City of Jersey Shore comes together for 94-year-old veteran who lost his home in a fire

It’s easy to get bored and lose faith in the world, but amidst the chaos, there’s a story of a small Jersey Shore town that offers a ray of hope.

It’s about a World War II veteran who lost everything in a sudden tragedy. A community that came to his aid. And an example of compassion in times of conflict.

In the late hours of Monday, March 15, 94-year-old Paul Roberts was shaving in the bathroom of his one-and-a-half-story home in Ship Bottom — a small township in Ocean County on Long Beach Island. According to an account of the events on a fundraising page made following the event, Roberts was finishing his evening routine when he noticed smoke coming through the cracks in the closed bathroom door, the opened it and realized there was a fire in his apartment. The nonagenarian instinctively dropped to the ground, crawled out his back door to safety and fled to a neighbor for help.

Todd MacLennan, chief of the Ship Bottom Volunteer Fire Co., arrived on the scene just minutes after receiving a call about the fire.

“When I got there, there was just smoke and a little fire coming out of his bedroom on the west side of the house,” MacLennan told NJ Advance Media. “But then he started getting oxygen and he started coming out of the house.”

The fire spread rapidly through the house and burned “extremely hot”, MacLennan said, largely because it was built almost entirely of wood. According to property records, Roberts’ three-bedroom home was built in 1930. It even came with a plaque recognizing it as historic local property, the chief said. But when firefighters finally extinguished the flames around midnight, Roberts’ home was a different kind of story – it was destroyed.

“The guy is 94 years old and he has lost almost everything. Even if you were 25 and lost everything, it’s a huge loss. You have nothing, you know, except the clothes on your back. And there it is,” MacLennan said.

It took a long time for Roberts to earn everything he had in Ship Bottom. A brief account of his life, written by neighbor Erin Obermayer, says Roberts enlisted in the Marine Corps at age 17 and was stationed in Nagasaki, Japan, following the atomic bomb which destroyed the city in 1945. After the war, he settled in Haddonfield and began his civilian life, raising three children and enjoying a long career in the United States Postal Service until his retirement in 1986. That’s when Roberts moved to Ship Bottom permanently, and he’s been a part of the community ever since.

Roberts is no stranger to misfortune. He is predeceased by two of his children. It was forced to rebuild in the aftermath of Super Hurricane Sandy. And the pandemic has forced him to isolate himself from the public for his very survival. But he persisted through it all, his neighbors said.

He can often be seen “taking long walks, boating, and fishing with friends,” Obermayer wrote.

It was during some of these walks that Obermayer, who lives in Ship Bottom with her father, Richard, befriended Roberts, Asbury Park Press reports. Upon learning what happened to his home, Obermayer started a GoFundMe to try and raise money for Roberts.

“Paul is a truly humble, independent and wonderful person, but for the first time in his life he needs the help and support of those around him,” Obermayer wrote when she posted the fundraiser. fund Monday. As of Thursday afternoon, over $100,000 had been donated by supporters near and far.

“Aloha from Honolulu Hawaii,” wrote one contributor.

“My grandfather was awarded a Purple Heart in WWII and was a postman after the war until he retired…I hope all of these donations find you in good health and can live the peaceful life that you so deserve,” wrote another.

Roberts was “almost in tears” when he saw the fundraiser, Richard Obermayer wrote in an update posted on GoFundMe this week. Efforts to reach Roberts through family and friends were unsuccessful Thursday.

“He’s told me for the past few weeks that he’s starting to feel like giving up. The world is going crazy,” Richard wrote. “But the kindness he’s shown has given him new hope in our country and in our world. Paul wants to thank everyone for restoring their faith in human goodness.

You can help fundraise for Roberts here.

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Jackie Roman can be contacted at jroman@njadvancemedia.com.

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