November 11 is Veterans Day; it is a time when we all should pause and thank a veteran for serving our country. This Veterans Day I thanked a number of Veterans including several relatives who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. I also thanked Barry Fixler a truly remarkable individual in my rotary club who is a wonderful man and a real hero. Many people know Barry as the owner of Barry's Estate Jewelry in Bardonia. He gained local prominence about four years ago when his store was robbed and he took on the attempted robbers who were intent on killing him. That episode helped Barry to gain local fame but that is just prologue to the real reason why Barry is deserving of honors.
Many people know that Barry has helped raise a lot of money for Sergeant Eddie Ryan who he came to know from his wife as she assisted Ryan when he was in Helen Hayes several years ago. Sgt Ryan was shot twice in the head and should have died in Iraq but lived. He returned home and needed the help but his family did not have the resources and Barry helped to raise the money to get the Ryan home modified so he could have a better life. Sgt Ryan lives in Sullivan County and Barry's only connection was via his wife and that he and Ryan are Marines, It was one Marine saying thank you to another who was grievously injured in combat.
While the Sgt Ryan story is well known what is not as well known is Barry's story which is now being told in a book. Next month Barry will have his first book released—he has been selling advance copies for several months now. The book is entitled "Semper Cool: One Marine's Fond Memories of Vietnam." Barry wrote about his time long ago in Vietnam and how the Marines changed him from a spoiled kid to a disciplined adult. Barry has been quite successful and does much for the community. He also has a new mission he is trying to accomplish, namely to raise $1,000,000.00 from the sale of his book to assist wounded veterans. He has already raised $30,000 in these few short months selling advance copies.
Barry Fixler is a fortunate man; he relayed his story to me recently how thankful he is for his life. "I entered the Marines to serve in Vietnam I was a spoiled kid and needed discipline—I got it in the Marines." When he arrived in Vietnam he was told that only a third of those would survive unharmed. He continued,
"I was told one third would be wounded and one third killed and if you were lucky you could be among the one third to come home in one piece. Well I was lucky I was the one third who came home unharmed. Out of 22 guys in my unit I am the only one without a Purple Heart—can you believe that never hurt in combat. The photo on the cover on my book shows me and two other guys—the picture says it all—one died in Vietnam the other had his legs blown off and I survived with no injuries. If you face death every day in combat and come through like I did, you never ever have a bad day again in life."
It is not a mindset you take lightly and often takes time to arrive at with that type of peace of mind. I offer this because Barry spoke how he also faced the question many Veterans face—why me—why did I survive? The guilt and pain the surviving veterans face is often very deep and causes emotional scars that do not go away. Frankly, it is natural to feel this way to be in so close proximity to others who are shelled and shot at and having your friends die next to you changes a person in a manner few other things could do in life.
Barry's book is an easy read with photos and stories, some funny, some sad, all shedding light on combat service. Like the time when he actually fell out of the back of a helicopter and his friends thought he was dead—however he was not hurt as he landed on the mailbags in the landing zone. While the book is a quick read it is more than that as it is a vehicle for Barry to raise awareness and funds for wounded vets. All proceeds from the book are going to help wounded warriors coming home via a foundation Barry has founded.
I asked Barry why he does this—help wounded veterans, many of whom he has never met, he replied,
"I am inspired by these guys like Brendon Marrocco: the first ever quadruple amputee to survive the war in Iraq. I am inspired by the men and women fighting for our freedom putting the life on the line everyday. I did that in Vietnam—I had a guy shooting a machine gun at me only 30 feet away—I was 19 just out of high school and I made it out, but others did not. Once you face death like that every day for a tour of combat, you never forget and you give back. I have found that for me the key to life is to give back—how could I not. I came home alive and unharmed—it took a while to realize it but I give back because I can."
"I love America—I helped protect America, I had the privilege to fight for her and put my life on the line to protect our country; now others are doing the same and we need to help them as best we can. I am inspired by the men and women who serve. They make our lives safe. My book is my way to tell my story and raise a million dollars to help wounded veterans. All proceeds are going to wounded warriors coming home. Imagine that a million dollars—I can't do it from my store but hopefully I can do it by selling my book in bookstores."
Thus far the proceeds from the advance copies have raised $30,000 and Barry has already donated $5,000 to the family of Brendon Marrocco to help in the daunting task to raise $500,000 to create a state of the art house fully accessible with doors and windows that open on voice command so that he can have somewhat of a normal life. Barry hopes he can do more with his book—which will be available in book stores next month or can be ordered through himself—will raise the million he wants to give to veterans like Eddie Ryan and Brendan Marrocco. Barry the Marine who is trying to raise a million is really one in a million himself; humble, a veteran himself a hero. Thank you Barry for your service and thank you for giving back to wounded heroes.
So please—everyone who reads this article—stop in next month if you can wherever books are sold and buy Barry's book "Semper Cool." Purchase it for a friend or loved one for the holidays—but really buy it for Sgt Ryan, Brendan Marracco and countless others who have served and gave limbs and suffered terrible injuries defending freedom in Afghanistan and Iraq. Every book sold means dollars in the foundation Barry created which will be used for our wounded warriors. Remember unlike Barry these are the ones who are coming home with Purple Hearts who need our hearts to open so that they can live as normal a life as possible.
Thank you Veterans and Thank You Barry you are really one in a million.