World War II Veteran and 75-year legionnaire William E. Christoffersen will be remembered as a man who fought for his country and his fellow Veterans. It was his life’s mission.
“We’ve lost one of our greatest champions,” Terry Schow said. “We lost a guy who was a beacon to many of us in the Veteran community. He was beloved.” Schow is a long-time friend and former Utah Department of Veterans Affairs executive director.
“He was a great mentor, great advisor and just a great man. We will never see his likeness again.”
Christoffersen died May 31 at the Utah state Veterans home named in his honor. The Cache Valley native was just days shy of his 94th birthday.
Christoffersen served as an Army infantryman, fighting throughout the Philippines in WWII. He returned home and founded a Logan-based construction business. But his real calling, Schow said, was serving Veterans.
Veteran nursing home was his mission
Soon after leaving the military, Christoffersen joined the American Legion and became department commander in 1959. A born leader and tireless advocate, Christoffersen served on the American Legion’s National Executive Committee – the highest state post within the Legion and part of its national board of directors – just four years later.
He made it his mission to bring a Veterans’ nursing home to Utah.
Describing him as “an impressive man with an imposing stature,” Schow first met Christoffersen over 30 years ago. Schow pressed governor Mike Leavitt to add Christoffersen to the home’s construction advisory committee. The state built the first Veterans nursing home in 1998.
But Christoffersen did more than bring a Veterans home to Utah. He brought three national conventions to the Beehive State, and with them, roughly 10,000 visitors, including dignitaries, senators, and in 2006, President George W. Bush.
“Bill was a legend,” Schow said. “There wasn’t an elected official at the federal level who did not know Bill Christoffersen.”
He also used his clout to better Utah’s Veteran landscape. One of his initiatives rose to the level of federal law. He was one of the promoters of the Transition Assistance Program. The program provides service members leaving the military with a weeklong course on how to create resumes, apply for benefits and more.
“Is it worth it? Yes it is.”
Even in his 80s, he continued advocating for Veterans. In March 2013, VA renamed the facility he helped create the William E. Christofferson Salt Lake Veterans Home.
After serving the Legion for more than a half-century, Christofferson retired in August 2013. Schow recalled how Christoffersen apologized for not doing more.
“There are times when you ask, ‘Is it worth it?’” Christoffersen then told the Legion. “I say yes, it is.”
In tribute for his decades of service, the flags outside the William E. Christofferson Salt Lake Veterans Home flew at half-staff June 5 – in honor of Christofferson’s 94th birthday.
T.S. Jarmusz is a public affairs specialist for the VA Salt Lake City Health Care System.