On September 22, Allegheny County and Franklin Park issued Proclamations declaring it “Howard William Pfeifer Day.” There was a good reason to celebrate because Pfeifer, of Franklin Park, turned 100 on that date. Over the past century, he has lived a successful and rewarding life, including three years of military service.
Howard grew up in Mt. Oliver and attended St. George’s in Pittsburgh’s Allentown section. At age 19, Pfeifer joined the Merchant Marines. “The US entered World War II following the December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor attack. I had not been called up as of January 1943, possibly because I was working at U.S. Steel in Homestead, a new government defense plant facility. My cousin was in the Navy, and he mentioned a desperate need for Merchant Marines. Although I had never heard of this military branch, he suggested I apply, so I did. After I was accepted, I was given 48 hours to report for duty,” Pfeifer said.
In April 1943 Pfeifer was sent to Sheepshead Bay, New York, for extensive physical training by the U.S. Coast Guard. He and his crew set sail in the Pacific on his initial journey. Over the years, Pfeifer saw action in numerous countries including Omaha Beach (Normandy, France).
“To have the war time experience and exposure of being in England, Scotland, Australia, Iran, Iraq, and Russia is something I will never forget,” Pfeifer said. He also experienced the trauma of war. While at sea one day, a tanker exploded into a ball of fire next to his ship from a U-boat attack.
His final overseas journey was a “Murmansk Run” to supply the Soviet Union. In December 2020, Pfeifer was honored with the Russian Ushakov medal from the Russian government. He was given this award in appreciation for the dangerous Murmansk Runs the American Merchant Marines made while delivering supplies to Russians to combat Hitler.
When the war ended, Pfeifer returned to civilian life and worked in the steel industry. He still found time to have some additional military involvement. Pfeifer served on the board of Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall for over 20 years. He also served as president of the Three Rivers Chapter of the WWII Merchant Marines chapter for many years. He was an executive committee member of the southwestern PA World War II Memorial, which is located on North Shore Drive near the Allegheny River. The memorial was dedicated in 2013.
Howard not only served his country, but he served his community as well. Howard was Chairman of the Carpenter Apprenticeship Program for over 40 years, taught at Connelly Trade School for 15 year, and was president of the German club on the Northside for five years. Howard was also a Harley-Davidson enthusiast and rider for 80 years.
Northern Connection wishes Howard a happy birthday, and we thank him for his years of military service. We wish Howard and all our military heroes a Happy Veterans Day!
By Paula Green