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Nebraska Memorial Forest honors and remembers all Nebraskans who made the ultimate sacrifice

Posted at 7:01 PM, Oct 10, 2023

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Hundreds of trees have been planted in the Cornhusker state in the last couple of months alone.

These trees are beautifying the state's parks and creating a healthier environment, but it's who each tree represents that makes these trees special.

"Not an hour a day goes by that I don't think about it," Omaha native Tom Wood said.

Tom is talking about his son Eddie Wood. Eddie was killed in action while serving in Afghanistan in 2010.

We spoke with Tom then, who recalled dropping his son off at the airport before he went to Afghanistan. It was the final time he would see him.

"I hugged him, and I kissed him, and I told him I loved him, thank god. Of course, embarrassed him, big soldier there and his dad hugging and kissing him,” Tom said in our 2010 interview. “God, I'm glad I did."

The community came together to remember Eddie’s life 13 years ago, but now Eddie and thousands of veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice will always be remembered.

On Oct. 3, 175 trees were planted at NP Dodge Park, increasing the coverage of the Nebraska Memorial Forest.

"This is a pretty special day I think when it really comes down to it,” Tom said. “This is the beginning of the history of these trees down here in this little forest they're going to put in to remember all these people."

"I mean, this is a mini forest. Without question,” Honor and Remember Nebraska Chapter Director Jim Meier said. “The importance of that is it becomes a sanctuary."

A sanctuary that will eventually grow to more than 7,100 trees across the state.

Meier, an Air Force veteran and one of the co-founders of the Honor and Remember Nebraska Chapter, came up with the idea of creating the forest one morning.

"But then I asked myself, is it doable? And very emphatically I said, yes."

Everyone approached with the idea has gotten in line behind him. Meier credits the 'coalition of the willing' to making this happen.

"I just believe, deeply believe — actually I know. If I pass away tomorrow, I just know this will get done statewide," Meier added.

Each tree planted represents one of Nebraska's heroes who fell in the line of duty – from military members to first responders.

By the end of the year the $4 million project will be 11 percent complete.

"From the original taking root, and now branching out," Meier said.

The selection of the trees in each location is well thought out to ensure the living memorial will thrive.

"The decision about what kind of trees is left purely to the experts, the arborists,” Meier explained. "So here (NP Dodge Park) we have five species that all survived the flood of 2010."

The sites will include a wall with the list of names of each fallen hero represented and will eventually have a GPS setup marking each individual tree with the name of a fallen hero, so they can be easily located by families.

"I just think it's worthy, that's all. Somethings in life are worth doing. It matters. It matters to these families," Meier said.

Every tree planted has a story.

Stories like Eddie Wood’s that should never be forgotten.

"Eventually the memories will fade with his family someday. There's plenty of WWI and WWII vets that their names aren't remembered, and many of these will be remembered because this is here," Tom added.

"We will all take our last breath, but you die a second time when nobody says your name anymore. The trees help that," Meier said. “Before the day is over, I will touch every one of them.”

50 trees were also planted at Youngman Park last week.

There will be another tree planting this Oct. 13 at Horning State Farm in Plattsmouth, and again on October 17 at Prairie Queen Park in Papillion.

Meier says the biggest need is in fundraising. To donate, sponsor one of the sites, or just to learn more about the project, click here.

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