SALT LAKE CITY — One of the greatest advocates for Utah veterans died last week in the veterans home that bears his name. William E. Christoffersen died due to complications with COVID-19 in the midst of an outbreak at the facility.
According to his friends, Christoffersen fought for his country in World War II, and kept fighting for veterans at home.
“He was truly remarkable. He was a humble man,” said Gary Harter, executive director of the Utah Department of Veterans and Military Affairs. “He always said that he didn’t deserve this honor — to have the veterans home named after him.”
He served in the infantry in the Pacific in World War II.
For 35 years, Bill Christoffersen pushed state officials to build the first veterans home in Utah. It opened on the campus of the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Salt Lake City in 1998, and was named in his honor in 2013. It’s also where he died early last week.
“A candle kind of flickered, just a little bit, because he’s been kind of the beacon for the American Legion,” said Terry Schow, former director of the Utah Department of Veterans and Military Affairs.
Schow said Bill Christoffersen served on the American Legion national board of directors for five decades, and was a member 75 years.
He said few have done more for Utah veterans.
“There was no significant piece of veterans legislation in Utah in the past 50 years that Bill was not involved with,” said Schow.
Christoffersen, who would have celebrated his 94th birthday on Saturday, had lived in the home for a year.
Since the COVID-19 outbreak was detected May 18th, 51 out of 72 residents have tested positive for COVID-19, along with 25 staff.
The vast majority have been asymptomatic, according to Avalon Health Care, which manages the facility. Three residents have died, including Christoffersen.
“He saw a lot of action while he was in the army, like a lot of guys didn’t talk about it, but being a survivor, he wanted to give back,” said Byron Lewis, a former American Legion leader in Ogden.
And he never stopped giving.
“He was just a true patriot,” said Lewis. “He just took it seriously, and his goal was to make life better than what he had, and he did that.”
They said Bill Christoffersen embodied the Greatest Generation and its commitment to service and personal responsibility.
Born in Cache Valley, he set a goal to build a veterans home for long-term care. It took three decades, but the Salt Lake Veterans Home finally opened in 1998, and was renamed in recognition of Christoffersen in 2013.
Harter said he never stopped setting his sights on the next big project.
“One of the last times I talked with him, he said, ‘Gary, what can we do next?’ So he was truly an inspiration,” said Harter.
“When they would play taps, Bill would actually get emotional, and I would see him tear up. That’s how much that song meant to him,” said Schow.
Due to COVID-19 public health guidelines, a memorial service will be held at a later date.
Testing at the William E. Christoffersen Salt Lake veterans home is ongoing. The facility has seen no new positive tests in the past week.
None of the state’s three other veterans homes have any cases of COVID-19.