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Fisher House Founder Dies; Military Loses Stalwart Friend

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 10, 1999 – Zachary Fisher, 88, a philanthropist and long-time champion of the military through his founding of the Intrepid Museum, Fisher House Foundation and the Fisher Armed Services Foundation, died of pneumonia June 4 in his native New York City.

Memorial services were held at 11 June 7 aboard the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum in New York City's Intrepid Square. Fisher's remains were buried at Temple Israel Cemetery in Hastings on the Hudson, Westchester County, N.Y.

Memorial services were attended by military and civilian dignitaries, including Secretary of the Navy Richard Danzig, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Henry Shelton and other senior defense leaders.

Calling Fisher "an American patriot" in a June 4 message, Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen said his death "is a great loss to this country and the Department of Defense."

A construction job knee injury caused Fisher to flunk the Marine Corps physical in 1942. "I could have cried," Fisher said when President Clinton presented him the nation's highest honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, on Sept. 14, 1998. "I wanted to serve my country."

The Fishers in 1983 began presenting contributions to military families, starting with the survivors of the victims of the Marine barracks bombing in Beirut, Lebanon. Since then, they've given more than $8 million to more than 340 military families who lost loved ones in the line of duty.

The Fishers also aided service members and their families who could not afford college tuition by awarding over 700 scholarships of between $500 and $2,500 since 1987.

Cohen said one of the Fishers' most enduring legacies is the 26 Fisher Houses they built around the country at major military and Veterans Administration hospitals. The Fishers began the program in 1990 by dedicating more than $15 million for construction.

"These temporary living facilities have been 'homes away from home' for tens of thousands of families who could not otherwise afford local lodging while tending loved ones seriously injured or undergoing major medical procedures," Cohen said.

The Fishers also have pledged $1.4 million for military child- care centers and programs for disabled children of military personnel.

In 1978, Fisher founded the Intrepid Museum Foundation and donated $25 million to establish and operate the museum. The World War II-vintage aircraft carrier USS Intrepid, on the verge of being scrapped, was refurbished as a floating military museum and docked in New York City. It hosts about 500,000 visitors annually.

"Through these good works, Mr. Fisher helped all Americans repay the tremendous debt we owe to the men and women who every day risk their lives to defend our nation and advance the cause of freedom around the world," President Clinton said in a statement June 4.

"Mr. Fisher's generosity to service members has been enduring and overwhelming and, for a private citizen, perhaps unequaled," Cohen said. "His actions went beyond simple philanthropy -- they spoke to the true needs of men and women in uniform. ... We have lost not only a supporter, but a very dear friend. His contributions will live on, and his legacy will be generations of gratitude from America's military community."

The family invites anyone wanting to support Fisher military- related foundations to contact the Fisher House Foundation toll free at: 888-294-8560. The foundation Web site address is http://www.fisherhouse.org/ and its e-mail address is fisherhse@aol.com.

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