‘How do you get to be 100?’

Moorland native shares his secret at his 100th birthday celebration

-Submitted photo
HENRY PLINER, RIGHT, AND HIS WIFE MARION are shown Friday at Henry Pliner’s 100th birthday party on Friday in Dubuque.

DUBUQUE — Born in a farm house near Moorland. His first car a 1930 Model A Ford. A U.S. Navy veteran of World War II whose ship rescued sailors of the USS Indianapolis from shark-infested waters. A 30-year employee of Sears in its building in downtown Fort Dodge.

Henry Pliner has attained many milestones in his lifetime — and on Sunday, he reached one more — attaining the age of 100 years old.

Pliner and his wife Marion celebrated his 100th birthday a couple days earlier with family, friends and staff at Manor Care in Dubuque, where he has lived for the past two years.

“How do you get to be 100?” he asked at the party. “Don’t let things bother you for more than one day.”

Asked what was the best thing to happen in his life, he responded: “I had two great wives.” His first wife Helen died in 1982, and he married Marion in 1986.

And asked what was the best invention during his life, he responded, “Electricity. The first 10 years of my life, we had had no electricity.”

Pliner spent much of his life in Elkhorn Township, attending a one-room school house — before moving into Fort Dodge in 1986. He and Marion moved from Fort Dodge to Dubuque in 1999 to be closer to family.

While they lived in Fort Dodge, Marion Pliner worked on indexing old bound volumes of The Messenger to assist historians and people doing genealogy. Her work can be found at the Webster County Genealogical Society in the Public Library.

He recalls with fondness his 30 years of working at Sears in its eight-story building on Central Avenue in Fort Dodge. Perhaps some of his longevity can be attributed to the exercise he got while working in the plumbing department, located in the basement. The warehouse was on the eighth floor, so when a customer needed a part and the one elevator was busy, he regularly traversed the stairway from the basement to the eighth floor.

“I was always very busy because there were people waiting for me,” he said. “I seemed to be the only one that knew plumbing and heating.”

Henry Pliner’s favorite story from working at Sears was when a couple farmers from Badger brought in a big sack of sweet corn, prompting Henry to buy them a cup of coffee at the Sears restaurant, then a piece of pie, and then ice cream — two scoops — prompting him to think this was getting to be mighty expensive corn. Henry paid the bill, thanked the farmers for the corn and went back to his office only to find the sack empty. His fellow employees got to the corn first.

Henry Pliner was 24 when he volunteered for the U.S. Navy after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He was assigned to the Navy destroyer escort warship USS Cecil J. Doyle as the seaman who manned the throttle. On Aug. 2, 1945, the Doyle received word that hundreds of sailors were stranded in the ocean when the USS Indianapolis was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine. The Doyle was the first rescue ship on the scene — bringing aboard sailors who contended with exposure, dehydration, saltwater poisoning and what have been called the deadliest shark attacks on record. Of 1,196 aboard, about 300 went down with the ship. Only 317 of the remaining 900 survived.

A few days later, the Doyle returned to the site of the sinking to collect the dead.

“They wrapped them up and put their dog tags in a big envelope,” Henry said in an interview last summer for a veterans story in the Dubuque Telegraph-Herald.

Three years ago, at a grocery store parking lot in Dubuque, Henry noticed a car with a bumper sticker “Survivor of the USS Indianapolis” and waited until an old man approached the car. Henry explained he had served on the Doyle and had never met a survivor of the Indianapolis. “They both had tears in their eyes and shook hands,” Marion Pliner said. “He thanked Henry for rescuing them.”