Interview with Major Zachariah Fike - Founder of the Veteran's non-profit Purple Hearts Reunited
John Bear: 0:10
Welcome to stories of sacrifice, World War two, American P. O. W. M. I. A's Podcast, the Voice of the Missing in Action and the voice of those buried as unknowns in our national Cemeteries. I'm your host and lead researcher John Bear. Welcome today. Story of sacrifice. World War two P O W In my eyes Today I'm bringing you a bonus episode to highlight of Veterans nonprofit that I've had the pleasure to work with over the last four years. Today I'm interviewing Major Zachariah Fike, an active duty major serving the Vermont Army National Guard with over 22 years of service to our nation. Zach is a Purple Heart recipient and the founder of Purple Hearts reunited the only organization in the US that returns lost or stolen military medals of valor back to the veterans or their family. This interview is also on our YouTube channel. You can find the link to the video broadcast in our show notes. We hope you enjoyed today's bonus episode.
Major Fike: 1:14
I'm an active duty Army National Guard captain, So I wear a uniform 95. I've had the pleasure of serving my country for the past 17 years. My first combat deployment was to Iraq in 2005. In 2006 and war changes anyone, you go back a different person, even if you don't want to admit it, your loved ones can see it. And for a combat veteran you need an outlet to kinda huell the soul, if you will. You know I found my therapy, if you will, through collecting antiques. As I started to venture into these shops, I started seeing discarded items, military items that belonged to veterans of all services. So I began to rescue those items. And it's really how this journey began for Christmas. My mom decided to buy me something along those lines, and she found a posthumous Purple Heart and an antique shop of all places. Hashemi's purple hearts are essentially presented to each family after their soldiers have lost their lives on the field of battle. And it broke my heart to think that this soldier who sacrificed his life for us, his medal was just kind of lost along its own journey, and it sent me on my own mission to find out everything I could about him. So when I picked up the search I knew the soldier was of the tying descent, and within the town of Watertown, they have the Italian American Civic Association. So I decided to go over there to see if they knew of the family. They actually led me to some other locations in town. His high school actually got to visit that the house. He grew up in some of the archival records in town at the city clerk's office. They actually have the historical records on hand, and it lets the entire family. Corado meant the world to that family. He was well known in the community, and they never really got an opportunity to memorialize the brother they loved. So that family wanted to hold a return ceremony to do just that. And 80 members of their family travel for all over the country to attend the service. Before the return, I got to witness their first ever family reunion, and it became more than just returning a piece of metal that became reuniting a family. I started a foundation, Purple Hearts reunited and essentially, our mission is to return loss for stolen metals of our to those family members or veterans to honor their sacrifice to the nation. We returned over hard and 50 medals to date way. Receive around 3 to 5 medals a week. A lot of times unannounced right now by myself. I can only return about 35 medals a year, but we're receiving hundreds of medals per year. My ultimate dream would be able to return every single medal that I received within that year. For me, this is my calling. This is my mission in life. To return these lost medals and honor these men. It's something that gives me player T in my life. He gives me closure, be able to meet these families to give him a hug to tell them Thank you Just means the world to me. And it makes me feel like I have a purpose in my life.
John Bear: 4:26
He's act. How you doing? Your your mikes on mute there.
Major Fike: 4:30
Can you hear me now?
John Bear: 4:31
I hear you now, sir. How you doing?
Major Fike: 4:33
Good. Good. How you bet.
John Bear: 4:34
Oh, not too bad. I haven't seen you in a long time. It's good to see you
Major Fike: 4:38
just as long as that video five years ago. Now I got about three more chin, so
John Bear: 4:42
yeah, we'll meet you. Am I'm actually losing a little bit of it, so
Major Fike: 4:46
I like the handlebar mustache. Is I just kind of wanna take you for a friend.
John Bear: 4:51
Yeah, exactly. Like a lot. Lot has changed since the five years ago when this video of his first and I only showed a part of it, but ah, you're now Ah, you're now a major in the in the National Guard there in Vermont. Uh, and I think you've switched your now serving with what regiment use a room with No,
Major Fike: 5:10
it's the first Vermont regiment, which is a Calvary regiment. Not like that. The old school soldiers on horseback. Basically, we are the eyes and years for the brigade commander, and we go forward with Lined and scout the enemy. So, uh, I'm getting old, though. 22 years and in the army. It's about time for me to hang it up.
John Bear: 5:32
No, no. You got a few more years left, don't you?
Major Fike: 5:34
We'll see a couple
John Bear: 5:37
and a lot. A lot. A lot is happening five years since it Since that video with the Purple heart returns and purple are reunited. Mission. Can you kind of go over some where we add are or where we're currently out today with the
Major Fike: 5:51
first repairing back in 2009 which started as a Christmas present, has now morphed into a decade's work worth of work that has taken us all over the country and even internationally overseas. Today we've returned over 800 lost medals. If you add up all of the items associated beyond just the Purple Heart. Ah, service medals, paperwork, jewelry, personal effects and things of that nature we've calculated were about 3000 plus items that have been returned to families all over the world. Um, we're still receiving on a record number about a metal a day. Um, so it's really hard for us to keep up. And ah, we're really fortunate to have great teams around being guys like yourself with the valor research on then the Valor guard who were veterans like myself traveling the country trying to get these medals home in a record time. Um, so we just we just try toe, lean forward and do the best we can. We average about 100 returns per year at this point. Ah, but we at the rate that the metals air coming in. We have the capacity to do up the 300 plus per year. Eso That's our objective. That's our goal is to return every single medal that we received within a calendar year.
John Bear: 7:05
Yeah, you kind of made that one last year, didn't you?
Major Fike: 7:09
We've made 100 returns over the last three years, The arm. So we're well on our way to reach in that max goal. But at the end of the day, it just takes a good team of great volunteers around the country. And that's where we're currently building. And, uh, unfortunately with the cove, it 19 me is a military man. I'm restricted from traveling until late June. Eso that's kind of put ph on hold for the last month. You challenge for everybody?
John Bear: 7:38
Yeah. One of my moderators on here are our epic RV adventure, Michael, He's he's, ah, reserves in the Air Force and he's he's kind of stuck in his home base there for a little while to because of the restrictions, military restrictions on travel. Well,
Major Fike: 7:54
way we need to get you in the RV and, uh, out the door.
John Bear: 7:58
I've got a few guys I'll give you some names to you that they're they're actually your brothers and purple that air travel in the country.
Major Fike: 8:04
That would be great.
John Bear: 8:05
Yeah. Yeah, well, I'm in a pull up a couple photos here. Actually, I'm gonna do something else here, put you on the spot. You posted something pretty cool today that I hadn't got to see before, So I want to share it with everybody. And that's that video that you posted on Facebook for a little while ago.
Major Fike: 8:29
Purple Hearts reunited its mission to return lost military medals of valor veterans or their families in orderto honor. Their sacrifice into our nation's ah long lost Purple Heart has found its way back to the family of a world war two airmen. It's old spiritual A Is it that veteran coming home? That last thing that you could touch that medal has become that they very, very much my father and Purple Martins Guadalcanal. Very special. I've been collecting antiques for about seven years while is venturing into the shops. I notice about a veteran military which ones would do like this? It is better really broke my heart to see metals within shops. So served the rest of the family of an American World War Two war hero being reunited with Purple Heart that he earned in the Battle of the Bulge. You received 3 to 5 of these medals. We're being found all over the country and old abandoned furniture, Metal detector enthusiasts fighting, period. A dog dug a purple heart out of the ground. You could envision it. Purple Heart have been discovered in that they were shelling all around. Then I heard one. You just have my name in the action and I'm hearing called of him skies. It's like back to between. I don't know why I was lapping low Were simple behalf of a grateful nation. Thank you for your service. Thank you for proudest thing For me. Doing this work is we get an opportunity to tell the world who these guys way need to do something for our country. Honor our minute jet there blood. Fill the battle sacrifice. Tonight the grains are celebrating. Warning since military e get an opportunity to rehired gave so much for us. It's a sacrifice and see how much it impacts a family to get this back.
John Bear: 10:58
And I was like that was a pretty pretty good. Put together a video there.
Major Fike: 11:01
Yeah, we, uh every year we get approached by, um Hollywood. If you want to call it that to do some type of reality. Siri's And we've tried the avenue a few times. That was a company out of Nashville called Tackle Box. And we're still trying. I think these stories should be told. I think people would enjoy hearing the history of America. I think that's something. We're losing us a society. Um, and we need to remember these men just like you do. You're better at me than that at it. And I am the research you do, and telling the story, you know, preserves that legacy. And, you know, these men and women sacrificed their lives for us so that we could be You know, standing in front of this flag as a free society is a free nation, and the work you're doing behind the scenes just is this amazing And ah, you might not see it on a national level. But guys like myself and others appreciate the work that you're doing the to keep these legacies alive and educating these families on who those heroes were. within those within those individual families
John Bear: 12:05
and where you taught me a little bit about what I know. So I remember when he
Major Fike: 12:09
came to me and you're like, Hey, I'm going to start up my own nonprofit return medals And, uh, I started looking at some of your work and I was like, Oh, man, this guy is really good. I got a green one teen and, uh, developed into a great friendship. So
John Bear: 12:24
Major Fike: 12:24
Happy to have you as a friend, my friend.
John Bear: 12:26
Yeah, me doing good leadership coming from you and in the organization to you, Um and like like you're saying to each each men, each of these men and women have a story. And just like that, the metals have a story, Onda how they travel. Can you give us a little more background on some interesting stories about where some of these metals have been found And
Major Fike: 12:45
like like the video alluded to there being found pretty much everywhere. If you can envision a metal being found, we have probably heard about it. They're being found an old abandoned homes, vehicles, furniture, metal detector enthusiasts are find them buried in the ground. One of my favorites. A dog dug one up in the backyard about three years ago. Broadway shows. So a veteran was wearing his medal, and it fell off in the darkness. Airline tarmacs, taxicabs, Walmart, parking lots, you name it. We've heard about it. And once that metal comes to us, we try our best to do the historical research and get it back to the family.
John Bear: 13:26
And that dog. The dog was actually the first dog in history to return a purple Heart t, wasn't it?
Major Fike: 13:30
I think so. You know, I Googled it. I didn't find too much about dogs and purple hearts, but it smokers. The dog was kind of at the end of her life. But returning that medal, she became an overnight sensation. And every pet store Petco across the country sent her a gift basket. And so she got more bones and she could even imagine. Unfortunately, she died about six months later, but she died a happy dog.
John Bear: 13:55
Definitely, definitely. Well, in some of your travels, you know, we've had the opportunity to research some some really interesting veterans. One of the one of the stories that comes to my mind is you know when we're doing this research, it's like it's almost like they're leading us. You know what? I'm you know what I'm saying? And, uh, one of the stories that comes to mind is is Ah, Lieutenant Jason Hunt from Vermont in World War was, Ah, who was a pilot? Can you give us a little background on that little that story? You know where you were over in France with and you saw his name on the walls of the missing there?
Major Fike: 14:31
Yeah. Luckily through my military service, I had the great honor of getting invited to the centennial event in France last year for the 100th anniversary. And I went with my agin it general, which was Stephen Cray at the time. And we went Teoh one of the national cemeteries, and we were asked to participate in a re flange. And so, if you can imagine yourself sitting in a mausoleum so we're inside of a building and on the walls were all the UNL okay? Did soldiers of that area you know, those soldiers that were found had across cemetery on the greens But everyone that was unidentified or not found missing in action were basically inside these mausoleums, and my general was staring deeply at one name on the top right wall. I just gently asked him Hey, sir, what are you looking at? And he said, Lieutenant Jason Hunt, Vermont. And he was in the 27th Aero Squadron. And he was a pilot. He's an Air Force general and he flew Ah, fighter jets. So obviously he saw Aero Squadron and that kind of, you know, kind of attention other than the fact that he is also from Vermont. Eso I took it upon myself to start researching everything I could about Lieutenant Hunt primarily to kiss kiss up to my general. That's primarily Well, I'm not gonna lie to you, but we Over the next course of two or three days, I started sharing this information. We're bonding over this veteran from 1918 and when we return home, this is the crazy part. I remember laying in bed Next, my wife and I was checking my messages and I received an email literally three days after seeing this name from his family enquiring about the Purple Heart they never received. Uh, you can't make that up. It's pretty much brought me to my knees. That floored me. I could not believe that, you know, something like that could happen. But it's not surprised. We see stuff like that all the time. And I do believe that some of these veterans air staring us in the right direction, they're just using guys like John and me is a vehicle. And we do the best we can to get that information or that metal home.
John Bear: 16:41
Yeah, that's That's just one of the many stories that comes to mind, you know? You know, we're in the middle of researching it. And a few days later, the actual nephew who we identified prior to actually contacts us. It's
Major Fike: 16:55
pro. There was one that you researched. The guy was my dad's neighbor.
John Bear: 16:59
Yeah. Yeah. You know,
Major Fike: 17:01
what you see is like, Who's your dad? I said, hey, it down fighting. He goes, Yeah, he's my neighbor. I could throw a rock. It is window right now. So pretty amazing stories.
John Bear: 17:10
It is. It definitely is. I'm gonna pull it off a couple photographs. Here, let me do this real quick. I'm
Major Fike: 17:17
my It's not my mug shot, is it?
John Bear: 17:19
It might be a fuel.
Major Fike: 17:21
Oh, my baby photo.
John Bear: 17:23
Exactly. Just a sec here. I got to me things open. I'm gonna surprise you with a few of these photos.
Major Fike: 17:30
No. Yeah. I don't like surprises.
John Bear: 17:34
Hoping you give us a little background on him. Okay, tell us about this one.
Major Fike: 17:39
Yeah, that was me in Iraq in 2000 and 5 2006 Eso I've been in the army for 22 years now. Uh, first started my career as an elicit mint nomine infantry officer. That was northern, actually. Sorry. That was southern Iraq. After the bombing of the initial invasion, we bombed one of Saddam's munition plants in the south, and the the enemy was using it to basically dig out munitions and place I e ds. So I worked with a special Forces team essentially digging up those rounds and disposing of them. So that's me carrying. Ah, large Chinese rocket or getting blown up.
John Bear: 18:22
And Sorry. I didn't have a chance to put these in any particular order, so
Major Fike: 18:26
John Bear: 18:27
Ah, there's the one our Marine Corps friends might know who or where this picture was taken.
Major Fike: 18:33
Yeah, that's it. The base of Bellwood. That's the famous ah fountain It's literally in a farmer's property. You have to jump the gate to get in. So we trust past, which from the happened quite a bit because I see this photo quite often. But they say the spirits of those men of Bella would drain down the mountainside and they come out of this rich fountain. It's one of the purest water is I've ever tasted. We literally collected some in a plastic bottle, and it was still cold. After three days of sitting in a car, it's a pretty amazing. But to say that I was able to experience not only drinking that water but to be at such a stoic and memorial type location of Belleau Wood and walked the same ground as those first. Devil Dogs was pretty amazing opportunity in my life.
John Bear: 19:22
And it's kind of how they got their names. Devil Dogs was from this, wasn't it?
Major Fike: 19:26
John Bear: 19:27
uh, this is one of my favorite returns that you have ever done.
Major Fike: 19:31
Yeah, I was actually attending ah, military school in New Jersey, and, uh, I should have been in my room studying for the exam the next day, but I took a small drive about an hour outside of Fort Dix, New Jersey. So honor this veteran sister and she was in a community home, and she wasn't doing too well. The niece asked me to come and present this to her mother. Basically hearing and seeing these items again. She you know, it was like an energy volt of energy. Kind of just flowed through her, and she came to life again. And she began to share the stories of how our brother used to walk her to the school bus every day and how she felt safe knowing he would be there when she returned from school and losing him basically, you know, tour hole in her heart And this picture specifically, when we presented that flag to her, I could see her literally staring through my soul. And she wasn't staring at me. I honestly believe she was staring at her and her brother. Yeah. Um, so it's very significant return for me. Just as significant as it was for the family. It's moments like that that really solidify all the hard work, all the screen time doing the research and all the glass time driving hundreds of miles across the country to get these medals home because of women like that. And, ah, she died about a year later. But that metal is still in the family.
John Bear: 20:57
Yeah, it brings tears to my eyes every time I see it. Because it, you know, just just people really can't get a feeling exactly what Purple Hearts reunited does until they're there to witness it and experience it firsthand. And, you know, you should You showed that to me when you you sent me to New York for the eat on seven event one year and and it just did the meeting behind it is just it's crazy.
Major Fike: 21:22
It's hard to explain. And, uh, we're gonna amp up our game a little bit. We brought on ah, media Director, and she's gonna help us put together some videos. And that's something you suggested early on. I just didn't have the tech savvy ability to do that. My myself, uh, we're actually gonna start filming some of these returns, and we're gonna we're gonna get it out there, and hopefully that'll help people understand exactly what we're doing.
John Bear: 21:49
Yeah, get some live streams going for him too. And that's that. That's the back of the frame that you were given to you, sister. And that's the cut out on the back of the purple. Well, the of the frame that shows the actual engraving on the Purple Heart.
Major Fike: 22:05
Yeah, we we would deliver these frames to people, and they would have toe basically take our word for it. You know, they say, is that my dad's medal is on my grandfather's metal and because it was in a frame, you know, they just had to trust me. And luckily, we have, ah, very talented framer at the village frame shop here and said Albans, Vermont. His name is Dan, and he was able to put a window on the back of the frame. So now families can turn that frame around and they can see their family member's name. And it's no. That frame is kind of the centerpiece of what we do and really touch his family when they see it the first time. And, you know, being able to read that name on the back of that metal, you know, that symbolizes them on it means a lot to those families.
John Bear: 22:47
In most most case, it's the last tangible item that the family could ever hold in their hands and into sea. Of that person, you have the means. It means a lot. To whom? OK, tell us about this photo.
Major Fike: 22:59
Yeah, It was a pretty neat event. Um, the old man on his knees down next to the kid there, That's Rick Bagel. And he married a woman who was previously married in the forties through a veteran who was killed in action. Um, so his widow kept all of his items for many years, and it wasn't until she passed that Rick went through her effects and said, Hey, listen, these don't belong to me. Let's see if we can get these back to the family. Eso he turned him purports, reunited for help. And we were able to find that one set of family, but two sets of family. You've got the New Hampshire family, and then you got the California family. The New Hampshire family was primarily nieces and nephews. California was grandchildren. Eso this veteran had a young child and that child, for whatever reason, essentially sent to live with another set of family out on the West Coast. And ah, they ended up having four Children. Those sets of grandchildren had never even seen a photo of him throughout life. So we were able to travel out to California and meet that family. And in return, that metal. Ah, and then about a year later, we were able to basically link the two families together and bring the California family out to New Hampshire. And that was their first ever family union. Eso they got to meet each other for the first time. And, uh, kind of it's a great example of, you know, this is more than just the metal. At the end of the day, I think the metal is probably the least important piece of what we do. It's bringing closure to the families. It's bringing families back together for the very first time in this case, showing a family member what ah hero looked like with the picture they haven't seen. I mean, it's endless that the 2nd 3rd and fourth or effects do. Just simply giving something back is pre pretty amazing.
John Bear: 24:56
Yeah, it ISS is, uh, this This is a photo I actually took of Ah, some returns here in Colorado that we did a few years back where I visited Fort Logan National Cemetery and was able to reunite the frame with With with the veteran. We returned this one to his nephew. Always Grandson is what it was. His grandson.
Major Fike: 25:16
That's one of my favorite photos. I mean, it's really powerful to see the metal next to the grave. And essentially, you're kind of reconnecting the veteran with his own medal. So I was a stand up job on your part.
John Bear: 25:27
Yeah, I just happened to be working over in the Denver area, and it worked out. Did so Ah, the next one was a Colorado returned to, and it's Ah, Sergeant Evan Nacho. He was, Ah, Korean War veteran. He was wounded in action twice and he's actually received. I think he received the Silver Star as well. But
Major Fike: 25:45
do you lower star Bronze Star
John Bear: 25:47
Ron Store, one of the t I can't remember off top my head, But, uh, he was living out in Washington state and somehow his medal of had gotten lost and and ah, I can't remember how we came across the metal if it was from a collector or eBay or somewhere. But we ended up getting his medal and ah he was still living. He's living in the sun's home and eagle, Colorado, and And we were able to go out there and visiting firsthand and actually returned them. Return the metal to him. And it was It was really, really an emotional night. He when he saw that frame. Zack, you want to believe? Well, this is this is the first time that he's actually getting a look at the frame.
Major Fike: 26:26
Yeah, you can see it all over his face. And ah, again, you gotta experience. You got a witness it and you've had that opportunity and to see the look in ah, on that man's face and see the appreciation in the emotion. You know, we brought a piece of that family member back to them. You know, whether it's a medal or a frame or ah, document. To be able to reconnect with someone that you loved and that you lost means the world to somebody. So yeah, you definitely made an impact without
John Bear: 26:55
Yeah, it was really cool. His his three boys and his daughter were there and and, ah, they got to hear some of his stories, and it was it was a great night sitting down there and they went out and bought pizza and we had a little pizza party. There it is dinner table and we just chatted. It was it was an amazing deal.
Major Fike: 27:12
That's a benefit each other, right, John?
John Bear: 27:14
Major Fike: 27:15
It's the best. When the family feed, You're right.
John Bear: 27:17
It is. It is.
Major Fike: 27:19
Now those are my favorite. When you can sit around a kitchen table and just share stories and hear the amazing, you know, behind the scenes stories about the veterans about how they stole Dad's car and wrecked it into a barn or how they had eight girlfriends at one time, I mean, those are the stories that I enjoy. Oh,
John Bear: 27:38
yeah, yeah, til the rate of 133 bring core commandants, right?
Major Fike: 27:42
Yeah, I just had to take a picture. And after I told him I was in the Army, they didn't like that too much.
John Bear: 27:48
I was thinking it was more or less. You're trying to be a Marine, so
Major Fike: 27:52
I wasn't man enough to be a marine, for I took the easy route out, went to the army.
John Bear: 27:58
There you go.
Major Fike: 28:00
No, but the foundation's been great. I've been able to travel the world and run into some amazing leaders. You know, those were some heroic leaders that have made a huge impact for our country. So to be able to shake a guy's hand and say thank you for your service is pretty amazing.
John Bear: 28:15
Well, a couple of my mods or a couple of guys that I watch on YouTube, they're they're big Chicago fans, so I had to throw this one in there. You want to give a little background on this one?
Major Fike: 28:25
Yeah, that was ah, metal that we brought with us to Chicago to return to a nephew. I always knew of that. That sign. I don't don't hate me. I don't remember what street that is. But I thought that would be a cool shot. He was a Chicago boy who died. Unfortunately, Vietnam. Um, so I wanted to find an impactful picture to go with the frame. Um, and right after that, we got it to the nephew. So I believe that's one that you rescue John. If I'm not mistaken.
John Bear: 28:54
Yeah, was he was a Vietnam veteran killed in action. And it was it was one of the saddest, saddest purple hearts I ever researched. His mother was very vocal. I think he was from Pennsylvania originally, but his mother was very vocal in the newspapers and stuff about his death and ended up getting their congressman Teoh after the after they had buried him. She had heard stories and stuff about how that how the bodies were treated and stuff like that. So they got him to Exume, the the grave and in the newspapers. It's detail ing all this about how they exhumed the grave and founding wire tied up or whatever. He wasn't even in uniform or any of that stuff. It was
Major Fike: 29:37
It was It
John Bear: 29:37
was so sad when I researched that one. But we were able toe get that one back. It was I think it went back to his sister or something, wasn't it?
Major Fike: 29:46
I was a nephew. Nephew? Okay, it's just Sister. Son.
John Bear: 29:50
Yeah, that's right. That's right.
Major Fike: 29:51
She wanted him to have it. You know, those stories aren't uncommon. Unfortunately, you know the government, even perfect. So we make mistakes and ah, it's good to know that a family went the extra mile to make sure son was, uh, taking care of. And as you can see, I go the extra mile toe be with the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders. Yeah, my favorite football team.
John Bear: 30:15
It was good that they got to meet Zach.
Major Fike: 30:17
Yeah, right. My wife worker too happy with that photo
John Bear: 30:22
at. And this and this one here is another little hobby. A years, I guess. Is your your also an entrepreneur?
Major Fike: 30:29
Yeah. For any military, you know, service person who's transitioning from the military, it's a tough It's a tough transition. I think that's why we're seeing some of the suicide rates that we are. You know, the military teaches us Ah, certain trade that sometimes doesn't transition are equal another civilian job once we get out. And I think people just don't have any direction. They don't know which way to turn, and they unfortunately turn to drugs and alcohol and or maybe they don't have, ah, strong family network. Eso We've decided as a group of friends to start early, why were still serving to start some businesses on the side. You know, we dedicate nights and weekends to trying to build these businesses, and right now we have our hands in a brewery and now a distillery called Danger. Close here in Vermont and, ah, you know, I've always given back through the foundation, and I've never really done anything for myself. And I was never good with my own hands, like my dad fixing engines in the car couldn't really build anything with wood. Um, but I was able to teach myself how to be a distiller. And so now I'm making bourbon, and we've been going for about two years now. We've got about 15 barrels aging, and it feels really good. It's really therapeutic to be able to sit next to the steel and do something like basically, create something yourself and create, you know, bourbon. That's really, really fascinating for me and kind of finds I find peace through it and gives me hope for the future. When I do hang up that uniform to have something to turn to, I'm not gonna be alone. I'm not gonna be lost in the dark. I'll have something to do and keep me busy. And, ah, I think every veteran just needs to do that. Then you define something they love, something they're passionate about, and get ahead of it before it's too late. John, did you raid my Facebook page. Er,
John Bear: 32:26
I did, man. I did. I get all the good photos here. I left a lot of good ones out, though, but this is going to
Major Fike: 32:31
be righted. I might have to Ah. Ah. It's something going here.
John Bear: 32:35
Public domain. Yeah. And for all, for all of my right, Marine Corps friends here. I had to put this one up there.
Major Fike: 32:42
You know, return. We did it. Sturgis and Ah, the family asked me to be in uniform. So here I am, walking down the street of Sturgis in uniform, standing out completely. And old gun. He yelled at me from a distance and said, Hey, you get over here. And he gave me a hard time for about two minutes. He was obviously just joking around. But everybody knows Ghani's a big supporter, or it was a big supporter of the veteran community, unfortunately, has passed on. But anybody that's watched full metal jacket knows everything there is to know about the gunny.
John Bear: 33:15
Yeah, that was a that was a special one for my brother in law. Your you were actually over in the Philippines and you got to go to Manila and you actually got a picture of Ah, my brother in law's uncles had still in there no American cemetery. And yes,
Major Fike: 33:30
a great father fought in the Philippines as well. So yeah, it was definitely for me. Personally. It was a great trip. Once in a lifetime, I don't think I'll ever get back. But be ableto do that for you and your family. And to send that picture meant the world to me.
John Bear: 33:44
Yeah, you also took a couple pictures of some unknown graves for me. That there that I was actually there tied Teoh Sapir. W my cases that I worked on after you had been there. There's been a few of those graves that have been disinterred in there, sitting in Hawaii awaiting identification now. So that's awesome. Was kind of cool to get a picture before, and I'll get some pictures for after after their identified. And that's that's dance frame. I just wanted to throw up, throw up a picture of of all the framing that builds frame shop does for you. I mean, it's amazing work what they do with their frames.
Major Fike: 34:21
Yeah, Dan, I walked into his shop one day and I said to help in. You know, at first they were doing it for free, and as we grew and grew up to 100 frames a year, you know, it just wasn't great business for him or or me. And I just couldn't stand by and see him give up that much money. So he still gives them to us at a discounted rate. We're talking, like, 75% off, and he does an amazing job. But these frames, they really tell a story. And you're just captivated when you see it for the first time, even even myself. Every time I see them for the first time, I'm just blown away. But to be able to walk through someone's home and present that to him definitely makes a difference.
John Bear: 34:59
Yeah, I just Here's another example of the frames were going. I'm gonna go over on time here when we got a few minutes left. But there's nobody up after me, so I'm gonna keep going here for a couple extra minutes. Toe, get through a few of these photos, but this one here, Lieutenant Commander Murphy, this is this is another one. That man, the guy was loaded. He was a three War vet. You return this one in Washington D C. On. I think it was a camera which was a Veterans Day or was a memorial that
Major Fike: 35:24
it I'm, uh no was Memorial Day at the Vietnam Wall. So I got to experience that event for the first time. You know, my dad was a Vietnam veteran, so had special meaning for me. Obviously, the veteran had an amazing career, but what I loved was history. Daughters. You can see them clearly in that photo. They were just the sweetest women. They really were in love with their dad, even even over his own faults. You know, throughout life, you know, no one's perfect and it really meant something to them. And they had their whole family there. There's a photo showing the entire family. There's about 25 family members there. Yeah, you know, we do some amazing returns and some amazing locations, and we tried to make it an experience for the families, and we wanted to be a memory that they'll never forget.
John Bear: 36:12
And that was one of the ones that kind of threw me researching because he had army medals and he had ah, had Ah, Navy medal. And you
Major Fike: 36:22
were Mac v SOG in Vietnam?
John Bear: 36:25
Yeah, he was wearing that Special Forces beret and and had me throwing all for a loop when I was researching him. But yeah, it was pretty good. Pretty good One there. Tell us about this one. And word where Jess is located out here.
Major Fike: 36:38
Yeah. Just Jaggers was Captain Jaggers. Used to be our operations director. She's now moved on. She took a job at the Pentagon, so she's, uh, carrying out with her military career. But for about two years, she worked for us and did over 150 returns. This one was the Home of Honor return. When a family can't be found, we take those medals to what we consider a home of honor of this particular veteran. Ron Sin served with the 101st Airborne Division. And this is a Currahee mountain. So be it just took turns running up Currahee, which is three miles up. If you watch the band of brothers. Siri's, uh, we almost passed out each of those multiple times, but we got to the top and then we took the metal down. There's a museum in Toccoa Georgia and we donated the metal to the museum. So now it's on display there, but yet to run up Kurji with the phone soldier of the 101st medals. Definitely a memorable experience.
John Bear: 37:38
Most definitely. You have a few a few people in the chat room here. I'm sure recognized that. Ah, here's a good France picture.
Major Fike: 37:46
Yeah, Martin trip. How? I don't know. If you remember that story I knew that's what Ronald Reagan speech. I think it was a year I was born in 81. You talked about the Martin Trump dial with a soldier who unfortunately died on the battlefield exactly in the spot that I'm dealing. And they found a diary that basically said, You know, with all your mind, with all his will, we must win that war. We must win that fight. I became obviously a famous speech through Reagan, but that's the exact location in the small town of France that they found that that soldier and they found that that leaflet in that vital
John Bear: 38:24
if we look to the answer, Mr Why for so many years we achieved so much prospered is no other people on earth. It was because here in this land, we unleashed the energy and individual genius of man to a greater extent than has ever been done before. Freedom and the dignity of the individual have been more available and assured here than in any other place on Earth. The price for this freedom of times has been high, but way have never been unwilling to pay that price. Those who say that we're in a time when there are no heroes, they just don't know where to look. The sloping hills of Arlington National Cemetery. With its row upon row of simple white markers bearing crosses or stars of David, they add up to only a tiny fraction of the price that has been paid for our freedom. Each one of those markets is a monument to the kind of hero I spoke of earlier. Their lives ended in places called Belleau Wood. The are Gun, Omaha Beach, Salerno and halfway around the world on Guadalcanal, Horava, Pork Chop Hill, the Chosin Reservoir and in 100 rice paddies and jungles of a place called Vietnam. Under one such marker lies a young man Martin tripped out, who left his job in a small town barbershop in 1917 to go to France with the famed Rainbow Division. They're on the western front. He was killed trying to carry a message between battalions under heavy artillery fire. We're told, but on his body was found a diary on the fly leaf. Under the heading my pledge he had written these words. America must win this war. Therefore I will work. I will save. I was sacrificed. I will endure. I will fight cheerfully and do my utmost. As if the issue of the whole struggle depended on me alone. We must realize that no arsenal or no weapon in the arsenals of the world is so formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women. It is a weapon our adversaries in today's world do not have. It is a weapon that we, as Americans do, have let that be understood by those who practise terrorism and prey upon their neighbors. As for the enemies of freedom, those who are potential adversaries, they will be reminded that peace is the highest aspiration of the American people. We will negotiate for it. Sacrifice for it. We will not surrender for it now. or ever way are Americans here we guilders. A nice return here on Fox and Friends that morning.
Major Fike: 41:55
Yet eight on seven is a big event. We do every year we try to, ah, bring in eight families from all over the country. We found that bringing families that are all of shared something in this case loss having unique ability to bond and meet new people that share the same common interest or background us. We'll find those families to a location, typically New York City, and we clicked. The families have a couple of days to explore, and then we do the returns together. And that eight on seven is a spinoff of August 7th, which is national Purple Heart Day. Um, and we bring those eight families from each of the time periods we try to get war one war to Korea, Vietnam, and then Iraq and Afghanistan s I think that the year you went, John
John Bear: 42:43
Yeah, that's the year when that that firefighter sitting next to you, you're actually returned his purple Heart.
Major Fike: 42:48
Yeah, he when he came home, he was wounded in Iraq. If I'm not mistaken. Yes, and he was honored in a parade in New York City parade and literally lost his medal while in that parade, and it was never turned in. So you kind of just didn't want to ask for help, which is what a lot of us veterans unfortunately do. And we heard about it and we said, No, we're gonna get your new metal And we presented it to him
John Bear: 43:12
on this is another that would probably have pretty special meaning to you.
Major Fike: 43:17
Yeah. And Ge was only six years old, a little girl to my left when her father died in Iraq. And unfortunately I was there. And 2009. Excuse me. Afghanistan 9 4010 I was the bloodiest year of the war. We lost about 499 servicemen and women. I was stationed on Bagram, so I attempted to go toe all the ramp ceremonies that I could. And a ramp ceremony is essentially the last goodbye before a serviceman or woman is sent home to their families after being killed on the feel the battle and I I just happened to go to this ramp ceremony before lead leaving country. And just recently, so one reached out to me, and unfortunately, his daughter never got any of the metals. It went to an ex wife and us. We have the unique opportunity to give her some medals for the first time. She's now 16. So 10 years later she got to see some of her dad's medals for the first time. And, ah, I've got a new friend of challenge sort of work for the foundation. So we're gonna do some work together. She's probably going to support us on our eight on seven event in New York City this year, and, uh, it's just amazing to be able to help people to be able to get back and to do something bigger than yourself just fills me with pride, you know, and keeps me going
John Bear: 44:39
all right. Getting back to the beer topic in the distillery. Would you? Holding up there?
Major Fike: 44:45
It's 14 stars, Raspberry Vermonter wise.
John Bear: 44:49
Okay, I was thinking that was the Belle Ariel.
Major Fike: 44:52
No, no, no. This is the new raspberry. It's really good. Okay? Yes, my friend Steve, Steve is the owner of 14 star Brewing Company. And, ah, he's still serving like myself and again. We've partnered up on DA We just want to make sure our futures air secured. And, uh, his flagship male called Bauer Ale, which is now in about seven states in the Northeast, goes to help support purple hearts reunited so through the researchers and through the gracious donors across the country, were able to do our mission, uh, couldn't do without him.
John Bear: 45:28
Okay, this is this is another good one that I liked.
Major Fike: 45:31
He was a Vietnam veteran and served with the fifth Special Forces Group. He was entitled to actually to purports one. He received one. He did not eso He was able to go through his congressman and they reached out to me to assist in establishing the ceremonies. Were able to do it right at the wall. And he got his second purple heart in front of his family. So it was pretty amazing. Tomita living veteran and to hear his stories. So,
John Bear: 45:58
yeah, I had a question down there in the chat. Jerry at Happy Police Diaries. He's He's a retired command sergeant major. Shorter army. He's asking how how you can get some of that bourbon.
Major Fike: 46:09
We're ah, we're kind of on hold right now. A cove It it z coming out soon. And, uh, it'll definitely be available in Vermont, and then we look to expand across the country, but I can tell you tasted it. It's really good. I'm not being biased, but send me a message. Star Major, I I can get something.
John Bear: 46:29
Yeah, I'm still waiting for mine, too. I sent to you some of mine. You've never sent any back,
Major Fike: 46:34
John. You still only like 20 bucks, man. Give me my money, and then I'll give you some private
John Bear: 46:40
sounds. Good. All right, Here's another one. Real quick.
Major Fike: 46:44
Yes. Instant. Rubin Couch. He was a distinguish enable Navy Cross recipient and a Purple Heart recipient. He unfortunately died right outside of the harbour in New York City. They were there hit by, I believe. A submarine. Ah, A lot of people don't realize that the Germans were really close to our shores and attacking some of our ships. He was, ah, Brooklyn boy. And they named a park couch park in honor of him. And it's right down the road from Yankee Stadium. And that's his niece, Flore een wonderful woman. And she is a diehard Yankee fan. Don't hold that against her, but, uh I, uh, was able to through one of our sponsors facilitate her going to a Yankees game. And we treated her to a box Sweet. And she got presented her uncle's purple Heart at that game. So it was really fascinating memory for her. And to see her full smiles enjoying the Yankees meant a lot. Everybody that experienced it.
John Bear: 47:46
Here we go. There is when I've been waiting for
Major Fike: 47:48
my dad, uh, second generation paratrooper. He was a sergeant major as well. Sorry, major. So, uh, I grew up. I didn't get away with anything. My mom was also one of the first female drill sergeants in the Army. That's how my parents met. They're both drill sergeants. Yeah, it's great to follow in your parent's footsteps or your grand parents footsteps. And we're seeing a lot of that in today's army. About 1% of the population, less than 1% of the population serving. And we're seeing a lot of that service coming from the same families. Eso there's been a There's been less than 1% of the families of America literally carrying the weight of the country s, so we can't say thank you enough to our veterans, and I'm just proud to be a son of a veteran.
John Bear: 48:33
You speak enough? Yeah. I had to go back to your own when your buck Private Young before you're an officer, you know, on. And then instead of having the drill sergeant looking down on you and happening in the chest is hat was hit. His brim of his hat was hitting me in the chest.
Major Fike: 48:48
I don't know, John. I look pretty damn good. That picture. Um, now, about a buck 40. Um, I went there a 1 80 I still hadn't grown. I was. I joined the army when I was 17. So that's me at 17. Um, yeah, I was a split option. So you had to get your parent's permission before you go to Basic. So I hadn't even, you know, started to develop yet Wasn't till I was 23 s are getting stocky. It was fired. I could keep on weight, and, uh, my mom said I looked like a concentration camp victim. When I when I graduated, I was all skin and bone.
John Bear: 49:22
All right, Well, that's all the photos that I pulled off. A robbed off, even without you knowing. But I wanted to share some a little bit of background about you and a little bit about Purple Hearts for United. You know ph our mission and you know how much it's grown and just the need for what we've been doing. It's it's it's amazing work. And and, uh, I can't thank you enough for for what you're you're doing and the sacrifices that you've made, you know, away from your family to make these returns and putting together. You know, this leadership that you have on putting together the value of research teams in the return teams and everything that goes into the end of the foundation. It's it's amazing work, and I just wanted everybody to know about it
Major Fike: 50:03
now. I appreciate it, John. You've been a good friend, and what you're doing with this Siri's and in the M I A's is just unbelievable. And I'm happy to be a friend with a true patriot, and any time, any place, man, you let me know and I'll be there for you and keep up the great work. I'm really proud of you.
John Bear: 50:22
Thank you. And if people want to contact you, what's what's the best way to get a hold of you, especially if they want some of that nice promote bourbon that has some of it. I think you did with the maple syrup, didn't you? Yeah.
Major Fike: 50:35
Proportion United, not Ord, which is at the bottom of the screen per bar tree, died at gmail dot com is an email that goes directly to me. Oh, are basically, If you Google Zach Fike, you'll find our contact information. Reach out to me to be a cell phone. I'm willing to chat about anything. Help you if I can if now we can tell some stories and go on our way. But, um, appreciate everyone's support, Appreciate you listening. Tonight. If you have questions, reach out. But we'll keep it up. We'll try to return every metal that we get, and, uh, we'll do our best. That's the least we can do for these guys and girls.
John Bear: 51:14
Yeah, old Zach, I really appreciate you coming on here and helping me muddle through my first live stream.
Major Fike: 51:19
I thought you did a great job.
John Bear: 51:21
I appreciate it. I just technical difficulties at the with my first guest on the videos. It wasn't too bad, though. So again Appreciate it, sir. And, uh, we'll be in touch soon. I got some stuff for you.
Major Fike: 51:36
Sounds good, buddy.
John Bear: 51:37
Mission. All right. Like
Major Fike: 51:40
all right out here, buddy.
John Bear: 51:42
Thanks. Thank you for joining us today. And listening to this bonus episode talking to Major Zachariah Fike about the foundation Purple Hearts were united. The service PHR provides means so much to the living veterans and our gold star families. So much words cannot describe it. In most cases, the Purple Heart is a last tangible thing a family can hold of that hero who gave their today for our tomorrow. If you feel it in your heart, please visit Purple Hearts reunited dot org's and help them in their mission to return these medals of valor to their families. If you haven't sauce on our on our YouTube channel, please visit stoppin, subscribing. We're ramping up our media outreach and we'll be doing this podcast and recorded and live videos interviewing our World War Two pow. My family's. The link to our YouTube channel is in the show notes. Thank you again for joining us. This is Ben, a production of the U S. P o W m i. A family locating