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SWFL veterans reflect on lifetimes of military service

Writer: Joey Pellegrino

Today is Veterans Day, but though there are more than 100,000 veterans living in Southwest Florida, celebrations cannot go on as usual due to the pandemic. As such, many are moving online.

“The military is what keeps us strong, it’s what keeps us great,” said retired Sgt. William Cooper of the U.S. Army.

Cooper was a weather forecaster for the Army during the Pacific War. His team of six would rely on data from ships to predict the weather and determine whether it was safe for the B-29 pilots to fly from their base in Guam to Japan and back.

Their biggest obstacle: typhoons.

“We would print out charts for [the pilots] to read, but they didn’t like those charts too well—they never read them, they’d get back and always complain that they ran into storms they didn’t know about,” Cooper said. “So I came up with drawing pictures, so I would draw the clouds and provide them a pictorial view. The pilots liked that they could just look at a picture, and that got me promoted to sergeant.”

Another local veteran was drafted into service right after college.

“Our services live with us throughout our lives,” said retired Capt. Frank Soffey of the U.S. Air Force. “I’m a veteran every day.”

It’s easy for Soffey to celebrate Veterans Day every day: He lives at the Carlisle, a Naples retirement community with 44 other former servicemembers.

“Freedom isn’t free, freedom has a price, and in the military veterans pay that price by their dedication and their valor and too often lose their lives,” Soffey said.

After being drafted, Soffey chose to join the Air Force.

“In the late 50s and early 60s, space was really in the forefront,” Soffey said. “The first satellites were launched, John Glenn went around the earth three times, our president said ‘Let’s go to the moon and back by the end of this decade,’ we had the Cuban Missile Crisis…”

Events that inspired him to work with missiles designed to protect the U.S. from outside threats.

“The missiles would have a range of about 440 miles, so from Langley Air Force Base we could protect anywhere from Savannah, Georgia, up to Boston, Massachusetts,” Soffey said.

Traditionally, Soffey would attend a pinning ceremony put on by his community.
Instead, the Carlisle is honoring its veteran residents by going door-to-door with those pins, as well as sandwiches and gifts, to show appreciation.