The Pfundstein Report
In 1960, I was five when my parents moved our young family from Long Island to Concord. Thank God. My dad had called home to let my mom know that he had accepted the job and that he had found a new house. Dad easily remembers the call, because it was made from a small village service station with a crank phone. I have heard the story often, but little did I know that someone who would also become a big part of my life met my dad at that time.
Twenty-two years later, my wife and I moved to the village. Our next-door neighbors to the east were a nice middle-aged couple. The husband walked with a noticeable limp. Dyed-in-the-wool Republicans, the couple enjoyed music, community and generally got along well with everyone. We quickly became good friends, and my young daughters soon called our new neighbors “Uncle Bob” and “Aunt Pat.”
Almost every evening we would cross through Uncle Bob’s backyard so our daughters could pet the cows who made their home in the adjoining field. He often readied a Shirley Temple or other treat for the girls if he saw them walk past the kitchen windows. When it was clear to him that I didn’t know much about working around a house, he helped. When I needed a wheelbarrow, he gave me his old one.
It was the same with everything else. If Bob could help, he would. Although, we no longer live right next door, our families have missed getting together only a single Christmas holiday in over 20 years.
At some point I learned that Uncle Bob owned and operated the service station from which my father had made that important call to Long Island. Apparently, even in the village there weren’t that many crank telephones in 1960.
What is amazing about Uncle Bob is he has quietly and without complaint struggled for 60 years walking on a shattered and reconstructed leg. He has done so while he operated a small business and then worked for the state until the leg would no longer support his weight.
He sustained his injuries as a teenager serving in the Pacific during World War II. A Japanese kamikaze plane slammed into his ship. Bob spent a long time in the hospital and in rehabilitation. He has had numerous operations since then. He has for some time now proudly displayed the eight-inch steel bar that was inserted after the attack and removed several operations ago.
He has never complained nor expected anything in return for his life of sacrifice.
I recently visited him in the hospital again. He was four days post-surgery following the amputation of the leg he injured over 60 years ago. Once again, I was struck by his enthusiastic and positive attitude. In fact, he was in good spirits. The young 80-year-old veteran obviously enjoyed bantering with his visitors. He makes you think how foolish we act stressing over the most mundane issues.
Uncle Bob doesn’t view himself as a hero. But I do. He is one of a great number of his generation who fought a war, paid a great price, and worked hard every day since. He is a compassionate man and treats everyone with respect.
While visiting with him this hospitalization, a case worker asked if it was OK if she asked him questions in my presence. Bob simply laughed and referred to me as family. The questions were designed to aid with discharge planning. Bob answered each question either “Yes ma’am” or “No ma’am”, as appropriate, or “You’ll need to ask Pat that.” Not in a curt, military manner – but simply as is his habit (one I’m sure he’s had since childhood). He’s just polite.
No one has made a movie or published a book about Uncle Bob. But he’s just as much a hero as are so many others like him – people for whom there has never been any publicity, ceremony or award. We live in a great and free country because of people like Uncle Bob. I’m proud that he considers me family.
Donald J. Pfundstein is managing director of the Concord law firm of Gallagher, Callahan & Gartrell. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.