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Blix, Ervin Theodor (1898–1918)

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Clearwater County Historical Society
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Ervin T. Blix in his navy uniform

Ervin T. Blix in his navy uniform, ca. 1918.

Ervin T. Blix was Clearwater County’s first fatality in World War I and is the namesake of Bagley, Minnesota’s Irvin Blix American Legion Post 16.

Blix was born on November 13, 1898, in Granite Falls, Minnesota, to Albert and Anna Marie Paulsdatter Blix. He was baptized in the Wegdahl Trinity Lutheran Church on the day after Christmas, 1898, with the spelling of his name as “Ervin Theodor.” During his short life his name was also spelled “Erwin” and “Irvin.”

Albert Blix had immigrated from Norway to the US in 1859, when he was three years old; Anna immigrated separately in 1889. The couple was married in 1892 and began farming in Sparta Township, near Granite Falls. Ervin was six years old when his family moved north in 1901 to establish a new home in Nora Township (Clearwater County), where they farmed 160 acres in section 34. Ervin had three older brothers―Anton, Emil, and James―who helped with the farm work.

Albert was admitted to the Minnesota State Hospital for the Insane at St. Peter not long after the family’s move, and he died while in treatment there in December of 1918. Anna took over the running of the farm with the help of her sons.

Ervin traveled to Minneapolis and enlisted in the U.S. Navy on May 3, 1917. He was given the specialty and title of Electrician’s Mate. The United States had stay out of the world-wide conflict that began in 1914, but after Germany sank seven US merchant ships and invited Mexico to join their war effort, President Woodrow Wilson called for war on Germany. Congress declared it on April 6, 1917.

After training as a radio operator, Ervin attained the rank of EM3, or Electrician’s Mate Third Class (E-4). In late September of 1918 he was transported to Europe aboard the USS Herman Frasch. The Frasch had been a bulk cargo carrier built to carry sulfur for the Union Sulphur Company and was named after the company’s president. It was commissioned at New York in September of 1918 and outfitted to be a troop transport ship. The Frasch left New York harbor on October 1, 1918, and sailed for Sidney, Nova Scotia, where it was to join a convoy departing for Europe on October 7.

Ervin boarded the Frasch in New York, but the voyage was ill-fated. Shortly after midnight on October 4, the Frasch collided with the tanker USS George G. Henry . Five days earlier, the Henry had barely survived an encounter with German submarine U-152 and had received a direct hit. A torpedo pierced its after deck, damaged its steering gear, and destroyed its after magazine.

The Henry was limping home and was about 110 miles east of Cape Sable Island on the southernmost point of the Nova Scotia peninsula when it made an emergency turn to avoid an oncoming ship, but to no avail. The Henry’s bow cut deeply into the Frasch. The Frasch’s bow rose up perpendicularly, crushed the Henry’s port rail, hung suspended in the air for a few moments, and then slid into the sea.

The Frasch took only seven minutes to sink. The Henry immediately dispatched boats and life rafts and searched for survivors using its searchlight beams. By morning, when the search was abandoned, sixty-five men had been rescued. Twenty-three men had drowned, and Ervin Theodor Blix was among them. His body was never recovered.

Blix’s sacrifice is commemorated on a while marble loggia in the World War I memorial chapel of the Suresnes American Cemetery and Memorial near Paris. The cemetery contains the graves of 1,541 World War I American military dead and 974 Americans missing or lost at sea. Blix was posthumously awarded the World War I Victory Medal.

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© Minnesota Historical Society
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“Ervin T. Blix.” HonorStates.org.
http://www.honorstates.org/index.php?id=141421

Pocock, Michael W. “Daily Event for October 4, 2013.” Maritime Quest. http://www.maritimequest.com/daily_event_archive/2013/10_oct/04_uss_herman_frasch_id1617.htm

“St Peter State Hospital, St Peter, Minnesota Collection, 1855-1974,” Minnesota State University Mankato, accessed December 21, 2017.
http://lib.mnsu.edu/archives/fa/smhc/smhc103.html

“Suresnes American Cemetery and Memorial.” Iowa In The Great War.
http://iagenweb.org/greatwar/cemeteries/Suresnes_Cemetery.htm.

Related Images

Ervin T. Blix in his navy uniform
Ervin T. Blix in his navy uniform
S.S. <em>Herman Frasch</em>
S.S. <em>Herman Frasch</em>
USS <em>George G. Henry</em>
USS <em>George G. Henry</em>

Turning Point

After surviving a torpedo attack from German submarine U-152, Blix's transport ship, the Frasch, fatally collides with the Henry.

Chronology

November 13, 1898

Ervin T. Blix is born in Granite Falls.

1901

Blix and his family move north to a farm in Nora Township in Clearwater County.

April 6, 1917

The United States declares war on Germany.

May 3, 1917

Blix enlists in the US Navy and becomes an Electrician's Mate specializing in radio operation.

1918

The troop-transport ship USS Herman Frasch leaves New York harbor bound for Nova Scotia and, ultimately, Europe.

October 4, 1918

The USS Herman Frasch collides with the tanker USS George G. Henry and sinks within seven minutes.

1918

Searchers fail to recover Blix’s body. He is commemorated in the Suresnes American Cemetery and Memorial near Paris, France.

1920

The Ervin T. Blix American Legion Post (0016) in Bagley, Minnesota, is named in Blix’s honor.