By Laura M. Levering (Northwest Guardian)December 9, 2011
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- The holidays are full of special tree lightings, but few of those trees might demand the same attention and respect as one that stands inside Waller Hall on Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
The Washington State Survivor Outreach Services on JBLM hosted its Fallen Heroes Tree Lighting Ceremony Dec. 2.
The tree is adorned with gold heart-shaped angel wings.
Each ornament contains the photo of a fallen servicemember on the front and his or her name, rank and date killed on the back.
Fallen troops with ties to Washington from all branches are eligible to be remembered with an ornament on the tree, regardless of manner of death, in what SOS plans to make an annual tradition.
SOS support coordinator, Chip Fowler, said the tree serves as an important reminder of the sacrifices the servicemembers made and that their Families left behind continue to make.
"We constantly must keep their Families in our thoughts and prayers," Fowler said.
"This tree is a reminder to us that the Soldiers are real ... And Soldiers sacrifice a great deal, as do the Families."
The tree is next to the Subway restaurant in Waller Hall where hundreds of Soldiers and civilians pass by daily.
Its placement was neither out of convenience nor directive, but instead was based on visibility.
"We wanted it to be in a prominent place where the ornaments could withstand the environment," said Stacey Pennington, SOS financial counselor.
"People are going to walk by it everyday, I hope stop, think and look ... Learn and remember."
Katrina Duke was there to pay respects to her late husband, Cpl. Michael Rojas, who was killed in Iraq on April 18, 2007, while assigned to 1st Battalion, 37th Field Artillery, 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.
She was also there to fill in for several of her friends who could not attend.
"It's hard to see so many people on the tree, and so many of them I know because I've met their Families, so it's tough," Duke said.
"It's good though because people will see this and it will make them stop and remember."
SOS volunteer and Gold Star wife, Mara Barthel, encouraged anyone who wishes to have their loved one added to the tree contact SOS so they can help.
"It's healing," Barthel said. "We want our servicemembers to know that if anything ever happens to them, they will never be forgotten."
For those who were unable to attend but who sent photos of their servicemembers to be placed on the tree, SOS photographed their ornaments and emailed them back to the senders so they could see their loved ones' ornaments on the tree.
Pennington said she ordered 150 ornaments, and plans to order more so that anyone who wants to add a fallen servicemember may do so.
"My hope is that there are no more hearts added to the tree, but that there is a place for those hearts to go," she said.
The JBLM SOS can be reached by calling 967-7501 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Laura M. Levering: email@example.com