Branch: U. S. Navy
Rank: Electrician’s Mate Third Class
Status: Lost at sea
Date of Service: WWI
Home Town: Nora Township
1. Ervin Blix 2. U S S Herman Frasch 3. Blix newspaper article
Ervin was born 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.” Throughout his short life his name has also been spelled “Erwin” and “Irvin.”
Albert Blix had immigrated to the U. S. in 1859 from Norway when he was three years old and his future wife Anna in 1889. Albert and Anna were married in 1892 and began farming in Sparta Township near Granite Falls. Ervin was still very young when his family moved north in 1901 to establish a new home in Nora Township of Clearwater County. They farmed 160 acres in section 34 of Nora Township. Ervin had three older brothers: Anton, Emil and James who all helped with the farm work.
Unfortunately, Albert had to be admitted to the Minnesota State Hospital for the Insane at St. Peter not long after the move and died there in December of 1918. Anna took over the running of the farm with the help of her sons. Ervin’s personality didn’t suffer with the loss of his dad, however. He had been born with a great sense of humor and took pride in being a jokester. He loved playing practical jokes on his friends but was never mean about it. He had a special talent for always looking at the positive side of things and making everyone laugh.
Ervin traveled to Minneapolis and enlisted in the U.S. Navy on May 3, 1917. He was given the specialty of electrician’s mate. America had managed to stay out of the world-wide conflict that began in 1914, but after Germany sank seven U. S. merchant ships and invited Mexico to join their war effort, President Woodrow Wilson called for war on Germany. Congress declared war on April 6, 1917.
After taking 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 got orders to be 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. The ship 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 sailing 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, which pierced its after deck, damaged the steering gear and destroyed the 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, then slid off 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. Unfortunately, twenty-five men had drowned and Ervin Theodor Blix was among them. His body was never recovered.
Ervin’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, France. This cemetery contains the graves of 1,541 WWI American military dead and 974 American missing or lost at sea.
Ervin was posthumously awarded the WWI Victory Medal. He was Clearwater County’s first fatality in World War I and is the namesake of Bagley, Minnesota’s Irvin Blix American Legion Post 16.