by Barrett Seaman –
Some folks in town call him “Captain America.” He is often dressed in a uniform, which makes sense for someone who has been in one uniform or another since he was in high school. Even when he’s not, he’s almost certain to display red, white and blue in one piece of clothing or another.
Bill Florin is an inveterate joiner, but whatever he joins, his friends say, he joins to serve. Today, at age 81, he is in his 20th year as Commander of the Dobbs Ferry American Legion Post, working to rebuild the post’s headquarters that collapsed six years ago under the weight of an ice build-up. The Post got some insurance money but is trying to get the best bid they can from contractors before going out to raise the rest of the money needed to get back up and running.
Meanwhile, he continues to work for a variety of local organizations, including the Rivertowns Rotary Club, where he has been sergeant–at-arms for 10 years and leads the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of every meeting. He has also run the club’s Toys for Tots campaign.
“What separates his Toys for Tots from the national campaign,” explained Dr. Nitin Gupta, a fellow Rotarian, “is that he specifically works with the town rec centers and police stations to find out how many families in our rivertowns need toys. Many times he buys toys out of his own pocket to make sure that every child in town has a gift.”
On Flag Day each June, he gives a talk at the Springhurst Elementary School on the history of the American flag. He’s the oldest member of the Yonkers Yacht Club where he keeps a boat he built. As a liaison with the New York State equivalent of Homeland Security, he developed a plan to get local boats in strategic positions in case something happens to the Tappan Zee (now Mario M. Cuomo) Bridge.
When he was in grade school at Holy Rosary in Yonkers during the war (that’s WW II), Florin’s classes were divided up into military-style units. “Third and fourth grades were the first platoon; fifth and sixth grades were the second; seventh and eighth were third platoon,” recalled Florin. “They got to practice with rifles. They also had a military band.” When the war ended, the class units dissolved, so he joined the Cub Scouts— and donned another uniform.
At his older brother Bob’s urging, his parents allowed Florin to enlist in the Army at age 17. He joined the Signal Corps, where he learned how to use wind-up battery-powered field radios. As a member of the Army National Guard, Bill took the opportunity to study accounting at Westchester Community College and then volunteered to be his company’s treasurer. A warrant officer taught him how to get through state and federal inspections, giving him skills he would later apply to several of the local organizations he has served.
All told, Florin spent 29 years on active duty with the reserves and 14 on stand-by for a total of 43 years. In 1961, his unit was called up during the Berlin crisis but made it only as far as Ft. Devin in Massachusetts before the unit was ordered to stand down. They were called up again briefly in 1981 after Reagan sacked all the air traffic controllers, but Bill never got to land any planes. All told, his unit was called up three times during his service. He was finally discharged in 1998 as a Lieutenant.
For 30 years, he held down a day job as a driver for Dominic’s Limousine Service in the rivertowns. Ten years ago, he retired from driving paying clients but still drives any and all veterans in need of transportation to and from airports and area VA hospitals. At every Memorial and Veterans Day ceremony, Florin is front and center. Though some have labeled him as such, he denies being the village’s second mayor.
To Florin, it all adds up to service. Married 58 years to his wife Pam, he is the father of two sons, living in Connecticut, one of whom is a priest.
“Let’s see,” he calculated, “43 years of military service, 27 years with the American Legion, 10 years Rotary, plus 58 years of marriage—that’s 138 years of service!”