COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho - The Freedom Tree in Coeur d'Alene has stood as a memorial to veterans for more than 40 years, but with the redevelopment of McEuen Park the tree will fall under the axe.
The tree, which has replica dog tags hanging from lights on the tree, will be cut down to make way for the park expansion; plans call for a new tree to be planted and a new veterans memorial, but some say the process is being handled all wrong.
"Its meaning to people and there's people's names on 'em and again that is something that is special," veteran Baron Cheffer said.Freedom Tree
The tree got its name in honor of retired Air Force Lt. Col. Captain Fred McMurray, who was shot down over North Vietnam on Sept. 12, 1972 while flying as a navigator aboard an F-4E Phantom. McMurray was taken captive as a POW and eventually returned home in 1973. Many others did not.
"To give your life for your country is the ultimate sacrifice," Cheffer said.
Cheffer has admired the tree for more than 20 years and was surprised to hear it's being cut down to make room for park expansion.
"If they're going to cut it down they should replace it before they cut it down," he said.
He's also surprised at how it's being treated now.
"You've got a Honey Bucket sitting on the memorial, trash laying all around and it's just disrespect," he said.
Some might argue with the memorial plaque removed it's just another tree, but not Cheffer.
"That's true but any monument is just a monument if you look at it that way. A grave is just a monument," he said.
In some ways, the Freedom Tree is the headstone for all the men and women who didn't make it home. Even though there are plans to plant a new tree and build a new memorial, which some veterans say would make things OK, Cheffer believes hallowed ground isn't easily moved when it was the ultimate sacrifice that put it there in the first place.
"It's not getting any respect right now," he said.
While veterans like Cheffer are sad at the way the tree is being uprooted, McMurray said he hated to see the Freedom Tree go, but he accepts it.
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