Family Shares Legacy of Utah Veteran Advocate Who Died Of COVID-19
SALT LAKE CITY — One year ago, as the pandemic intensified, COVID-19 claimed the life one of Utah’s greatest advocates for military veterans. In an ironic twist, William E. Christoffersen died in the Salt Lake Veterans Nursing Home named in his honor.
Friends and family of Christofferson said he fought for his county in World War II, and when he came home, he fought even harder for his fellow veterans.
“Bill dedicated 70+ years of his life to veterans,” said his widow, Elaine Christofferson. “Full steam ahead, everything he did.”
Bill Christofferson was drafted two weeks after graduating from South Cache High School in Hyrum, Utah.
As an army platoon leader in the Pacific, Christofferson saw action against enemy forces in Leyte, Luzan and Manila.
Death and destruction surrounded him, but Christofferson was never hurt during his two-and-a-half years of combat.
“He would never talk about it because he said it was indescribable, too horrible. He said I don’t want to relive that again,” said Elaine.
When he came home alive and others who served next to him did not, she said he came to a realization.
“He said he realized that what had happened was God went everywhere with him,” she said.
Christoffersen was motivated to serve.
“He dedicated his life to veterans,” said Elaine.
Christoffersen was elected to the National Executive Committee of the America Legion where he served more than 50 years, the longest serving executive in the history Of the American Legion.
He fought for veterans benefits. He worked to create Utah’s only Veterans Cemetery and Memorial Park in Bluffdale. He also helped organize programs to assist homeless veterans.
“There is not a single veterans project in the state over the past 50 years that Bill was not a part of,” said Terry Schow, a former director of the Utah Department of Veterans Affairs and a member of the National Executive Committee of the American Legion. “He was a legend in his own time — ferocious, dedicated, committed. I consider him to be one of my dearest friends and certainly a mentor because he helped show me the way.”
Christoffersen traveled back and forth to Washington, D.C. to make things happen for veterans.
“He knew senators, congressman, governors, presidents,” said Elaine.
He forged relationships with those who could help his cause.
“He said, you can’t accomplish anything without a team,” she said. “He was even that way in our home.”
For several decades, Christoffersen pushed Utah to build its first veterans home.
The home eventually opened on the campus of the Salt Lake VA in 1998 and was named in his honor in 2013.
When he came back two years ago as a resident, he thought it was time for the state to build another home in Salt Lake County, or expand the current one. He was hoping to create a new nursing home in Salt Lake with individual rooms, which would be safer for residents in future pandemics.
“This is the only home in the state where the veterans share a room,” said Schow. “They had a high COVID rate.”
“Bill was tireless,” said Elaine.
She said he accomplished so much while always deflecting credit.
“He said, long after I’m gone, my name will be on a building. How cool is that?” Elaine said with a laugh.
Bill Christoffersen was 93.