Honor Tree Takes Flight
Seasonal memorial for troops greets airport visitors.
Sergeant Anthony Maddox loved being in the U.S. Army. He had planned to make it a career.
He learned how to take orders, how to look others in the eye and how to lead. “It transformed him into a man,” says his father Jerome Maddox.
Anthony died at age 22 as a result of injuries suffered in fueling accident in Afghanistan. His awards and decorations included the Army Achievement Medal, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, the Army Service Ribbon, the NATO Medal, the National Defense Service Medal and the Combat Action Badge.
Led by his stepmother, Frances Maddox, the Maddox family partnered with Americas Gold Star Families of Peoria, Ill., to remember fallen military heroes.
Frances worked to put a Fallen Hero Tree of Honor in the rotunda of the Illinois State Capitol Building in Springfield in 2016. Hundreds of handmade ornaments hang from it with pictures of troops who died serving their country, and includes the hero’s name, rank, birth and date of death and branch.
“Each ornament is created to provide honor and remembrance for the fallen hero, but also brings healing for the families,” says Frances. “Never forgetting the ultimate sacrifice, and continuing to speak the name of the fallen hero is very important for each Gold Star Family”.
Serving as Tree of Honor chair for our Gold Star Families, “It has been a good healing process for us, and it helps many others,” she says.
A second Tree of Honor went up last year in the baggage claim area of the Central Illinois Regional Airport in Bloomington, Ill. This year, 256 ornaments representing 40 states were placed on it to recognize our military heroes. Another tree stands at the Riverfront Museum in Peoria, Ill., and another in the Decatur (Ill.) Civic Center.
Another Gold Star parent, Vonda Rodgers of Bloomington, Ill., has a similar story as the Maddoxes. Her son, Army Ranger Sgt. Joshua Rodgers, was killed in action in Afghanistan last year.
“Putting a Tree of Honor in the airport brought even more awareness because of the foot traffic there every day,” says Frances. “That’s what the tree and ornaments are to bring awareness and healing.”
There are dozens of hero ornaments representing most of the United States, every military branch and all U.S. conflicts on the tree. Many of the ornaments are made by Frances’ 17-year-old daughter, Ambria. She was in the sixth grade when Anthony died in 2013.
“Being a Gold Star Family is not a club you want to be a part of, but there is a lot of love that goes into each ornament,” Frances says. “It is very personal for us.”
To register a fallen hero and request an ornament, go to americasgoldstarfamilies.org.