Local effort underway to help veteran in need

Published 7:00 am Saturday, November 11, 2017

Down a dead end road in the Nicholson community lives a 91-year-old man who was a member of the Merchant Marines for more than four decades, including three wars and about three conflicts.

His name is Gilbert Pfisterer and the home he rents in the Nicholson Community is in a severe state of dilapidation. He can’t move to a nicer place because he lives on monthly Social Security payments.

Even after working as a first engineer with the Merchant Marines for that long, he receives no monthly benefits because back in the 80s he opted for the lump sum payment because he didn’t expect to live beyond 80.

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“I outlived my money is what I did,” Pfisterer said.

He’s lived in the Nicholson area since he was 62. During that time he’s dealt with a lot. Over those years he’s had his lawnmower stolen by a man he hired to cut his grass, a brand new television still in the box stolen right in front of his face and was robbed at gunpoint in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina while he slept in his bed.

But what is most interesting about Pfisterer are his life stories. He never married or had children, but he did lead a full life. Those stories can range from interesting facts about the Merchant Marines, to how harbor laws varied wildly between ports in various countries to working on a hospital boat with 40 nurses.

“That’s one thing about old age, you tend to live more and more in the past,” Pfisterer said.

During his days with the Merchant Marines, he said he intentionally chose missions involving the transport of ammunition due to the increased pay.

There were many times when his job was dangerous. While attacks didn’t happen often on the open water, the danger came while boats were at the harbor. He even recalls how boats docked in Vietnam during the Vietnam War were less than safe due to attempts of sabotage.

“These people served you drinks all day, but at night they tried to kill you,” Pfisterer said.

That level of danger even earned him an official status as a veteran, even though he was never an enlisted officer. Matt Ladner, the man spearheading the effort to help Pfisterer, said during WWII the fatality rate on Merchant Marine ships per capita was higher than that of military ships.

Ladner came to know Pfisterer after a chance encounter back in August of this year. Ladner said he had just dropped his children off at school when he passed a vehicle stranded on the side of the road. As he passed the vehicle, he saw a man with a limp attempting to fix the problem. Ladner said he continued down the road for a few seconds before something inside told him to turn around and see if he could help.

After helping Pfisterer get his vehicle to a local car shop for repairs, he later discovered Pfisterer’s living conditions. That discovery led to attempts at fixing up the old mobile home.

And now, Ladner is a major part of a movement to get Pfisterer out of that mobile home and into a Habitat for Humanity home.

The home was built just after Hurricane Katrina, and the previous owners left it in a state of disrepair. But recent work last weekend fixed holes in the dry wall and started the process of repainting the walls. Even though Pfisterer can still walk under his own power, he expects to be wheelchair bound soon, so additional work planned for the home will include a ramp out front, an ADA compliant toilet and some adjustments to the kitchen. 

While Ladner and his efforts so far have raised more than $7,000 to help renovate the home, he said at least another $8,000 is needed to purchase the materials needed to finish the job. Any funds raised above that amount will be given to Pfisterer to help him cover his monthly expenses.

Ultimately, Ladner said he wants to have the home completed in time for Pfisterer to move in before Christmas.

To donate to the cause, visit www.habitatbw.org and look for the section entitled “Get Mr. Gilbert home for the holidays,” or checks can be sent to Habitat for Humanity Bay Waveland at 103 Central Ave, Bay St Louis, MS 39520.