A living tribute to veterans

As part of Eagle Scout project, about 500 pine trees are planted in Anne Arundel

November 12, 2006|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,sun reporter

Tree-planting project honors military There were no flags. No military bands. No speeches by politicians.

Instead, there were 500 pitch pine saplings, dozens of shovels and a single uniformed Boy Scout hollering out orders. Over the whine of a chain saw, dozens of muddy children, parents and grandparents splashed through a swampy forest near Annapolis yesterday to commemorate Veterans Day by planting a living shrine to the men and women who have served in the nation's wars.

At 11 seconds past 11:11 a.m. -- the time commemorating the official end of fighting in World War I on Nov. 11, 1918 -- the planting ceased and the group of about 80 gathered by the stream for a moment of silence.

In an old lake bed near Brewer Creek, where dead trees and alien vegetation were being replaced by the new pines, sunlight filtered through the surrounding tall trees. Birds soared overhead. And for 30 seconds, all that could be heard was the trickle of the nearby stream, the occasional rustle of falling leaves and the sing-songy voice of an errant child who wouldn't shush.

"I think it added a lot, just that little moment," said Duncan Graham, 16, who organized the planting project in the Sherwood Forest community of Anne Arundel County as his Eagle Scout project. "It's reforestation. But more than anything, it's a shrine -- a place of dedication for our veterans."

The nontraditional commemoration attracted people who said they had never before attended a Veterans Day event -- including several families whose relatives are currently deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Before, I understood the concept of Veterans Day, and I do respect and honor and admire the people who served the country," said Julie McCormick of Sherwood Forest, whose brother is serving as a psychiatrist with the 28th Combat Support Hospital in Baghdad. "But it really brings it home when it's a member of your family. You're scared for them, of course, but you're also really proud."

McCormick fought back tears as she recounted a story her brother, Capt. John Shehan of Bethesda, had shared in a recent e-mail: When a 20-year-old, well-liked soldier, known as the practical joker of his unit, was killed by a sniper just four weeks before he was to go home to marry his girlfriend, Shehan counseled the entire unit.

"They were devastated. But when they were done talking, they collected themselves and had to go back out and do their job," McCormick said, her eyes welling with tears. "So I think I can spend a few hours in the mud to honor their sacrifice."

Mimi Brown, 16, of Sherwood Forest had also never attended a Veterans Day event, other than ceremonies at her school.

"This is totally different," she said of the tree planting. "You're more involved in it."

With an uncle in the Navy, but deployed with the Army in Afghanistan, the commemoration took on extra meaning, said Mimi -- one of several teenage girls who had painted her face with mud.

"It definitely makes me realize what other families sacrifice by sending their husbands and brothers and sons over there," she said.

Duncan picked the 2 1/2 -acre reforestation undertaking for his Eagle Scout project from a list of many less difficult prospects, said William Moulden, a sixth-grade science teacher at Samuel Ogle Middle School in Prince George's County who served in the Army as a Green Beret and an intelligence officer in Afghanistan. As director of the Sherwood Forest summer day camp, Moulden has known Duncan for years.

For the Veterans Day event, the home-schooled teenager recruited his fellow Scouts from Troop 750 as well as friends from Anne Arundel's home-schooling community and the Sherwood Forest camp that he has attended each summer since he was 2.

He wrote to the Chesapeake Bay Trust for a project grant, securing $3,600 worth of pine trees, wood chips and peat moss, in addition to a tree auger -- a machine similar to an oversized drill that simplifies the task of digging holes for tree planting.

And he sought the advice of Keith Underwood, a landscape architect and expert in bogs and wetlands, who served as the teenager's "technical adviser" on the reforestation project.

That the plantings would be completed on Veterans Day was a bonus, Moulden said.

"So many days of the year, if you're not watching the evening news on TV, you would not know there's a war going on," he added.

"If you think about it, every other Veterans Day amounts to a Macy's Veterans Day sale. But for all the kids here, this one is special. And every time they hear about Veterans Day again, they'll remember this -- planting trees for those who lost their lives and served their country."

jennifer.mcmenamin @baltsun.com

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