To date, dozens of Connecticut's uniformed men and women have fallen in the line of duty while serving in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. While the total number of American soldiers lost in combat since the conflicts began (more than 5,000) can seem overwhelming to many, a local group of inspired individuals are giving it their all to ensure that Connecticut's fallen soldiers will never be forgotten.
Those individuals, who have founded Connecticut Trees of Honor Memorial Inc. (CTHM), are working to establish a memorial that will last a lifetime — a living memorial garden.
Led by Susan Martucci, a Bloomfield resident and blue star mother inspired by Fort Stewart's (GA) Warriors' Walk, Connecticut Trees of Honor Memorial, Inc. intends to design and construct a living tree garden, one shade tree "for each of our brave heroes who died serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation New Dawn," according to the organization.
Composed of Windsor residents Ann Walsh (of SEND Hometown Windsor to the Troops) and Nancy Rousselle (whose grandson safely completed three tours in Iraq), Jean Risley (who helped develop Coventry's Vietnam memorial), Glastonbury Veterans of Foreign Wars' Frank Forrest and Martucci (whose daughter safely completed two tours in Iraq), the organization has laid the groundwork for a memorial that will be the first of its kind in the state, and is months away from becoming a reality. However, the group has one significant hurdle in its path: it needs a town willing to host the memorial.
CTHM has a concrete vision that, with the assistance of Thomas Linden of landscape architectural firm Roise Linden Land Design, LLC., could very well become a reality. For that to happen, the group needs a town with an appropriate parcel of land to step up to the plate.
The land, according to CTHM, should:
- be easily accessible from the highway
- have the ability to accommodate more than 60 trees, shrubbery, monuments and benches
- have access to electricity for lighting the memorial
- have safe and accessible parking
The ideal town, according to Walsh, would be a town in the Greater Hartford area with a parcel of about three acres. In search of a memorial home, CTHM, which is based in Windsor, has sent letters to state representatives, town managers and first selectmen of towns as far out as Tolland, and has received calls of interest from towns as far as Norwich and Winsted, said Walsh.
One of the towns invited to donate a parcel is Windsor.
"Their idea would make for a very powerful memorial and tribute," said Windsor Town Manager Peter Souza.
"Although, at this point in time, no formal review process or site identification process is underway on the part of the town, I have had preliminary conversations with town staff members regarding the concept of the memorial being located in town," he said, adding that the Town Forester recently "provided some basic assistance to the memorial planning committee."
Another location that may work, Walsh said, is Rentschler Field.
"UConn would be a lovely site. Rentschler Field would be great," she added.
Wherever the memorial ends up, it would be particularly nice for it to be in the Hartford area, said Walsh, "especially north of Hartford because there's nothing of this nature there."
CTHM would like to have a town commit to the project by late November.
In the near future, the group will become a 501(c)(3) organization, and would like to begin on-site development in 2012, according to Walsh.
Once a town gets on board, the ball can really get rolling. With an established site and design, the door would be open for interested parties to contribute.
Having been told that nurseries throughout the state will donate the trees, CTHM will be in need of monetary donations for benches and plaques, said Walsh.
The hope is that the organization can drum up enough funds to make the memorial a self-sustaining entity, absolving its host town of financial responsibility.
The money, Walsh pointed out, would hopefully be enough to establish "an endowment or fund to provide for maintenance, so it will not be a forgotten piece of land."
CTHM has pointed out a number of ways residents can help:
- Trees — nursuries, wholesalers and retailers are invited to donate trees.
- Gardens — garden and civic clubs are invited to submit design plans for flowers and shrubbery gardens.
- Sponsor — become a sponsor by making a monetary donation to help fund the memorial.
- Volunteer — volunteers are needed in a variety of areas, including to plant and mulch trees, and to erect plaque posts.
Once completed, CTHM hopes the memorial will be a destination for peace and quiet for people throughout the state of Connecticut to come and pay their respects.
A smaller memorial honoring all soldiers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan will also be included in the living memorial.
Those interested in supporting the efforts of Connecticut Trees of Honor Memorial, Inc. by volunteering or making a donation may contact Chairperson Sue Martucci by calling 860-841-4287.
Checks to the organization can be made payable to CTHM, Inc. c/o Colleen Dowd, Treasurer, P.O. Box 234, Windsor, CT 06095.