2 Purple Heart Veterans Share a Bond Across the Generations
They've built a timeless friendship working together at a cidery supporting their community
When U.S. Marine Corps veteran Jason Duren, 38, opened the Cider Corps craft cidery in Mesa, Ariz. with his brother Josh on Veterans Day 2017, he didn't expect the unofficial welcoming committee — fellow USMC vet Jim Pomush, 78 — would become one of his closest friends and biggest supporters.
But despite their four-decade age difference, these inspiring veterans (both Purple Heart recipients) and now co-workers at what has become Arizona's largest craft cidery share a strong bond of service, camaraderie and community.
Welcome Home, Brother
Duren joined the Marines in 2009 and medically retired as a sergeant in 2014 serving in Afghanistan.
"I had read in a magazine about Jason and Cider Corps and what he was doing. I just knew I had to get to know him."
"I was a heavy equipment operator. We spent most of our time moving along the Helmand River clearing and destroying structures used by the Taliban, barricading culverts [tunnels] to prevent IED [improvised explosive device] attacks and building roads and bridges so the locals could cross safely," says Duren. "In 2012, I suffered two traumatic brain injuries from multiple IED blasts and came home for the recovery."
Before going into the service, Duren planned to be a firefighter. "But after I came back, that was off the table," he says. Instead, he got a degree in sustainable horticulture from Arizona State University. "I chose that degree because I had started making cider with my brother Josh. It started as a therapeutic hobby, but I really enjoyed the challenge and the science."
The Durens' vision for the cidery was to make it a place of understanding and support for veterans of all generations.
Because of his military decoration and unique business, Jason Duren received a lot of local media attention before opening Cider Corps, which is how Pomush, then commander of the organization for Purple Heart recipients known as the Military Order of the Purple Heart, learned about the business. The Order supports veterans in need and helps cities become designated "Purple Heart cities," honoring military personnel wounded or killed in combat with hostile forces.
"I had read in a magazine about Jason and Cider Corps and what he was doing," recalls Pomush, who served as a corporal in Vietnam in the 1960s. "I just knew I had to get him involved [with the Military Order of the Purple Heart] and get to know him."
At a Veterans Day parade, Pomush's wife saw Josh wearing the Cider Corps logo on his shirt. "We went right up to him and asked about when they were going to open," says Pomush. "He said 'that day.'"
When the parade ended, Pomush met Jason. "After I met him, I just saw a lot of potential in him," says Pomush.
Duren recalls the moment vividly. "When I first met Jim, it was the first time that I was in the spotlight and another veteran reached out. I thought that was cool — to have a Vietnam-era warrior come in on the first day was really exciting," he says. Pomush came down to the cidery at the end of opening day and drank what the company calls its Purple Heart cider.
"I said 'Look at this war hero at the end of the bar!'" Duren recalls.
Cider and Camaraderie
With three tours of duty in Vietnam and nearly 40 years in law enforcement under his belt, Pomush has spent his retirement like he spent his career — giving back to others.
He's heavily involved in his local chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart. "The biggest thing we do is support ROTC programs," at 18 high schools, Pomush says. He even helped get a designated Purple Heart parking spot in front of Cider Corps.
Pomush is also involved in the Maine Corps League, Jewish War Veterans, the American Legion, the VFW and other groups. "There's not a charitable thing that this guy is not a part of," Duren says.
To support a fellow veteran's new business, Pomush and his wife began bringing their friends to the cidery. Pomush soon invited Duren to join the Military Order of the Purple Heart.
"It's as serious as any militaristic order," says Duren. Speaking of Pomush, he adds: "When we lose a patriot, he's reaching out and supporting the families, donating to veterans in need. And he's out in the field representing at the schools. He's volunteering for all types of things. Seeing that level of involvement is incredible."
Last year, as demand for Cider Corps' canned ciders grew, Duren invited Pomush to work in the production area. Today, Pomush prepares the cider pallets for distribution around the state.
"He was coming in and helping out before we made it official," Duren says. "I felt guilty. I thought 'We ought to pay him!'"
Duren calls Pomush his company's "Product Enthusiast."
Pomush, who says Duren has a "big, big heart," calls the road to his unexpected new role "amazing."
"I work on the canning line. But when I come here, I mainly work the crowd," he notes. "I talk about the drinks. I help people decide what to try. I always meet people who are interesting."
"We're building a platform to speak from," Duren says, describing Cider Corps. "That happens from the shoulders of hundreds of people. The business is a very small element of the community that holds it."
A Timeless Friendship
While they work and volunteer together, Duren and Pomush are pals and "brothers" first.
"Jason just wanted to be my friend so he could ride in my '47 Plymouth," Pomush jokes.
Both men downplay their 40-year age gap.
"Age doesn't make any difference. I appreciate Jason for who, and what, he is. I want to see him, and his business, thrive."
"Age doesn't make any difference," says Pomush. "I appreciate Jason for who, and what, he is. I want to see him, and his business thrive — not just to see him thrive. It's because I believe that what he has here can help veterans."
And, he adds, "It's kind of ironic that Jason and I have never talked about combat. I mean, I know his story…"
"There are no expectations," Duren interjects. "That is just a small piece of who we are. We still say the same stupid stuff to each other. We still party together, break bread together and try to save the world. Still."
But, Duren says, "There is a trust of someone who's lived forty years more than me and has perspective on the veteran community and who has lived his life beyond reproach… Sometimes I'm in my own head and he just says, 'It's ok.'"
Duren sums up their relationship this way: "It's like friendship, and like a dad and like mentorship. It's not any lesson he's trying to teach me, but a million lessons that I've been taught."