Robert Blanchard is famous - in a manner of speaking.
The 87-year-old World War II veteran gained national attention quite by accident in 1945, when a photo of a priest administering the last rites to him was widely published in news reports of the bombing of the USS Franklin, aboard which Blanchard was a yeoman ships clerk in the gunnery.
"It was an overcast day and a dive bomber came out of nowhere, he hit us twice, once forward and one aft," Blanchard recalled. "I was stuck below for three hours and when I came up on deck, I fell. Father O'Callahan came over and I remember looking up and seeing him bending over me, praying. I thought, 'Oh boy, I must be in trouble.' I thought I was dead and gone when I saw him giving me the last rites."
Blanchard recovered from smoke inhalation and burns on his legs, and served the rest of his four-year volunteer enlistment.
He left the Navy in 1947 to raise nine children with his wife, Violetta, now 91. He worked for 38 years as a parts manager for General Motors before retiring to Sunrise of Galloway, near the couple's 17 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.
Now an assisted living center resident, Blanchard is joining 15 other veterans to tell their former comrades in arms about benefits, such as the aid-and-attendance benefit that offsets the cost of the Blanchard's stay at Sunrise of Galloway.
The benefit pays a maximum of $1,949 per month to married veterans. But single veterans and widows of soldiers who served at least 90 days of active military duty with at least one day during wartime and were honorably discharged can receive smaller payments. Some need and medical requirements apply.
"There are a lot of spouses who have no idea they could have this extra income and maintain the same lifestyle as before (their spouse died)," said Jessica Johansen, a spokeswoman for Sunrise of Galloway. "We wanted to honor our veterans here in front of the community and also make sure people in the community know about these benefits and help them fill out the applications to get there."
Sunrise of Galloway will host a Veterans Day party from 1 to 3 p.m. Nov 11. Refreshments will be served and the public is welcome to join in recognizing the 16 veterans who live at the center for their service. A seminar on veterans benefits will be held at 6 p.m. Nov. 17 and staff will be available to explain benefits and help with paperwork.
Contact Felicia Compian:
If you go
What: Veterans benefits seminar
Where: Sunrise of Galloway, 46 West Jimmie Leeds Road, Galloway Township
When: 6 p.m. Nov. 17
More info: Call 609-404-1099.