Blietz continues to serve as AMVETS commander

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Navy veteran Rick Blietz has served as commander of AMVETS Post #27, based in Monona, for over two decades. He’s seen here posting the colors at the 2022 MFL MarMac Veterans Day program. (Times-Register file photo)

By Audrey Posten, Times-Register


Service has been an integral part of Rick Blietz’s adult life. After returning home from four years in the U.S. Navy, he became involved with the Clayton County American Veterans (AMVETS) Post #27, now based in Monona. He’s served as post commander for over two decades.


Blietz said it all started at a high school career fair. With little interest in college, he gravitated toward the military recruiters, particularly the Navy, a branch in which other family members had served.


“A good friend of mine, I started talking to him, and next thing you know, we were in Des Moines taking a test and physical. Before we left Des Moines that day, we were raising our hands to join the Navy,” Blietz recalled.


That was December 1975.


Another moment Blietz recalled: His father was not happy.


The nation was still grappling with the recent end of the Vietnam War.


“I think he had other plans for me,” Blietz said. “But he got over it. I still remember the smile on his face when my folks met us at the airport in Cedar Rapids when we came from boot camp, wearing our uniforms. He was pretty proud.”


After graduating from MFL, Blietz—and his friend—left for boot camp in summer 1976. His participation in high school sports made the physical aspect of training manageable.


“But then there was taking the orders, folding clothes, making your bed. It taught you discipline,” Blietz said.


Afterward, he attended schooling at Great Lakes, Ill., to be an engineman, working with diesel mechanics, a career field in which he had previous interest. Blietz was stationed on submarine tenders, which were diesel electric machines, similar to what train engines are, he described.


Blietz’s first tour of duty was 18 months in Sardinia, Italy, an island in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. His job was in the engine room.


“We supplied electricity for the ship and submarines would tie up alongside us and we’d supply power to them 24/7,” he explained. “We had engines that ran for months with never shutting down. Every day you worked around the noise of the engines rumbling. When we got underway and out to sea, it was hot down there. But I’m not complaining, because a lot of Vietnam veterans had heat over there dodging bullets.”


The ship was short on manpower when Blietz arrived. He often worked six hours on, six hours off. Regular watch was four hours on, then eight off.


Otherwise, life was similar to a normal work day.


“Muster at 7:30 or 8 a.m., then off at 4 or 5 p.m., and then you got to do what you wanted after if you didn’t have duty watch,” Blietz said.


Around 1,300 crew were aboard in varying capacities. It was interesting, he said, living in a vessel that held nearly as many people as the city of Monona.


“You got to know a lot of people on the ship, and you were tight with people,” Blietz said.


In the off time, the islands offered limited entertainment, but Blietz and others enjoyed visiting the beaches—which were then, and still are, a tourist attraction.


“I did a lot of snorkeling when I was there. The water was crystal clear and you could see forever underwater,” he recalled.


Every four to six months, though, servicemen were able to venture out for shore leave, to “liberty ports.” Blietz saw other parts of Italy as well as Spain and Athens, Greece.


“It was an adventure. Lots of good memories,” he said. “That’s why I went into it.”


For the remainder of his enlistment, Blietz was stationed in Charleston, S.C., on the sister ship to the one in Italy. The piping and engine rooms were familiar territory.


When he arrived, the ship was being prepped for dry dock, a process that would help refurbish it to relieve the ship in Sardinia.


“That was an interesting experience,” Blietz said. “It was neat because they bring it to his dock and drain all the water out of it. Before the ship comes in, they build stilts for that ship to rest on.”


Blietz completed his service in 1980. Utilizing the skills he learned in the military, he returned to Monona and Drahn Implement—a business he had worked at in high school. He was the service manager there for at least a decade, then later worked at Ziegler’s and Bodensteiner Implement Co. He was a salesman at the latter for 25 years.


“You have to know mechanics when you’re doing that kind of stuff, especially with machinery,” Blietz said.


It wasn’t long after he was back in Clayton County that Blietz was approached about joining AMVETS Post #27. Originally called Clayton County AMVETS, the post was chartered in National and later moved to Monona, Blietz said. Bob Grady was the commander at the time, recruiting not only members but softball team players. Blietz gave him $125 for a lifetime membership.


“I thought it would be cool to have camaraderie with those guys,” he said.


Blietz didn’t attend a lot of meetings at first, but then became more active. He happened, however, to miss one meeting when officer elections were held. 


“I was elected commander and I’ve been commander since. I know it’s been 25-plus years,” Blietz said.


The post’s membership is 96 servicemen strong, and Blietz credited adjutant Roger Bollman for his help in running operations. AMVETS #27 holds an annual fish fry as well as a fundraising drive that is well supported by the community, and members post the colors at community parades and events and MFL MarMac’s Veterans Day program. The post’s most important service, though, in Blietz’s opinion, is conducting military rites at funerals.


“I don’t think a lot of people realize that’s something we do,” he said. “But when they see that, they think, ‘Wow, we’ve got to keep these guys going.’ It makes me feel good to honor a person who has served his time. Somebody has to do that, and hopefully somebody is around to do it when I pass on.”


Blietz welcomes younger veterans—really, veterans of any age—to become involved with the post. It’s a way to give back, he said, but to commune with other veterans.


One of his favorite parts of AMVETS, he remarked, “is just the camaraderie of meeting with the other guys every month.”


It’s why Blietz, although not a Vietnam veteran, has also become involved with the Northeast Iowa Vietnam Veterans.


“The year they did the Moving Wall in National, I got involved with that group of guys. What a great group of guys,” Blietz said. “I help them in the winter time too. A few of us build flag boxes. That’s humbling too. I can pass those out to families who want or need a flag box.”


Through his work, Blietz aims to embody the qualities he gained through the military: “Responsibility,” he said. “And respect. For other people and other people’s things.”

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