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Navy veteran celebrates 107th birthday

Chester Wilson has lived  through two world wars and two worldwide contagions, and if you asked him what has meant the most to him, he’ll tell you it’s that he’s “lived to be an old man.”

Wilson, a resident of Thomson-Hood Veterans Center in Wilmore, turned 107 Sunday, and two days before, he celebrated the occasion with his daughter, Brenda, friends and staff at the nursing home in Wilmore.

“When we asked Chester how he would like to celebrate his birthday he stated he would just love for everyone to get together,” assistant administrator Gretchen Stidham said.

They were planning on chocolate cake and ice cream, Wilson’s favorite, and some music.

Asked what was the secret to his longevity, he said: “It’s like I’ve told everybody — minding my own business.”

Wilson was 29 and married when Uncle Sam enlisted him in some business of global importance. During the last two years of World War II, he served in the Pacific Theater on a Navy hospital ship, the U.S.S. Benevolence, as a pharmacist mate third class, and according to his daughter, was in Tokyo Bay when Japan signed the peace treaty with the United States and Britain.

He was also in New York’s Times Square on V-E Day, when the famous picture of the American serviceman kissing a woman.

Asked what it was like in the war, Wilson said he has forgotten some of it.

“I just hoped to get out alive,” he said.

After the war, he worked as a federal agent at bourbon distilleries, at a time when spirits were so heavily regulated that a government man had to lock and unlock the premises. He went to work after the repeal of Prohibition as a storekeeper-gauger for the Treasury Department and retired in 1974.

Wilson was born April 25, 1914 in Lexington to Jesse and Cora Wilson and lived in Central Kentucky and Ohio.

“He was from a large family, and they did a lot of moving around,” his daughter said.

He was the first in his family to graduate high school.

His father built homes in Chevy Chase and grew tobacco in Woodford County, where Chester met Margaret, who was to be his wife. In addition to Brenda, he had a stepson, Jack Whitaker, and two grandchildren.

Brenda said one thing that might have kept him young was being physically active. He played golf until he was 90 and liked to walk the course rather than ride. His lifelong passion for the game began when he was a caddy at the Lexington Country Club.

He also played baseball, at Bryan Station High School and in the old Bluegrass League, and once tried out for the minors.

Although he worked at several distilleries, he never drank or smoked, his daughter said.

He is a Baptist, and his faith is important to him, according to his daughter.

He is also a Mason, and was once grand master of a Versailles lodge.

In a written, one-page biography, he is described as a southern gentleman.

Reflecting on his long life, Wilson said simply, “I’m fortunate.”

About Randy Patrick

Randy Patrick is a reporter for Bluegrass Newsmedia, which includes The Jessamine Journal. He may be reached at 859-759-0015 or by email at randy.patrick@bluegrassnewsmedia.com.

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