Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund is a nonprofit organization inspired by the late Zachary Fisher. The President of the organization, Dave Winters, made it his goal to help treat military personnel with traumatic brain injuries just like how Zachary Fisher would do back then. Join Julie Houston and Gem Rinehart as they talk to Dave Winters about the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund. Discover how it started and how they are building treatment centers for people with traumatic brain injuries. Feel free to donate and help support the people who are fighting for our country.
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Intrepid Fallen Heroes
We have a very special guest, Dave Winters. Thank you so much for joining us, Dave.
Thank you for having me. It’s an honor.
Why not tell our audience a little bit about who you are?
My name is Dave Winters, as you said. I’m the President of the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, and we are a national organization serving the men and women of the Armed Forces. Specifically, we are building treatment centers for military personnel suffering from traumatic brain injury.
Can you tell me how did you become the president of this organization and founded it? How did this even come about?
The organization was inspired by a great American gentleman named Zachary Fisher, who has since deceased. I could go on forever about his story but in brief, his story was that he was a son of Russian immigrants. He and his brothers created a little bricklaying business in New York City, and they ultimately built it up into a huge real estate company. One of the big New York City real estate companies, Fisher Brothers. They were still around building high-rise buildings in Manhattan.
When Zachary was 16 or 17 years old, he injured his leg in a construction accident. When World War II came around, and he was of that age, he could not serve in World War II because of that injury. Later on in life, as he and his family became successful, he always felt that he owed a debt to the men and women who went and served, many of whom died in World War II defending his freedom and his family’s ability to become successful in this country.
He acquired a great deal of wealth through his business. He started to give back a lot of that wealth, a lot of his time and effort to supporting the men and women of the Armed Forces, and he established a number of significant nonprofit organizations. One is the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum here in New York City, which is a museum based on the retired World War II Aircraft Carrier Intrepid. He founded that organization and put a lot of his own money into getting this museum started. The museum is celebrating its 40th anniversary this 2022. He started a wonderful program called Fisher House.
Fisher Houses are homes built at military and VA hospitals where the families of hospitalized military personnel and veterans can go and stay free of charge while their loved one is being treated in the hospital. That’s a wonderful program. In the picture, you might be a young sailor stationed in San Diego, and your wife or husband might be living in Iowa. If you get hospitalized, it’s hard to afford to come to stay at a hotel. That can be expensive. What do you do with the kid?
Fisher has to provide a place where you or your family can come. No cost. Food is all there. Everything is there, all that you need, and you are right there with your loved one in the hospital. That program was started in 1990, and there are 93 or 94 Fisher Houses all over the world now. That was a wonderful program.
He also had a very special program where he would provide immediate financial grants to families of military personnel who died in the performance of their duty. He started doing that. You will remember this incident. The Battleship Iowa, there was a terrible accident on that battleship, and one of the gun turrets of that battleship exploded, and 47 sailors were killed.
Zachary Fisher provided immediate financial grants to families of military personnel who died in their line of duty. Click To Tweet
He sent a contribution of $25,000 to each of those families. The purpose of those gifts was that, “You had lost a husband, a wife, a father, a mother or somebody very close, possibly the breadwinner for your family, and I don’t want money to be a worry for you now. You’ve got plenty of other things to worry about. Here’s this contribution.”
There’s no application, no form. It’s a check and this very warm letter sent to the family. Use the money for whatever they need. Maybe get over some financial hump they were facing while in this time of terrible loss. He made similar contributions in hundreds of cases over the years, and you think back to the 1980s and 1990s, it wasn’t the time of war as we have seen over many years, and this was before all that.
Even in peacetime, we lose military personnel. We lose military personnel in accidents like that in Iowa. We lose military personnel in training accidents, coast guard rescues, small military contentious operations, and even military personnel lost in space shuttle disasters. There were several military astronauts. Those are the types of families he helped.
When he passed away in 1999, his family said, “That was a wonderful program. Let’s continue that.” That was essentially the birth of the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund. We organized in 2000. We became an official nonprofit in 2003, and in those initial years, we provided support to families and military personnel. That’s how we got started.
How did you get involved in the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund?
I was working at the Intrepid Museum. I will note where I’m sitting on the Aircraft Intrepid. That’s where my office is. It’s a very cool place to have an office. I had been working for the Intrepid Museum starting in around 1993, and during that time working for the museum, I got to know Mr. Fisher, and I did some work with him as well.
In the mid-’90s, I started administering for him that program of doing those checks to the families. Whenever you heard of an incident like that, I would get in touch with the military base and deal through all the proper channels. They are not going to give out military spouse information but they knew who Mr. Fisher was, and he had developed a long history of serving in the Armed Forces. I got to help him administer that program. When he died, his family and a few others said, “Let’s continue this program.” I started working in the program right from there. I have been with the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund from the start.
What a story of how it got started. I’m still stuck on how it got started. I’m blown away. A kind, generosity-minded individual.
He was an incredible man. When he passed away, Congress passed a special resolution. As I mentioned before, he wasn’t able to serve, so he wasn’t a veteran but Congress named him an honorary veteran. He’s only the second American ever named an honorary veteran. The first one was Bob Hope. As far as I know, those are still the only two Americans ever named honorary veterans. That’s a nice tribute.
He gave not just his time but his energy, talent, intelligence, and passion to these efforts. He was a wonderful man. I don’t know, but in the Fisher family, he didn’t have any children but his nephews who were in the business. Now the next generation of great nephews is carrying on that work. Ken Fisher, his grandnephew, is the Chairman of the Fisher House Foundation. Now, his nephew Arnold who unfortunately we lost was the Honorary Chairman of the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, our organization. The family is still very much involved in these efforts.
How can people help Intrepid and the organization?
I appreciate you asking that. I will take a second to explain what we are doing now. There are hundreds of thousands of service members suffering from traumatic brain injury. These are injuries to the brain that might not be associated with a visibly apparent physical injury. A service member gets shot in the arm or shot in the leg. There’s an injury. You can see it and know how to treat it, which is very easy.
Brain injuries, you might get a brain injury from a blast wave or being too near an explosion. You are not hit by anything but an actual physical wave passes through your head. Maybe when a vehicle rolls over, and you get a concussion, football players can get concussions. These injuries are difficult to diagnose because there’s nothing obvious. There’s no bleeding. There’s nothing obvious you know about but there’s injury going inside the brain.
The brain is such a complex organ that an injury there can have all sorts of effects on your life. Some of them that we have found with military personnel is that you might start having changes in your personality. You might start having difficulty remembering things, difficulty focusing or concentrating, and maybe getting angry, easily losing your temper, or getting frustrated. You can’t have military personnel serving effectively with these issues. It can get worse. It can get depression and suicidal thoughts.
A) You need people who don’t have those issues in the military. B) Even more importantly, these men and women serve. If they are having these issues due to their service, they deserve care. In partnership with the Department of Defense, we are building a series of treatment centers specifically designed for treating traumatic brain injury. They are called Intrepid Spirit Centers, and we are building them at military bases throughout the country. We are building ten of them. We have already built and opened 9 of them, and we are about to ground down on our 10th at the beginning of December 2022. We are still raising money for it. That’s the important thing.
We are a nonprofit organization. All the funds needed to build these centers come from donations from the American public, so we need help. Each of the essentials costs about $13 million to build. We have several million towards this 10th one we are building but we still need to raise the rest of the money to be able to finish it. That’s where your readers can be of help.
I will ask you to please visit our website, FallenHeroesFund.org, and you can learn about us. You can see all our financials and our records. You can make sure that we are a tight-run financial organization. We are rated A or A+ all the time by CharityWatch. We are platinum rated by GuideStar. We are a solid organization but our finances are all there on our website. Your readers can take a look. If you would like, please give to us and support this effort.
We want to help support you and the Fallen Heroes Foundation.
Donations are such a small tribute to give to the people who have fought for our country. What you all are doing is amazing.
Thank you so much. Exactly as you said, Gem, it’s about these men and women who serve sacrificial. I used to refer to the men and women in the Armed Forces as our nation’s greatest natural national resource, and they are. We wouldn’t have a country without, Julie, people like you who have served and people who are serving now. When they enter the service, they deserve the best care possible. That’s what we are doing.
In all the years that you have been in this organization and you are the president, is there any one time throughout this period that sticks out to you the most or stuck to your heart, a certain family or thing throughout the years that you will never forget?
There are a lot. I could probably go on for hours. You don’t want me to, and I won’t but there’s a guy named Pete. He was a Navy SEAL. No slacker. Deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. He suffered a traumatic brain injury. His own story is fascinating but he ended up at one of our centers and was treated. Our goal is to provide treatments so these men and women can control their symptoms, continue serving the Armed Forces, and have a full life.
One of our trustees was having a small fundraiser up here in New York, and we invited Pete to come up and speak at that event, and he did. He was great. At the end of the event, you are going to pass the hat, “Any additional donations, please give.” The next day, I’m going through those donations in my office, and I see a check from Pete. I called him right away and was like, “You don’t have to give money. You served. We are doing this to help you and to help people like you.”
He said, “I’m happy to give. You guys saved my brain.” I will never forget that because I don’t even know how I have met a lot of these men and women who suffer but I don’t know how that feels.” That proved to me that this was effective. He didn’t have to give, and it was a generous gift too, so I will never forget that. He didn’t do it publicly. It was just a check, and he passed it there. That was something.
I want to thank you, your company, and the people that you work with for everything that you all are doing. It’s amazing.
We have a great team. We are a small team. Our team is only seven people here. With a team that’s small over the last several years, we have raised over $200 million. We did several other programs prior to this program. We have been doing this program since 2010. I’m proud of the organization. I’m very proud of our team because our team is dedicated. Our team is hard-working.
We get a lot out of this small group. I will also note that when you think about it, our nation after 911 was 2001. That’s a whole generation ago. When you think about it, there are a lot of young people in college who weren’t born when 911 happened. I’m a little bit older. I remember before that. Even after several years, the combat operation tempo is not what it was. We are still in combat.
We still have troops in Iraq. It’s not like it was in 2008 when there was combat all over in headlines in the news every day. Even after several years, Americans are still willing to reach into their pocket and give to organizations like ours because they care so much about our military community and families. That says something nice about our nation.
Even after 9/11, Americans are still willing to reach into their pocket and give to fundraisers that support the military. Click To Tweet
We went through elections, and I won’t get political but you hear a lot about division and polarization but Americans are very generous. All of us and the people will give that much money to organizations, even after so many years of hearing about the military needs that say something great about our nation and citizens.
Americans are very, very generous people. Click To Tweet
Readers, I feel like you don’t even have a choice. There’s no other way but to make sure that you help support our troops and the people out there who have fought and who are continuing to fight for our freedom.
They are continuing to fight again. It’s not all in the headlines but we have a service. I put it all over the world. A lot of you don’t hear about it every day but they are there and a lot of them are in danger. Let’s be there for them.
We are here to support you. Again, they can go to FallenHeroesFund.org.
We are on social media. You can find us on social media.
Dave, is there anything else you want to add in closing for our readers?
I thank you both for giving me this time. I truly appreciate it. We need help. I hope they can find our voice.
It’s our pleasure.
I encourage your readers to learn about us. Don’t take my word for it. Look at our website. Our information and financials are all there. Take a look, and if you like what you see, you can support it. Even if you choose not to, please remember that men and women serve. You might know somebody who’s a veteran or who’s on active duty. You might have a relative. Thank them for their service.
Remember them. Do something special for them, especially as we are getting into the holiday season. Think about military families, maybe people who have lost someone. Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to visit and say hello or bring a bottle of wine and invite you to Thanksgiving. Whatever it is, just remember these men and women who serve and their families are an incredibly important part of our military communities. Be there for them to the extent that you can.
Service men and women that are not going to get to spend the holidays with their family when you are at home, think of them.
It’s not hard to do.
Not at all. Thank you so much for joining us, Dave. It has been such an honor to have you on.
I appreciate the opportunity. This is great. Julie, thank you for your own service. We appreciate it. Gem, thank you. This is a lot of fun. I appreciate it.
This has been great. We will have you on again in the future for sure.
I would love to.
We will see you soon.
Thank you both.
- Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund
About Dave Winters
David A. Winters serves as President of the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, a leading national organization supporting the military community. Since 2000 the Fund has raised over $200 million for families of military personnel lost in Iraq and Afghanistan, and for several special projects serving wounded military personnel. Winters oversees the Fund’s strategic planning, fundraising and program execution. Winters has been with the Fund since its establishment in 2000 and became President in 2011.
In 2011 the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund launched its current program: building a series of ten advanced treatment centers for military personnel suffering the effects of traumatic brain injury. To date $100 million has been raised for this effort, and eight of the ten centers have already been built and are open and operating, with another currently under construction.
Winters also serves as Executive Vice President of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City. Winters’ responsibilities aboard Intrepid include management of events, special projects, government and military relations, and administration of the annual festival programs including Fleet Week, Kids Week and Free Fridays. Mr. Winters also serves as corporate secretary of the Museum. He joined the Intrepid Museum as a volunteer in 1992 and as an employee in 1993.
Winters also serves as the Executive Vice President and Secretary of the Intrepid Relief Fund, which provides support to military personnel and families. Winters’ responsibilities include administration of the Fund and directing fundraising efforts. Winters has worked with this effort since 1994.
Winters served on the 1812 Advisory Group from 2010 through 2012, assisting with the Department of the Navy’s planning for the War of 1812 Bicentennial celebrations.
Winters’ involvement in supporting America’s military community began in March 1991, when he helped establish a volunteer charitable effort called Operation Support, which in just three months raised over a quarter million dollars to benefit the families of American military personnel lost in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
Winters holds a BA degree from Fordham University. Winters and his wife, Lucrecia, the Assistant Commissioner for budget and revenue for the New York City Police Department, reside in New York City.