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A fallen soldier remembered

March 21, 2013
By Michael Tidemann - Staff Writer , Estherville Daily News

Steve Blass was a helicopter crew chief assigned to the 4th Battalion, 3rd Aviation Regiment, 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division stationed stateside at Hunter Army Airfield, Ga. He had been in the Army since 2006 and arrived with the unit in August 2012. The 27-year-old Estherville native was killed in a helicopter crash in Kandahar, Afghanistan on Mondy, March 11, while supporting efforts in Operation Enduring Freedom.

Randy and Carol Blass could really have used a revolving door on their home over the last couple weeks.

It's been that busy.

Article Photos

Carol and Randy Blass are shown with a photo of their son Steven and his wife Tricia and son Hayden.
EDN photo by Michael Tidemann

Ever since they received word that their son, Steve, died in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan March 11, they've had visitor after visitor, coming and going, bringing hot dishes and condolences, the sort of soothing solace for which Iowans are famous.

It helps. Oh my, how it helps. But of course nothing can replace their son.

"He was a loving kid," said Carol, fondly remembering Steve. "He was a kid that was so easy to have around the house. He was the kind of guy that would open the door for you."

"I never heard him raise his voice," observed Linda Stromberg, Steve's godmother.

"He was a very good father," Carol said, recalling when Steve came home last summer from where he was stationed at Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah, Ga.

"Steve was helpful to everybody," said Randy. "Very respectful to everybody."

Randy remembers how as a Cub Scout Steve enjoyed camping, the Pinewood Derby and paintball.

When he was older, he worked at Fishermen's

Factory Outlet in Spirit Lake.

Carol recalled too how Steve worked with another soldier to pass his PT test. He wasn't allowed to run alongside him, but he did run some distance away to help pace the soldier. And it worked. He passed.

Then such a thing should never have surprised anyone. Steve was always helpful to everyone.

When Sept. 11, 2001 happened, it had a big impact on Steve's class. Girls cried. The guys turned silent. Years before, it took the draft to get the troops to fight the war in Vietnam. This time, though, no draft was needed. There were more than enough young Iowans, like Steven, willing and eager to serve their country.

Steve wanted to enlist right after high school, but Carol encouraged him to take at least a couple years of college - which he did at Iowa Lakes. Then one day the Blasses came home and Steve announced he had enlisted.

"That truly was what he had wanted to do," Carol said proudly, adding that Steve had always been attracted to helicopters.

He liked flying, too. He had even soloed at the Estherville Airport. It seemed only natural, then, that he would become a crew chief on a Black Hawk helicopter.

Steve left with the Army recruiter for Des Moines on a stormy winter day March 13, 2006.

A week ago Sunday, Randy and Carol arrived at Savannah for a visit with their daughter-in-law Tricia and grandson Hayden. Hours later, a Navy chaplain and an Army sergeant in his Class A's rang Tricia's doorbell at 12:52 a.m. Monday. They didn't need to say a word. Randy, Carol and Tricia already knew there could be no other reason they could have been there.

After Steve was killed in a crash in a Black Hawk this March 11, it was two days after, March 13, 2013 when he was returned to American soil at Dover, Maryland. Seven years to the day when he had left for the Army.

Understandably, there has been a blizzard of calls - from the media, friends, the idly curious. Granted, most people have good intentions. But the Blasses needed help in dealing with the outside calls, so they've put those in the care of Mark Friesner at Henry-Olson Funeral Home and Carol's sister, Karen Stoller, in Spirit Lake.

And what would they do without the Army.

"The Army has been so kind to us," said Carol. "They just kind of took us in their arms."

Larry Stoller, Steve's uncle, said if Steve were still around that he would want people to know that he loved his country.

"He knew about he risks," Carol said. "The risks were just outweighed by his love for the military."

Randy recalls how Steve often told how many brothers and sisters he had in the army. "He loved flying in the helicopter," he said.

"He loved Tricia and he loved Hayden," said Carol.

When a lot of young men come home on leave, they want to go out. See old friends. Party. Maybe party a lot. Not Steve, though. When he came home for a visit last summer with Hayden he did things with the family. Took Hayden out on the family farm and saw how his son took to sitting in the seat of the tractor. Like himself. Like his grandfather. Maybe like his great-grandfather, even.

Carol sighs, maybe not so sadly, as she recalls that Tricia and Steve said they had talked about what she would do if something like this should happen.

"She would just stay the course," said Carol. For Tricia, that would mean staying in college.

As for the Blasses, right now, it's friends who are helping them get through.

"It's just been overwhelming," Carol said. "I just don't know how we'll repay them."

She said the Army and Henry-Olson have been incredibly helpful too.

"Things were kicking things into place that we didn't even know were happening," Carol said.

It's believed that Steven's funeral will draw 2,500 - probably more than for any person in Estherville since at least the Vietnam Conflict.

"It's just overwhelming," said Carol. "The friendship and the people that want to show respect for Steve."

"It's just overwhelming the support the community gives us," said Randy. "The hugs and the handshakes."

The Blasses last saw

Steve last November when they went out for Hayden's first birthday. Steve left for Afghanistan last Dec. 14, and stayed in touch with them on Skype.

It was a couple weeks ago when Carol awoke and thought she heard Steve's voice - right there in the livingroom. He was Skyping with Randy on the computer.

The sound of his voice still seems to soothe Randy and Carol. That and the knowledge that they raised a son of whom any parent would be proud.

"He was such a good daddy," said Carol.

Steve will be laid to rest Tuesday at Northlawn Cemetery in Spencer, beside his grandfather, C. Don Erickson, also an Army veteran.



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