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Betty Kiefer Elementary dedicates new Freedom Tree

Betty Kiefer Elementary dedicates new Freedom Tree

RATHDRUM, Idaho - A new Freedom Tree was dedicated Wednesday at Betty Kiefer Elementary to honor all servicemen and women after the original tree was torn down last year in Coeur d'Alene to build McEuen Park.

Like the original tree, the new Freedom Tree is dedicated to Fred McMurray, a former Air Force airman who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

When the original Freedom Tree was torn down last year, the community at Betty Kiefer Elementary knew that they had to do something to honor servicemen and women, but the outpouring of support they've received is way more than they every imagined.

For one certain Coeur d'Alene resident, the original tree meant more to him than anyone else.

"When I came back to Coeur d'Alene and visited the Freedom Tree, that was the first place we went to when I returned home after being a prisoner, that was very special to me," Fred McMurray said.

The original Freedom Tree was dedicated to McMurray before his family even knew if he was still alive. McMurray was an Air Force captain serving as a navigator on an F-4 Phantom when he and pilot Rudolph Zuberbuhler were shot down on September 12, 1972 near Haiphong, North Vietnam. McMurray and Zuberbuhler were captured by the North Vietnamese and were prisoners of war until their release on March 29, 1973.

Now, over 40 years later, the community has not forgotten his service or sacrifice.

"It's really touching you know, just the whole community here, I'm very honored and humbled by the whole thing," McMurray said.

He's never seen himself as a hero, but for many people his sacrifice for his country has made a significant impact on them.

"I remember standing there watching him speak, and then afterwards I got my picture taken with him," Chris Monroe said.

Monroe was eight-years-old when she met McMurray at a welcome home parade for the airman. She says that day changed her life, giving her an undying sense of pride in her country.

Until last year she always wondered what happened to McMurray. Did he go on to have a successful life after his ordeal as a prisoner of war?

McMurray and Monroe met in person again last November at a Betty Kiefer school assembly where second grade teacher Shana Hostetler had an idea.

"We said we would like him to come back this spring and we would plant a tree in his honor," Hostetler said.

With the help of the community and landscaper Larry Taylor the memorial developed into something everyone can be proud of.

"It makes me happy to see our young people appreciate our service people," McMurray said.