Chester “Chet” Blank was serving on the USS Block Island in May 1944 when German torpedoes claimed the ship.
It left Blank, then 32, and hundreds of fellow Navy sailors helpless in the shark-infested Atlantic.
“It was the coldest I’d ever been in my life,” Blank said. “I remember thinking ‘I’m never going to see my family again.’”
He closed his eyes and prayed he was wrong.
“Then, I heard God telling me everything was going to be OK,” he said. “And I listened.”
Nearly 70 years later, Blank was counting his blessings again, celebrating his 100th birthday Sunday alongside hundreds of friends and family at the Somerset fire hall.
“I’m so fortunate,” he said, surrounded by well-wishers.
Friends and family agreed Sunday.
The Hooversville native has been blessed with remarkable health, aside from a blood clot in his leg that required surgery in Pittsburgh this year – and has forced him to use a steel walker the past few months, said his son, Bill, one of four children.
“He took up golfing when he was 88,” he added, noting his father continues to rehab his leg, hopeful he’ll swing a club again soon.
Chet Blank spent 75 years as a barber, most of that time in the Somerset area.
He also has been a member of the Somerset Fire Department since 1946.
Over the weekend, firefighters took him to a “cash bash” fundraiser in style, picking him up in a fire truck, he added.
On Sunday, the Navy veteran received a star treatment from the Fraternal Order of Eagles’ Somerset auxiliary, who handed him a plaque and joked that since he reached the century mark, his annual dues were waived.
Somerset Borough also marked the event, congratulating Blank.
“I always used to say I’d never want to see 100 – but if I could be anything like Chet Blank, I’d do it in a heartbeat,” Somerset Mayor William Meyer said.
Sporting a golf shirt and a sash bearing his age, Blank said he was humbled by the special treatment from friends and family all weekend.
To read this story in its entirety, visit one of these links: