Good morning and thank you all for being here. It is a privilege to present this award and to celebrate the work of the Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation.
This award is named in honor of Zachary and Elizabeth Fisher -- two great philanthropists, humanitarians, and patriots whose service to the nation we still remember.
Zachary Fisher never served in the armed forces. The son of an immigrant, he learned the basics of construction from his father and, together with his brothers built one of the largest real estate firms in New York City. As the United States entered World War Two, Zachary tried to join the military, but found that he was disqualified by a medical condition.
This did not dissuade him from contributing to the war efforts. He worked closely with the U.S. Coast Guard to build coastal defenses, and when the war was over, he focused his efforts on helping military families and communities recover from the heavy toll of war.
One of the most well-known contributions that Zachary and Elizabeth Fisher made was the creation of the Fisher House Foundation, which to this day provides free temporary housing for family members of servicemembers who have been hospitalized. The Fisher’s dedication to the families of servicemembers has been universally recognized and praised for its impact and benefit to nation.
So it is in their honor that this award was established in 1996 by the Secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force. It seeks to recognize those who have made a difference in the lives of servicemembers and their families and who exemplify the passion and patriotism of the Fishers.
It is clear that this years’ recipient fits that description.
The Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation serves those who have given the most to this nation – our Gold Star families. For over 20 years it has contributed to the education of the children of servicemembers who have died in the line of duty - whether from combat, training accidents, service-related illnesses or suicide. They know the sacrifice of our military families, and they know that the greatest of these sacrifices is to lose a loved one in service to the nation.
They also know that one of the greatest challenges faced by parents and students alike is the rising cost of education. The Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation helps the children of our Gold Star families to overcome this challenge by covering all costs for education that exceed the scholarships provided by the Department of Veteran’s Affairs.
This is no small feat, as the estimated cost of a four-year education exceeds VA scholarships by $25,000, and there are around 25,000 children of fallen servicemembers. Of these surviving family members, the Foundation has identified 12,000 children to receive uncapped financial support for education when they come of age.
They provide not only funding, but also the support, mentorship, and guidance for eligible students as they navigate the college or trade school application process. The Foundation does this all with only 27 employees, 16 of whom are Gold Star family members themselves.
The founders of this Foundation, David and Cynthia Kim, started on this journey in 1989 when David - then a young artillery officer in the Army - saw firsthand how families were affected by the loss of their servicemember. William Delaney Gibbs, a 22-year-old Sergeant in David’s unit, was killed in action in Panama during Operation Just Cause, leaving behind a wife and an unborn daughter. The memory of Sergeant Gibbs, and the determination of his surviving family inspired David and Cynthia to create this foundation in the wake of 9/11.
The Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation has funded 3,000 Gold Star children and provided over $70M to ensure their education. And 1,600 of them have already completed their degrees and graduated - 100% debt free.
The impact that this makes – to lift the financial burden from our Gold Star families, to increase the educational and financial standing of surviving children, and to realize our fallen servicemembers dreams of setting their children on the road to success – is immeasurable.
The contributions of this Foundation maintain the legacy of Zachary and Elizabeth Fisher’s generosity, dedication, and service.
As I meet with our military families, I see the strength that lies in the children of our servicemembers. I see their resilience as they pick up and move across the country to go to new schools and make new friends. And many of us have seen their tears when they say goodbye to their dad or mom as they leave for weeks of training or months of deployments, and their joy when they welcome their parent home. But too often we have seen their grief when a parent does not return.
Our nation is forever in debt to these children – children who did not choose the military life for themselves, but who loved the ones who serve this nation.
The Fishers knew this and were dedicated to repaying this debt. And the Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation knows this and has shown us all what it means to make a difference in the lives of these Gold Star families.
On behalf of all of the Service Secretaries I am honored to present this award today – an award that recognizes the contributions of this Foundation to our nation and our armed forces.
But most importantly, this award recognizes that behind the might of our armed forces - the greatest fighting force that the world has ever seen - stand strong military families, and behind those strong families are organizations like this one, ready to give the support of the nation to those who deserve it most.
So congratulations to the Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation and thank you for all that you have done for our military families and our nation.