An Article by John Marks
On August 29, 1914, just months after the outbreak of what would come to be known as "The Great War," a memorial group in Adelaide, Australia planted an English Oak in the city's Creswell Gardens. This was the first "memorial tree" dedicated to the soldiers who lost their lives serving in World War I. In the years that followed, memorial groups, veterans' organizations, and others planted memorial trees in communities throughout the United States and around the globe to honor the lives lost during the conflict. As the centennial anniversary of World War I approaches, Saving Hallowed Ground—a historic preservation and commemoration non-profit organization and an official commemorative partner of the National WWI Centennial Commission—has begun a renewed effort to plant memorial trees to commemorate the WWI era.
Through our Memorial Tree Program, Saving Hallowed Ground offers communities an opportunity to honor the contributions of soldiers and citizens who served on small and large scales across the country and around the world during WWI. On September 11, 2016, Radnor Township, Pennsylvania, and Bateman-Gallagher American Legion Post #668 sponsored the first tree in this renewed program, planting a Swamp White Oak in the township's Veteran's Park. Since then, Saving Hallowed Ground has facilitated the planting of a dozen memorial trees in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, and has plans for trees to be planted in South Carolina, Arkansas, and elsewhere. The Memorial Tree Program represents a unique opportunity for communities to engage deeply with their local history and to establish a powerful and lasting connection to the WWI era.
Yet just as a colony of Aspen Trees relies on a single, interconnected system of roots, the success of Saving Hallowed Ground's Memorial Tree Program depends on developing and maintaining a strong and widespread network of partners and participants across the country.
"The planting of WWI Memorial Trees represents a unique opportunity for each community to share their stories and unique historical narratives," says Saving Hallowed Grounder Founder and President Eugene Hough. "These contributions and connections are essential for the growth and success of the Memorial Tree Program."
Each participating community will receive an official "Tree Tag," to be permanently installed at the planting site, that identifies the tree as part of the national Memorial Tree Program. These "Tree Tags" allow local sponsors to dedicate the tree to specific individuals, groups, or others who contributed to WWI in significant ways. Each tree planted as part of the program also gets included on a digital map, maintained by Saving Hallowed Ground, identifying the location and dedication of all the Memorial Trees planted with the program.
Communities interested in participating can contact Saving Hallowed Ground through our website to get the process started. Typically, organizations work with local nurseries, horticulture centers, or other entities to secure the donation of a tree to be planted. Once the tree has been obtained, local organizations simply need to provide Saving Hallowed Ground with some information about the tree's location and dedication and we can begin processing and creating their Tree Tag. There is a small sponsorship fee required to obtain the Tree Tag (starting at $110), but many local and national resources, including the 100 Cities/100 Memorials Program, exist to help defray costs.
Finally, we encourage sponsoring groups and organizations to reach out to other entities in their community who might be interested in participating. Civic organizations, veterans groups, scouts, historical societies, and local governments have all been enthusiastic partners at previous plantings, and Saving Hallowed Ground is happy to assist you in identifying and recruiting potential partners. Some local sponsoring organizations decide to maximize the impact of their Memorial Tree planting by also participating in Saving Hallowed Ground's other programs. Through our Monument Education & Preservation Program and Follow The Flag Program, we can help engage local students and veterans in restoring WWI monuments or participating in flag folding ceremonies in conjunction with the tree planting. Through participation in these programs, these tree planting ceremonies can become sites for your community to gather together, share stories, and cooperate to commemorate the history of the of the World War I era.
For more information about the program, please visit our website at savinghallowedground.org/memorialtree. On our website you'll find the full participant guide, frequently asked questions, and the digital map of existing trees. You can find out more about the organization, our other programs, and contact information at savinghallowedground.org.