MANSFIELD -- Just call it an early Christmas present. And one well deserved.
Decorated World War II veteran Walter Gilbert and his wife Mary are both 95 and still manage to live in their own home. But they have some mobility issues, including difficulty with stairs. such as the ones from their home.
That's where a group of Mansfield firefighters and the town veterans office is pitching in.
About a half-dozen firefighters left their regular shift Friday morning and headed over to the couple's West Street home to install a ramp Veterans Agent Michael Raymond was able to get for the Gilberts.
One of the reasons Gilbert needs the ramp is because of injuries to his legs he suffered in the war.
Gilbert has a lift for the stairs inside his home, but finds the outdoor stairs difficult to use.
On top of that, his wife broke her leg, and she was in a plastic boot for weeks. The couple rely primarily on walkers but do have a donated wheelchair also given to them by the veterans agent.
"The guy is an amazing individual," Fire Capt. John Terry said.
Terry said he stumbled across Gilbert when firefighters responded to a fire alarm call at his home. He later visited on a weekend off duty to change batteries in smoke detectors in the home.
Terry said he sat down and talked to Gilbert, learning he endured about 180 days of combat, and was wounded twice. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge where he took shrapnel.
"He has an array of medals in the hallway that is pretty impressive. It caught my attention what the guy has been through," Terry said, adding he himself is a history buff.
Gilbert has a Silver Star, Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts as well as a medal from France -- 15 medals in all.
Raymond obtained the ramp from Middleboro's veterans office .
"We went down with a pickup truck and picked it up. We hauled it all the way back here," Terry said.
The ramp ended up not being installed Friday morning after all. When putting it together, firefighters realized they were missing a piece, and Terry is working with the manufacturer to get it and plans to install it soon.
Gilbert moved to Mansfield in 1950 after growing up in Cambridge.
Despite his service to our country and what he went through, Gilbert is humble and gracious for the support from the town.
When told he deserved it after his service he said, “Well I don’t know about that.”
Terry advises area residents to contact their community's veterans agents to see what is needed.
"There are a lot of veterans who need stuff," Terry said. "It can be World War II veterans or guys coming back now from Afghanistan and Iraq."
The fire captain noted someone recently dropped off an oxygen machine that promptly found its way to a home of a local veteran who needed it.