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Local veteran participates in Washington, D.C., ceremony

By Staff | Jul 27, 2009

North Fort Myers veteran William A. “Bill” Cobleigh recently discussed an honor he received in July in Washington, D.C.
“I was selected to present a wreath at The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier,” he said.
The famous war monument honors those who have died in wars without their remains being identified.
Cobleigh said he got the honor through his affiliation through PT Boats Inc., a historical nonprofit organization established by veterans of World War II PT service to preserve the history of PT (patrol torpedo) boats, their shore bases and tender ships, and the men who manned them.
Cobleigh is a past president of the organization.
“I was selected by the current president, Charlie Jones, to present the wreath,” he said. “I was very honored.”
The official presentation came after the “Changing of the Guard” ceremony at the tomb. It was part of the group’s meeting held in Washington.
“There were people there from all over the country,” Cobleigh said. “Each year we try to meet in a different part of the country. The reason we did it in Washington is that I got to thinking that many of the guys may not have seen the World War II memorial.”
He said in attendance were 79 of the original PT veterans, out of the original 22,000.
President John F. Kennedy was among their ranks.
“He served on a PT in 1942,” said Cobleigh, and were on the same island. “I served him chow on the island.”
Cobleigh has been affiliated with the PT group since 1981, including being the past president and an auctioneer.
During the war, he was stationed on Tulagi Island in the South Pacific, where he first came into contact with PT boats.
“We were watching a target practice from a PT Boat there, and they were missing,” he said. So he gave it a shot. “I hit right off in the first three rounds.”
An officer tapped him on the shoulder and said, “You are on my boat tomorrow night for patrol.”
He told him he was on the base, serving as a cook, and the officer said, “I’ll take care of that.”
He still served as the ship’s cook on the base, but went out on several patrols at night.
“Lt. Commander John Claggett was one of the boat officers I patrolled with,” he said.
Claggett is now a retired professor at Middlebury College.
Before that, when he first tried to enlist, Cobleigh tried to join submarine training, but flunked out because of his ears and the water pressure.
It was a disappointment, he said.
‘We actually used to practice being under water in a pond at my home in Vermont,” he said.
He said he then saw a notice on a bulletin board for volunteers for the South Pacific, and from there went on in his military career.
In his service career, Cobleigh made several trips across the Atlantic, then worked in Civil Service until he retired.
He and wife Ruth moved to North Fort Myers in 1997.
“We liked this part of Florida the best,” he said, after visiting both coasts and vacationing here.
In his spare time, he likes golf, bowling and playing card.
And he recently celebrated another special occasion — he turned 89 last week.
He talks to high school students occasionally.
“Students are interested in World WarII,” he said.
He said many ask if he was scared when he served.
“I think we were too scared to be scared,” he said.
Concerning placing the wreath, Cobleigh said, “I consider it one of the greatest honors I’ve ever had.”
Shipmate Jack Smith sent Cobleigh pictures of the event. “It was inspiring,” Smith said.