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Veteran gets recognition he deserves

12/18/2013

By RANDY GONZALES

rgonzales@dailynews.net

After four strokes and a heart attack in recent years, Elmer Pfeifer has had his share of bad days.

Monday wasn't one of them.

Pfeifer, 67, was surprised by approximately two dozen friends and family members at Via Christi Village, 2225 Canterbury, with the presentation of a medal as part of the state of Kansas Vietnam War Medallion Program.

"Wow," Pfeifer said again and again as he was surrounded by well-wishers.

Pfeifer's sister, Verna Lee Musselman, found out about the medal program from someone she knows in Clay Center, where she lives with her husband, Leon. Musselman took it upon herself to make sure her sibling -- who served in the Air Force in Thailand from 1965 to 1969 -- would get a medallion.

"I had no idea this was even available," Musselman said of the medallion program, which has awarded approximately 4,500 medallions since it received funding in 2011. "This is a very nice medallion."

Musselman wanted to surprise Elmer with the medallion presentation.

Mission accomplished.

"Oh my gosh, I can't believe this," Pfeifer said after he was presented his medallion, a medal and a certificate by Eric Rohleder, the Western Kansas Program Supervisor for Veterans Services with the Kansas Commission on Veterans Affairs.

"This is the best part of my job," Rohleder said as he presented Pfeifer with his medallion.

"Me, too," Pfeifer said.

Rohleder said to be eligible, a person needs to be a Kansas resident and have served in the armed forces from approximately 1962 to 1975, but did not have to serve in Vietnam. Or, if a person is a Kansas resident but was not one then, that person also is eligible. If a person who served is deceased, a family member can receive the medallion.

"We want to see everybody eligible for one get one," Rohleder said.

Rohleder said people locally can contact John Pyle at (785) 625-8532 or go to kcva.ks.gov for more information.

Pfeifer worked for 28 years as a custodian at Fort Hays State University until his health deteriorated. He worked for three years in Stroup Hall, where the nursing program is located. On hand Monday was Kathleen Ward, a faculty member in the nursing program. When Pfeifer saw Ward for his big day, he was overjoyed with excitement.

"He's just a real kind-hearted person," Ward said after exchanging numerous hugs with Pfeifer. "He knew about you. He was interested in you. He knew about your family. He always asked you questions; he was always interested in finding out more about you."

Pfeifer also was greeted warmly by a four-legged friend, getting his face licked by Brandi, a Shih Tzu owned by his former landlady, Karen Diehl.

"See Elmer, she hasn't forgotten you," Diehl said.

"No, she hasn't," Elmer said.

"She loved Elmer," Diehl said. "Elmer spoiled her rotten.

"He lived in our basement; she would come to the door every time he would come up. He'd rub her ears."

Elmer Pfeifer has three brothers and two sisters. One of his brothers, Vern Pfeifer, who lives in Garden City, also was there.

"I am very proud of him," Vern said of his brother. "We are a close family, love each other dearly."

Pfeifer, who had tears in his eyes, was happy to see everybody. Ward held a special place for him -- and her, too.

"I love Elmer, he is just such a sweetheart," Ward said. "He has a special place in my heart and always will."

"I thought I had died," Elmer said of seeing Ward again. "Kind of a nice place."