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OPINION: City’s aviation industry nurtured by Port Huron man

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Phil Egan

While reviewing a mass of historical research documents recently a story caught my eye.

“Describes Beachhead,” The Observer story was entitled. “Ensign John Blunt at Rotary Club”

It described a Dec. 5, 1943 presentation delivered to the Sarnia Rotary Club at the Vendome Hotel by Ensign Blunt, a U.S. Navy Seabee. The “Fighting Seabees” were an amphibious construction battalion involved in shore landings. Founded in 1942, they had a stirring fight song:

We’re the Seabees of the Navy                                                                                                             
We can build and we can fight                                                                                                       
We’ll pave the way to victory                                                                                                               
And guard it day and night.

Ensign Blunt, who had returned to his Port Huron home on Christmas leave, was invited by the Rotarians to recount tales of Allied troop landings on Sicilian and other Italian beaches. As Beachmaster at Salerno Bay, Blunt’s responsibility had included directing weapons and equipment traffic.

He described heavy fire and numerous casualties amid a continuous and deadly barrage from Allied naval vessels offshore. He spoke of the cooperation between the American and British forces.

Ensign Blunt was not a stranger to Sarnia. He had worked as a corporate secretary and metallurgist at Holmes Foundry, a family company. Dr. F.G. Christie introduced Blunt to the Rotary meeting and he was thanked by Angus Buchanan, who referred to the speaker as “representing the flower of the youth of the Allied countries.”

There were three reasons why the 1943 story caught my eye. The first was the fact that, 22 years later, I would meet John Blunt. In fact, I would become a frequent visitor to his Lakeshore Road home.

The second, related to the first, was that for almost two years I dated John Blunt’s oldest daughter, Charlotte. The future movie actress now lives in Boston.

Finally, in 1971, I would launch my 40-year travel career by becoming a charter salesman for Great Lakes Airlines, a member of the Holmes-Blunt group of companies.

Eric Colbert and Bill Moon had been the men responsible for bringing Sarnia an airport back in the early 1950s, but it was John Blunt who was responsible for the growth of commercial aviation in Sarnia. Great Lakes had grown out of the commercial air arm of the Holmes-Blunt companies and would later become Air Ontario.

Blunt was an avid sailor, a member of the Sarnia Yacht Club and the owner of Spice Island Yacht Charters in Grenada. I recall sailing the waters of Lake Huron with Charlotte and her sister, Roberta, aboard the Blunt yacht, Affaire de Coeur.

I have fond memories of this gracious gentleman, a warrior following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, and a business giant in Sarnia’s industrial life.


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