Florida veteran who witnessed devastation at Pearl Harbor, survived COVID to 105

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Navy World War II veteran Bill Monfort, who turned 105 on December 17, 2021, celebrates with his church members on December 19, 2021 in Tampa, Florida. Monfort experienced the attack on Pearl Harbor and the fighting in the Pacific during World War II as a member of the Navy. He also recently survived a COVID-19 infection (in the summer of 2020, before vaccines were available). (Luis Santana, Tampa Bay Times / TNS)

(Tribune News Service) – After Bill Monfort turned 100, the cakes started to pile up.

At each annual check-up, her doctor’s office gave her one. His church too. Friends and family baked in the oven.

“One year, I had nine cakes,” recalls the longtime Tampa resident.

On December 17, Monfort celebrated his 105th birthday. He survived COVID-19, suicide bombers and the assault on Pearl Harbor during his lifetime.

He and Forrest Gump could compare their notes.

Monfort learned to drive on a Model T. He remembers being given the polio vaccine – the tasteless, odorless inoculation dropped into a lump of sugar and administered directly to his tongue. “It wasn’t like people were with COVID now,” he said. “People saw it as something concrete, as something that they had to do. And they had no problem.

He once invited then-vice president Dick Cheney to a party for Navy veterans just outside DC Cheney Came.

September 11, 2001 was three days later.

It was the second time that there had been an attack on American soil in modern history. The first time, Monfort was at sea, 800 miles off the coast of Honolulu.

A radio operator on the destroyer, he was one of the first to hear the frightening message: “Air raid on Pearl Harbor.” It is not an exercise.

He witnessed the destruction four days later.

It’s easier for Monfort to tell you what battles in the Pacific he didn’t fight in the ensuing World War campaign. Only three were missing: Saipan, Tinian and Iwo Jima.

He can talk for hours about his time in the war.

“He’s one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met,” said Don Alexander, his son-in-law.

To commemorate his service, Monfort dons a baseball cap. It reads “Kamikaze WWII Survivor” in all capital letters.

“This hat has allowed me to get a lot of free meals,” he said with a twinkle in his eyes.

After the end of World War II, Monfort returned to the United States.

He would continue to help revolutionize care for people with developmental disabilities in Tampa Bay.

It was in the 1960s. He and his wife, Bessie, drove over two hours to see their first daughter Rossie, who had a developmental disability. At the time, the nearest public institution for children like it was in Fort. Meyers.

Monfort, along with other families in Hillsborough County, decided to start a local organization where people with disabilities could live in a home-like setting. Today, the Angels Unaware charity has eight campuses and is the oldest group home in Tampa Bay.

For his work, the Tampa Bay Lightning honored Monfort as the “Lightning Community Hero” of the 2016-2017 season. The accompanying $ 50,000 prize went directly to her group homes.

At 103 years old, Monfort contracted COVID-19. He lived alone, his wife having died years earlier.

It was July 2020, and vaccines were not yet available. He spent three weeks in the hospital. He recovered and, after spending time in a rehabilitation center, decided to move into an assisted living facility.

“If I went back to my apartment in Tampa, I could live a lot cheaper than here,” said Monfort. “But at my age, it probably wouldn’t be long before I needed help around the house. Here they have it all.

As he enters his 105th year, Bill Monfort is happy.

He’s not sure there is anything in particular that he would like people to know about his life. As one of the last surviving WWII veterans, he just wants people to remember the conflict.

“Just that it happened,” he said. “We were there.”

© 2021 Tampa Bay Times, Florida.

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