Coast Guard honors local disaster hero

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CLEVELAND -- The Coast Guard has honored a Cleveland-area Coast Guard officer who was among 23 crew members killed in a ship collision near Tampa, Fla., in 1980.

A new $1 million support building and fitness center in St. Petersburg, Fla., was dedicated last week in honor of Westlake native Frank Sarna III.

On Jan. 28, 1980, he and 22 other crewmen of the cutter Blackthorn were killed after their ship collided with an oil tanker and sank.

According to The Plain Dealer of Cleveland, the dedication plaque says Sarna repeatedly dived below to try to help trapped crew members before he disappeared.

Admiral Robert Papp Jr., Coast Guard commandant, presided at the dedication.

Pat Sarna, mother of Frank and six other children, remembered when he saved his uncle from drowning during a family vacation outing.

"Frank had just come back from Boy Scout camp where he earned his lifesaving badge," she said.

Kathy Gillis-Soltan, who was in the same class as Sarna at Westlake High School and a close friend, said after she heard about his heroism, "I remember thinking, of course. Of course Frank would do that."

In high school, Sarna was captain of the track team and broke five standing school records.

Family members said Sarna's interest in the Coast Guard was coupled with the desire to get a degree in marine biology.

"We weren't boat people or anything like that, but he was very, very happy there," his mother recalled.

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