Just like Mr. Roberts, who served aboard the USS Reluctant, Seaman 1st Class Ed Blissick of Gardens of Gulf Cove near Port Charlotte, Fla. served on a similar attack transport, the USS Montague, AKA-98, during the final months of World War II.
Like the title character in the 1955 movie staring Henry Fonda, he never fired a shot at the enemy. The young seaman’s lot was not glamorous.
He had a dirty, thankless job working as a boiler tender in the engine room on the little transport ship. The war didn’t start out that way for him. He trained to be a deep-water salvage diver but ended up on the wrong ship and was put in the engine room, much to his dismay.
“It was the worst job in the world. We had to change our dungarees three times a day because it was 120 degrees down there,” said Blissick, now 79. “Nobody comes down there. That was dead man’s territory.”
Despite the heat, the sweat and the noise in the engine room, Blissick would find out that being part of the engine room crew on the Montague has its perks.
When the ship left Norfolk, Va., for the war on May 14, 1945, it wasn’t loaded with bullets and bombs for the war. It was filled to the gunwales with 20,000 cases of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.
“By the time we got to Pearl Harbor, I hated Pabst,” he recalled with a grin. “Because we had access to freon in the engine room, we could keep our beer ice-cold. There were also a couple of cases of chicken breasts in the freezer in the hole.
“We had cold beer (thanks to the freon) and hot chicken cooked with the super-heated steam from the engine. All we had to do was crack a steam valve on the engine and we would have cooked chicken in no time,” Blissick said.
“We invited the baker aboard ship down to the engine room for chicken and beer,” he said. “There was a stalk of bananas aboard, and he made banana cream pies that was out-of-this-world to go with our beer and chicken.”
“It was a tough war,” he grinned.
Blissick didn’t join the service until November 1943, when he was 19, because he had a deferment. He was a boilermaker in a critical job.
“I was working 12 hours a day, seven days a week, and I didn’t even have time to chase girls,” he said. “I decided I was tired of it and I wanted to go in the service.”
He ended up in the Navy, and after boot camp he was assigned to diving school at Pier 88 in New York City.
“We dived in the East River. The water was so polluted, we couldn’t see anything,” Blissick said. “On the first day, half the class washed out.
“That first day there were 85 new guys on Pier 88. Half the guys started screaming and yelling when they put us in diving suits. They had claustrophobia and were scared to death.
“Those of us who hung in there jumped over the side into 50 feet of water. When we reached the bottom, we were standing in muck up to our shoulders.”
The test was to take a gasket, attached to his wrist, and put it on a steel tank already on the bottom. Then he had to use a wrench to tighten a couple of bolts that snugged down a plate against the gasket he brought down with him on his first dive. Finally, he filled the tank with air from an air line sent down to him from the surface.
If the steel tank surfaced, a diver passed his first diving test. Blissick’s tank broke water that first day, and three-and-a-half months later, he was a certified Navy deep-water diver.
He was supposed to have shipped out aboard a 120-foot seagoing tug, but somehow his orders got mixed up. Blissick ended up aboard the USS Montague by mistake. The skipper wouldn’t let him leave the ship.
The Montague arrived at the Panama Canal on May 24, 1945, and by June 1 the ship and its crew were headed across the Pacific for Pearl Harbor, escorted by U.S. submarine No. 475, according to a daily log Blissick kept while in the Navy. On June 10 at 9:30 a.m., they arrived at Pearl and disgorged their cargo of Pabst.
“We took 150 young sailors aboard and five LCM landing crafts and headed for Okinawa,” he said. “We were hardly out of port when every one of the young sailors got seasick. There was so much puke aboard ship we walked around in rubber boots,” Blissick said.
“One day, on the way to Okinawa the captain got on the PA and told us, ‘A Japanese submarine shot a torpedo at us yesterday, but he missed.’ Everybody aboard ship was real happy with that. We were out there by ourselves, and the skipper didn’t tell us until the next day that the Japanese were shooting torpedoes at us!”
Blissick’s log notes read: “Aug. 5 arrived at Okinawa. Fighting was still going on. Air raid at 2 a.m.”
“We watched Marines killing Japanese,” he said. “There were a lot of disabled American tanks on the beach. The Japanese would climb into them and start shooting the tank’s machine guns at our Marines. When a Jap popped his head out of a tank, a Marine would blow it off with his M-1 (rifle).”
It was about this time that Blissick made his only official war-time dive, but it wasn’t in a deep-water rig with a hard hat as he had been trained to do. They gave him a wet suit and an air hose, and the captain of the Montague told him to jump over the side and check the ship’s propellers.
“They had a guy with a rifle on the stern of the ship to cover me while I was in the water,” he said. “There were sea snakes at Okinawa that would attack divers. That’s what he was protecting me from.”
While over the side he didn’t run into any snakes, but when he got topside he found out they were down there.
“A couple of guys on the ship caught a sea snake in a net and dragged it aboard. It was about 5 or 6 feet long, as thick as a fire hose and it had lots of teeth, too,” Blissick said.
The war was winding down, not only for Blissick and the crew of the Montague, but for all the other servicemen in the Pacific Theater of Operations.
“Our reaction when we heard they dropped the atomic bomb — everybody prayed for Harry Truman,” he said. “He was the sailors’ and soldiers’ favorite.”
The Montague had just returned from convoy duty and was anchored in Buckner Bay at Okinawa when its crew got the word the war was over. It was Aug. 14, 1945.
“The day after the surrender we were watching them take 21 dead sailors off the battleship USS Pennsylvania. It had been hit by a Kamikaze the day before,” Blissick said.
On Sept. 16 they weighed anchor and sailed for Jinsen, Korea, with troops from the U.S. Army’s 43rd Corps. After they were deposited on the beach, the ship’s crew was allowed liberty.
“As soon as we got ashore, the Japanese left over from the occupation during the war started throwing rocks at us. We threw rocks back. Our captain canceled liberty and we sailed back to Okinawa,” Blissick said. “Korea was a cold, godforsaken place.”
On the return trip they took a bunch of U.S. Marines from the 1st Division to Taku, China. Blissick “made a really great liberty in Tientsin, China,” according to his log.
Blissick took several more trips to China before heading back to the States for good.
On Christmas Day 1945, the Montague, with Blissick aboard, sailed from Pearl Harbor for the United States. The ship entered the Pacific side of the Panama Canal on Dec. 30. Six days later, she reached Norfolk and Pier 3, according to his log.
“The USS Montague was assigned to active duty with the Atlantic Fleet. We were engaged in numerous training cruises. I left the ship on April 17 and was discharged at Bainbridge, Md., April 17, 1946,” Blissick’s log concludes.
He and his wife Shirley lived in Gardens of Gulf Cove near Port Charlotte, Fla.
This story first appeared in the Charlotte Sun Port Charlotte, Fla. on Sunday, April 6, 2003 and is republished with permission.
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Edward C. Blissick Sr., 81, of Port Charlotte, Fla., died Thursday, June 9, 2005.
He was born June 19, 1923, in Chester, Pa.
He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II.
Mr. Blissick was a retired laboratory analyst for DuPont in Wilmington, Del. He moved to the Port Charlotte area in 1982 from Newark, Del. He was a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Englewood, Fla., Englewood Elks and Community Presbyterian Church in Englewood.
He is survived by his wife, Shirley; daughter, Elizabeth Stout of Maryland; sons, Edward Blissick Jr. of Florida, George of Florida and James of Delaware; brother, Frank of Pennsylvania; six grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday, June 15, 2005, at Community Presbyterian Church.
Obituary reprinted from the Charlotte Sun.