MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
Each year thousands of people bring in the holiday season by taking a trip through the Onslow Caregivers Festival of Trees at the American Legion Building in Jacksonville, N.C. The nonprofit organization adorns the facility with an array of holiday decorations—in the middle stand some special trees.
Dedicated to the fallen service members from the Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune area, the Military Order of the Purple Heart Beirut Memorial Chapter 642 has been honoring these heroes by decorating majestic white Christmas trees with bright purple ornaments. The names of 530 veterans who gave their life in battle shine brilliantly on the bulbs. One Marine has been dedicating his time to the cause.
After joining the MOPH, Staff Sgt. Daniel G. Stoy, an infantry unit leader with 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, found out that once the festival was over they bring the trees to the Camp Lejeune Post Exchange. He said the chapter wanted to make sure service members and visitors could still marvel the beautiful trees and remember the men and women who sacrificed their lives even though the festival had ended.
When he began spending time at the exchange and explaining to people what the trees stood for he said he was amazed at the effect they had on them. Once they realized what the ornaments were he said people would rush to see if they knew people on them. He and other members of the chapter said it was a very touching experience.
“I remember the first time when I was getting involved with the trees we had a guy come up and he asked for a certain name,” said Stoy. “We pulled out the roster found out what tree it was on and as soon as we saw it he grabbed a hold of me out of nowhere and just broke down and cried.”
Verl H. Matthews, the commander of the MOPH chapter, said he had the same experience as Stoy. Once they started bringing the trees on base five years ago, the feedback they got was more than enough to make it an annual event.
“It’s tough when we’re out here and somebody walks in and asks to see if a name is on a bulb,” said Matthews. “We’ll find it and I’ll show it to them. I have seen more than one Marine break down when they see it and remember their fallen buddies.”
“Last year we were putting the trees up and this young Marine sergeant came walking by, had no idea what the trees we’re even about, saw one of his buddies names on a bulb and had no idea he had even died—it was heartbreaking,” said Matthews.
The gentlemen said that the trees are here to represent all service members who have been killed in action and that this is the price people serving in the military are willing to sacrifice for our liberties. They said they will continue the tradition each year for as long as they can and want people to know that the loss of these men and women will always be remembered.
“This is our way of showing the American people, fellow Marines, airmen, sailors and soldiers, that freedom isn’t free,” explained Stoy. “We do what we do because we have to. We volunteered to do this and this our way of showing respect to the fallen as well.”