Passing of Neil Bjornsen

//Passing of Neil Bjornsen

Passing of Neil Bjornsen


Photo from 2011 Honolulu Reunion - Junk Boat Sailors at Alpha Docks

NAFTS 2011 alpha docks 02

Craig Rothhammer, Herb Kilmer, Harry Jager & Neil Bjornsen


We have just learned that Neil Bjornsen, one of NAFTS hidden treasures, passed over the bar January 29, of this year.  He will be greatly missed.

Prior to this year if you ever got on a tour bus at one of the NAFTS reunions we knew that Neil would be there.   He specialized in transportation for tour groups and he brought his expertise to play for NAFTS at every opportunity.

My first memory of Neil was on one of the tour in Seattle in 2003.  He was doing what most of us came to expect of him, keeping people and schedules in order.  He did it in a soft spoken direct sort of way that made me think he knew what he was doing and was good at it.  In fact he was, good at it.   If you happened to be on the bus to which he was assigned, you would often see him take off the soft hat he was wearing and walk up and down the aisle to collect tips for the drivers and guides.  Neil could get away with that because of his unassuming manner he made you want to chip in.

But there was much more to Neil than just transportation.  He served on the Board of Directors for NAFTS and was quick to volunteer to help with almost any project or task that arose.  When a chair person was incapacitated the president only had to ask Neil once and he was Johnny on the Spot.  Sometimes he really spread himself too thin but he never complained he just did the best he could with the task until help came along.

His passing is not a huge surprise.  President Ted Hillman and I have been trying to reach Neil for several months.  Ted and I and many others knew that only incapacitation would keep Neil away from a reunion.  We also knew he had a big heart that wasn’t as strong as it should have been.

The universal comment, since the announcement of his passing, has been “He’ll be missed”.  We are all a little richer for having known Neil.

Bob Campbell

By |2014-10-13T19:08:10+00:00October 9th, 2014|Chaplains Corner|2 Comments

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  1. Craig Rothhammer October 9, 2014 at 11:23 pm

    Thanks for your kind comments Bob, Neil will surely be missed by many of the membership. I first met Neil in San Diego at the 2000 reunion and he became a close friend and extended family member who spent many a day with the ‘California’ crew. He also would often stay with us in Hawaii when he would visit each year.

    Without Neil, the Hawaii 2011 Reunion would not have had the many extra trips and events which continued for days after the official reunion ended. He was the co-host of that reunion and also our conductor on the Oahu Sugarcane Train which he arranged as a special run for us.

    Over the years, he was always there at the Board Meetings and was a constructive and active member in many NAFTS functions, always volunteering with a BIG smile under that floppy hat.

    He loved his time aboard the GRAPPLE (ARS-7) at Alpha Docks and also while deployed on Westpac’s. Neil was the editor of the GRAPPLE Crusebook documenting their RVN deployments when he was aboard. He also served aboard USS CHOWANOC (ATF-100) at Pearl Harbor. When he was not working on NAFTS projects or running NAFTOURS, he was actively working aboard the SS LANE VICTORY, riding the rails with Railpac as it’s President, or working on numerous Metro Bus and Rail projects around the country.

    Neil touched a great many lives with his tenacious volunteerism and straight talk – but always ended with a personal gesture and wide smile.

    Shaka Bro, you will be missed

  2. Craig Rothhammer October 10, 2014 at 5:46 pm

    Neil briefly served aboard the USS CHOWANOC (ATF-100) in 1965 at Alpha piers, Pearl Harbor while waiting for GRAPPLE (ARS-7) to return from a WESTPAC. He was aboard GRAPPLE from 1965 to 1967.

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