BALTIMORE — Chester Wallace Gladkowski is a Navy veteran. He was a seaman second class during World War II. "It was my duty to go and do my part."
He joined the navy in April of 1943, right after his birthday. He said, "I didn’t want anybody to be responsible for me. I figured 21 years old I’m a man. I'm on a my own."
After a few months of training, it was off to battle. His first ship was the USS Nicholas where he was the loader on the 20-millimeter gun. His second ship was the USS Miller. Both were destroyers, the smallest of the fleet.
"They call us the little boy. Send the little boy out! They'd send destroyers about 100 miles away for picket duty," said Chester.
One day when his destroyer went into enemy territory, they had a little trouble coming back. He said, "We looked up and saw our planes to protect us. First time I saw P-38s, our fighters, protecting us. They stayed over us until we got into safe waters."
He had another close call. This time they weren't saved by planes but by orders. "We got word there were two battle ships, eight cruisers and bunch of destroyers coming down the field. We had four destroyers. I told myself... it’s a suicide! And I said well we got word we will engage. Word come back.. Get the hell out of there!"
After the war, he met his wife Rita at a dance. Three months later, they got married and the dancing continued throughout their life. They even had special polka outfits for when they competed! Rita and Chester lived together in Baltimore County for 72 years, until she passed away last year at 95. Chester supported his family working for Otis Elevator. He worked there for 42 years! In his free time, he would fish and garden. Rita and Chester had two sons, the first died young, then there was Chester Wallace Gladkowski Junior. He goes by Chet.
"My dad and mom brought me into this world. My brother don was seven years my senior and after that they had a series of miscarriages and I was their last stitch effort to have a kid, so I’ve tried to live like a last stitch effort," said Chet.
Chet contacted WMAR-2 News to honor his dad for the Voice for Veterans segment. He said, "we need to put a stake in the ground to memorialize our parents."
Chet lives in Maryland but is coming to Maryland to celebrate his dad's 100th birthday on Sunday, March 28.
When I asked Chester about his birthday, he said he didn't know how he felt about his birthday. With all the loss he's had it's a little tough. In addition to losing his son, his dad died while he was in the war and he only has one sibling left out of a big family.
"All my friends are gone. There were 390 in war destroyer, I’m the only one left," said Chester. He added, "all my friends I went to school with, I played ball with, they all moved on. I’m the only one that had to stay behind. It’s tough."
But he still plans on celebrating with a few Coors lights, his favorite beer, and maybe some cashew nuts.