West High alumnus fights for veteran rights
Fighting for the rights and welfare of America’s veterans has become a second career for Reynoldsburg resident Gary Pfaff, and for him it all boils down to two things: “To me, it’s all about respect and recognition.”
Just ask him how he has served veterans over the years, and his answer is a mile long.
“I’ve been doing this for 32 years,” he said. “I’ve held every post you can have at the local level.”
Pfaff, a Westside native, served in the U.S. Air Force in Korea from 1968-69. As part of the 354th Civil Engineering Group at Lockbourne Air Force Base (now Rickenbacker), his unit was called to duty after the U.S.S. Pueblo was captured by the North Korean Military. He served 13 months in Kunsam, Korea, earning the rank of Staff Sergeant.
Upon returning home, however, he felt something was missing, and looked for comfort and support in the local Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) post.
“At first, I joined it for all the wrong reasons – drinking, shooting pool, whatever,” he said. “I soon learned what it’s really about – it’s all about the veterans.”
Others questioned his enthusiasm, but he said the VFW is about much more than socializing. It is about honor and integrity, he said.
“I refuse to come up here to drink,” he sad. “I can’t do it. I’ve got better things to do with my life.”
He quickly became active and served as Post 8794 Chaplain in 1981, then continued through the chairs to become Post Commander in 1991-93, earning all-state honors.
He then moved on to become Franklin County Council Commander, District 11 Commander from 1996-97, and received the special aide-decamp award by State Commander Craig Swartz.
At the department level, Pfaff was elected to State Surgeon in 1999, followed by State Judge Advocate in 2000, State Jr. Vice Commander in 2001, State Sr. Vice Commander in 2002, and State Commander in 2006.
Also at the state level, Pfaff was appointed to state program coordinator in 1997 and was reappointed under past state commanders.
Nationally, Pfaff has served on the Veterans’ Health Care Committee, Resolutions Committee and National Security Committee.
Out of all of his volunteer efforts, however, Pfaff is probably most proud of the work he did as a member of the Franklin County Veterans Service Commission as a representative of the VFW from 2005-11. The county agency provides advice and assistance to veterans, active duty members of the armed forces and their dependents.
“We had over 9,000 clients in one year,” he said, explaining that one of the ways the organization helps veterans and their families is with mortgages, rent or utilities. “That was the most eye-opening experience I’ve had. How these people lived – didn’t live – they had so many problems I never even knew existed.”
The cases that particularly haunt him are the situations regarding widows and orphans, he noted.
“It’s a major challenge, but it’s gratifying,” he said. “I can’t think of the number of individuals I have touched through this organization.”
The biggest issues facing veterans today are medical, financial and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Pfaff said.
“I saw a lot of PTSD and I did not understand it at first,” he said. “We saw a lot of 19- to 22-year-olds that had this. I thought to myself, ‘Wow … these are just children.’ You don’t realize what they’re going through, and how serious it is.”
In addition, veterans who are retiring from service are finding it difficult to find jobs in today’s market, Pfaff said.
“The economy is not helping matters much,” he said. “It’s just amazing what I got to see, the decisions that had to be made.”
Now retired from Columbus Southern Power after 33 years of service, and even after breaking his back in a hunting accident, Pfaff is still going strong in serving veterans – even traveling to our nation’s capital year after year to help testify to congress about what is needed for veterans and their families.
“I can’t tell you the number of individuals who have come to me asking me to give them direction,” he said. “It’s a full-time job, and then some.”
But day in and day out, Pfaff is driven to make sure that plight of veterans is given top priority.
“It really is amazing how that makes you feel,” he said. “Just hearing their stories … how could you not be compelled to get involved?”