By Linda Chion
With family and friends at the River Hills Golf and Country Club in Valrico in June, World War II veteran Robert Kittner reveled in the celebration that marked his 100 years of life.
It was just one of many birthday celebrations for the Bloomingdale resident, whose tours of duty and life adventures took him to locations near and far, guided by his enduring beacon of faith. When asked to reveal his secret to a long life, Kittner didn’t miss a beat.
“Just don’t take yourself too seriously,” he said.
What is serious, however, is his record of service, starting with Kittner’s enlistment on December 8, 1941, the day after the Japanese surprise attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor on Oahu Island, Hawaii, which precipitated the nation’s entry into World War II.
Kittner at the time was a college student at Rutgers University in New Jersey, where he studied engineering. He would eventually earn a degree in business administration and spend a career in the hotel industry, which led him to live in many countries, including Lebanon, England, Belgium and India. A top executive for Sheraton Hotels, where he worked for 24 years, Kittner began his career by designing, building and managing a ski lodge in Vermont.
As Kittner put it, he “used the war to get out of trouble.” As a flight instructor in Albany, Georgia, Kittner trained French pilots, and to avoid getting killed, he said he “went to the company commander and asked if he could transfer me into the real war, which he did.”
Kittner was stationed in the remote Aleution Islands in Anchorage, Alaska, a fiercely contested battleground in the Pacific Ocean. He would later serve as a general’s aide-de-camp. Over the years, Kittner was a high school ski coach, church deacon and Rotarian and served on the boards for libraries, a college a medical center and the Calvin Coolidge Association.
An active member of St. Andrew’s United Methodist Church in Valrico, Kittner recounted a close call he had flying in bad weather during his U.S. Army Air Force service, finding the “only spot that was clear to land” before the wind stopped and his plane came straight down on a nearby island.
“That’s when I really started believing in God,” Kittner said.
A father of six, grandfather of 11 and great-grandfather of 13, Kittner celebrated his June 1 centenarian birthday at River Hills on June 12. This followed cake ceremonies at St. Andrew’s and preceded the receipt of a proclamation from the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners, which is scheduled for July.
“What you see is what you get with my father,” said Shirley Tucker, a longtime Bloomingdale resident, who noted as well his father’s longtime service on the board for the Bloomingdale Regional Library. “He’s always been a good person, and he loves doing things for other people and being involved in lots of things, and I believe that’s part of what’s kept him going for 100 years.”