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Franklin Park to honor patriot's dedication to fellow vets

| Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Franklin Park resident Howard Pfeifer, who will be honored by the borough for his many years of volunteer service to veterans’ organizations, is shown at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum in Oakland, Monday. Pfeifer, who is 90 years old served as a Merchant Marine in the 1940s. He is a member of the executive committee of Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall and a member of the executive committee of the Southwestern Pennsylvania WWII Memorial, for which he helped secure funding and oversaw its construction.

At 19, Howard Pfeifer was expecting a baby with his wife and working at a steel mill in Homestead.

Then a South Side Slopes resident, he worried about getting drafted into the military with no say about how and where he would serve during World War II. At the urging of a cousin who had served in the Navy, Pfeifer joined the Merchant Marines in 1943 because it would enable him to support the wartime effort while giving him more freedom in his assignments.

That two-year stint took him all over the world and changed the course of his life, said Pfeifer, 90, who now lives in Franklin Park with his second wife, Nancy. His time as a Merchant Marine charted his path for decades of volunteer service for nonprofit groups that support military veterans.

Franklin Park Council will honor Pfeifer for his volunteer work on Feb. 19.

“I think the amount of volunteer work and the amount of funds that he has raised are an extraordinary achievement, and the borough wants to honor that achievement,” said Ambrose Rocca, manager of Franklin Park.

“And the length of the time that he has been doing it is extraordinary,” Rocca said.

Pfeifer serves on the executive committee of the Southwestern Pennsylvania World War II Memorial, a $4 million North Shore project for which he helped secure funding and oversaw construction. The memorial was dedicated in December.

He serves on the executive committee of Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall in Oakland, for which he helped to oversee about $6 million in renovations. The work included roof repairs and the installation of an air-conditioning system.

Pfeifer is president of the Three Rivers Merchant Marines and an active member of the American Legion Riders, a charitable motorcycle riders group.

When he's not volunteering, Pfeifer finds time to ride his Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

“I just think that I'm very fortunate to have the God-given ability to be able to do these things,” he said.

With the Merchant Marines, Pfeifer delivered ammunition, vehicles, food and other supplies to America's troops and foreign allies during World War II. Merchant Marines were denied recognition as military veterans and the accompanying benefits until 1988.

Pfeifer looks back on his military career and volunteer service with pride.

“Well, the biggest thing for me was the education and exposure to other countries … and the people from those different countries,” he said.

Most of Pfeifer professional career was spent in the construction industry.

From about 1955 to 2000, he worked at what is now called Minnotte Corp., a West End construction company for which he was a vice president when he retired. He graduated with a bachelor of science degree in vocational education, with a focus in industrial education, from the University of Pittsburgh in 1978.

For 50 years, he has been chairman of the Master Builders Association's Carpenters Apprentice Committee, and has taught construction skills to returning military veterans.

Pfeifer and his wife of 34 years, Praxedes, had seven children. Praxedes Pfeifer died in 1977. He remarried in 1981.

Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662 or tparrish@tribweb.com.

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