The phrase “A strong work ethic” is a fitting description for Korean Era veteran David Himmelheber, but doesn’t quite do his drive justice. He has worked hard his whole life and is not looking to stop anytime soon, especially after graduating from VetsBuild and beginning a new career at the age of 82.
David had a good upbringing; the middle of seven children, he was born in Clarksville, Indiana. He observed how hard his dad worked during The Great Depression and World War II in order to succeed and provide for his family. His father’s work ethic has made everlasting lasting impression on David and the way he lives his life.
During World War II, the Himmelheber’s moved to Bloomington, Indiana. David’s dad, a radio buff who built one of the first Crystal Radios, was invited to teach electronics and radio to teenage kids who dropped out of high school.
Eventually David’s dad started to work on radio equipment for war planes. This is when David acquired his love for the military and flight, and at 16, he joined the Local Civil Air Patrol. As an 18-year old in high school, he joined a new Indiana National Guard Unit being organized by local World War II veterans (Company B, 138th Heavy Tank Battalion). After just one year, he was promoted to Staff Sargent (E-5) as a Tank Commander.
In 1950 he enrolled at Western Kentucky University, but in 1952, just one year into his college education, he dropped out to join the U.S. Navy Pilot training program during the Korean War. Eventually he ended up on the flight deck of the ill-fated USS Bennington.
At about 6:01 a.m. on May 26, 1954, while cruising about 60 miles off eastern Long Island, disaster struck. During a pre-dawn launch of all aircrafts, the hydraulic fluid in the catapult control room began leaking fluid in mist form, which was then detonated in the “nonsmoking zone” by a cigarette-smoking sailor. This set off a series of over 20 secondary explosions in the front part of the warship which killed 104 crew men and badly injured 210 others.
Himmelheber escaped serious injury and was able to assist those who were not so lucky. For his actions he was awarded the Naval Commendation Medal for Valor. The aircraft carrier eventually limped into New York Naval Shipyard in Brooklyn for repair. During this time of reconstruction, David and his fellow shipmates often journeyed into Manhattan to attended USO dances. This is where he met his wife of 60 years. They were married in St. Patrick’s Cathedral and settled on Long Island.
David started his working career as an engineer aid and then as a cost accountant at Sperry Gyroscope in New Hype Park. He graduated from St. John’s University in 1960, part of the first graduating class from the new Queens campus. Following his graduation, David set his sights on a Wall Street career, and what a career it was.
David first started working for others, then he spent almost 20 years at his own research firm; totaling 35 years as a successful stock analyst. When the market began to decline as a result of 9/11, the demand for stock research began to drop, and for the first time in his life, David was out of work. Not being one to sit around for long, he started to work selling Verizon FIOS, where he quickly became one of their top sales people. After five years, he moved on to work for construction material sales and then one day he saw an interesting ad in his local Pennysaver.
“I saw an ad about a program from United Way of Long Island called VetsBuild for military veterans where, if accepted, I could learn about green construction that could perhaps lead to a new career at 82,” recalled Himmelheber.
Accepted into the program, David thrived among his younger counterparts. He said, “I have always been inquisitive and outgoing. I did the entire program including the hands-on construction skills. The instructors were great, and before I knew it, I had the tools for a new career. VetsBuild gives veterans the chance to learn a new job or convert from conventional construction to green building. It’s a great program.”
At the VetsBuild graduation, he met Robert Schwartz of AMERICAN A.W.S. in Holbrook. The company performs home energy audits to save homeowners money and convert to cleaner forms of power. The two quickly connected and Himmelheber joined their team.
At 85, he is not slowing down. David said, “I work full time with new customers, assisting in their audits, explaining the findings and helping them acquire new cleaner energy alternatives at lower cost.”
With a wife and four grown children, Himmelheber lives in Commack and doesn’t plan on retiring anytime soon. With a house to maintain and bills to pay he is happy to still be an active part of Long Island workforce. Putting it all into perspective, David said with a laugh, “I need the money and I like the work. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.”
Quite a story!