expected to win. We were trained to win. We were destined to win. ... Nobody told us that we had won. I remember walking along the beach near the harbor in Samar. All of the ships had aimed their searchlights into the sky to form the shape of a V. I didn’t believe it,” he said.

After the war, he returned home and took a job with the Baltimore Transit Company and used the GI Bill to earn a University of Baltimore degree.

After a marriage that ended in divorce, he took a job in advertising sales at The Baltimore Sun. He met his future wife, Margaret “Peggy” Mullen. They lived near Gardenville and later moved to Campus Hills in Towson.

He later worked in sales at Emory Advertising, George W. King and Collins Litho.

Mr. Hatter was a well known and a popular baseball and softball coach in the Loch Raven Youth Club.

“He mixed humor and fundamentals in a way that allowed his charges to relax, enjoy the game, and usually succeed,” said his son. “His first team, the 1965 Tigers, won the league championship game despite having only eight players available. He began taking his teams for drinks and ice cream at High’s after games long before other coaches had begun to do so.”

His son also said: “My father demonstrated a profound sensitivity to children who needed more help. He routinely drafted kids the other coaches didn’t really want, kids who struggled to do well athletically and sometimes behaviorally.”

His son said his father drafted children with poor eyesight and those who were too heavy to fit into the uniforms provided. He also took boys who tended to cry and those who were afraid of the ball.

“He had a remarkable ability to get others to believe in themselves in ways they hadn’t considered before,” his son said.

His son said his father’s last head coaching experience was in 1987.

“It was a highly competitive fast-pitch softball team that traveled the region to play the best teams,” his son said. “The team traveled to Hagerstown and lost its first game and two pitchers for the rest of the tournament.”

He said that they went on to win six consecutive games and take the tournament.

“Ten minutes before game time, Coach Hatter handed me the game ball and said, ‘Go get ‘em,’” said Robert “Bob” Nittinger, one of the players on that Old Shantytown team. “He never wavered or second-guessed. He had more confidence in us than we had in ourselves. We trusted him.

“He also gave us confidence off the field, whether it it was a new job or some event in our lives. He said, ‘You can do this.’”

A Navy Honors ceremony will be held at 4 p.m. Friday at the Ruck Towson Funeral Home at 1050 York Road. A memorial service follows at 6 p.m.

Survivors include two daughters, Sharon Von Paris of Towson and Kathleen Hatter Hebert of Delta, Pennsylvania; a son, Kenneth L. Hatter Jr. of Towson; five grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. His wife of 58 years, a WFBR radio administrator, died in 2014.

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