Harry Clifton Gornto III
Harry “Chief” Gornto, age 91, passed away peacefully on November 6th, 2020. He was born September 18, 1929, in Norfolk, VA to Harry and Estelle Gornto. In his late teens he served two years in the Army Signal Corp prior to entering Virginia Military Institute where he graduated in 1953. Following his graduation, he was fortunate to receive an appointment to the United States Air Force Academy to serve as a member of the very first class of Air Training Officers. This appointment led to him meeting the love of his life, Wanda Louise Benham, and a marriage that lasted over 50 years. Harry and Louise then moved about the world with the USAF and Louise had the pleasure of raising two rambunctious boys during Chief’s tours in Vietnam where he flew C-123s in support of the Military Assistance Command – Special Operations Group (MACSOG). Upon retirement, the family remained in Fort Walton Beach and he entered the field of teaching where he got to share his lifelong love of learning. Harry has degrees from VMI, Troy University, and The University of West Florida and had a hobby of doing math problems for fun well into his 80’s.
With the birth of his grandchildren, Chief’s nickname changed and he was known as Poppy for evermore. This was very appropriate as he was beyond devoted to his four grandchildren, Rebecca, Hannah, Harry (V), and Jared. His devotion was demonstrated on a frequent basis by his attendance at every event they participated in whether school or sports related. It is at the events where many others in the community got to know the kindness, honesty, and integrity of a man that never forgot what it means to be a gentleman. We have all learned and can benefit from his example.
Harry is survived by his sons Cliff (Susie) of Miramar Beach, Florida and Steve (Karen) of Fort Walton Beach, FL; grandchildren Rebecca (Andrew), Hannah, Harry (V), and Jared. He was preceded in death by his parents Harry and Estelle, his wife Louise, and sister Shirley.
A small family service will be held later at the United States Air Force Academy where he will be reunited with Louise at the USAFA Cemetery. Donations can be made to Hawthorne House whose staff and residents treated him with the utmost care and dignity over the last few years.