William K. Hiss, a self-made businessman and avid deep sea fisherman who endured three years of combat in the Pacific Islands in World War II, died Thursday of cancer at Gilcrest Hospice. The Green Spring Valley resident was 76.
Best known as Bill of Bill and Earl's Transmissions in Overlea, Mr. Hiss established the company in an old garage with his boyhood friend Earl Sprecher before striking out on his own with Better Engineering Manufacturing Inc. in 1960.
The inventor of an automated cleaning process, Mr. Hiss developed equipment widely used by companies such as General Motors Corp., Black & Decker Corp. and Japan Airlines to clean automotive and aircraft engine parts. He took personal satisfaction when the Navy purchased his gear for use aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt.
Born and raised in Overlea, Mr. Hiss graduated from Polytechnic Institute in 1941, then enlisted in the Navy's newly forming 37th Construction Battalion.
The combat-ready Seabees would achieve fame for their heroic campaign to build airstrips and command posts on the far-flung islands of the Pacific Theater for the planned invasion of the Japanese mainland. Mr. Hiss participated in six invasion landings.
"We landed with the Marines at Guadalcanal, the Solomon Islands, Okinawa and a bunch of other places too small to remember," said Walt Calder, 78, of Middletown, Del., a shipmate of Mr. Hiss'. "We were under fairly constant harassment the entire time -- sniper fire, shelling, strafing by enemy aircraft, and later, the suicide attacks.
"Bill and I were some of the lucky ones, I guess. We lost a lot of guys."
After his discharge, Mr. Hiss returned to Baltimore to start his business and a family, marrying a neighborhood girl from Overlea, Irma J. Hedderick, in 1955. Family members recall that he rarely spoke of his military experience.
Mr. Hiss was a tireless worker who remained involved with the family business until he was learned last year he had cancer. But in recent years, he had found time to pursue his dream of fishing the deep-water canyons 60 miles off the coast of Maryland with his son and a grandson.
"On our first trip out a few years ago, we caught two white marlin and two tuna," said his son, Keith, of Baldwin, recalling his father hoisting the traditional trophy pennants over his 33-foot Sea Fox, the Irma J. "When we were coming back into the marina, it brought tears to his eyes to see those flags flying."
Mr. Hiss was a longtime member of Overlea Lions Club, Boumi Temple, the National Guard Reserve and the Baltimore Yacht Club.
A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. today at Lemmon Funeral Home, Padonia and York roads, Timonium, followed by burial at Druid Ridge Cemetery on Park Heights Avenue in Pikesville.
In addition to his wife and son, he is survived by a daughter, Denise Hussar of Bel Air; and five grandchildren.