Retired U.S. Marine Col. Pete "Highpockets" Hilgartner is not afraid of a little fundraising challenge. After all, as a member of the Friends of the Great Falls Freedom Memorial, Hilgartner helped raise $100,000 in eight months for a community memorial site by the Great Falls Library. Now, Hilgartner has set his sites on a smaller sum, for a charity which is very near and dear to his heart.
"The Injured Marine Fund needs one van that will carry a wheelchair as soon as possible," said Hilgartner, a longtime resident of Great Falls. "They also want us to raise over $45,000, and I can do that... if I had 45 people with $1,000 donations, we'd be finished."
In fact, Hilgartner has already managed to raise $1,000, simply by putting a small collection jar in Gilette's Coffee in the Great Falls Village Center, and by donating the profits from his most recent book "Buckshot and the Boy." Hilgartner is also in the process of making another jug to put at the local Great Falls Shell gas station.
Hilgartner first became familiar with the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund after visiting wounded marines earlier this year at the Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland. The Fund was created by a group of Marine Corps spouses in May of 2004, to help wounded Marines and their families in times of financial difficulty.
"The problem they face is when they get out of the hospital and the initial government services dry up," said Hilgartner. "There's a gap actually, between when the veterans stuff kicks in and when they first come back. There's also a limit to how much the Veterans Administration will do."
Last week, Hilgartner attended a McLean Rotary Club meeting to pitch his cause, and was able to collect some money there as well.
"He did a good job," said Robert Hahne, President of McLean Rotary. "We may still make some other commitment to him, but our board has not met yet."
Hilgartner said it is the spirit of the wounded marines that inspired him to really get behind their cause. One of the patients that Hilgartner has gotten to know at the Bethesda Naval Hospital recently found out that he has a serious staph infection in both of his injured legs.
"This guy is in serious trouble, and he said 'I want to be one of the first guys to ride in that van that you're going to get,'" said Hilgartner. "I love that spirit... I just want to get it done — I've been up there, and I've seen these boys and I know what it's all about."