Now into its second decade, the Tribute to Our Troops Tree at the Executive Residence in Maple Bluff, Wisconsin, continues to remind holiday visitors of the men and women in uniform who cannot be home for Christmas.
A handful of Wisconsin National Guard members joined Linda Hughes of Cambria, Wisconsin, in decorating the tree Nov. 17. Hughes has been making ornaments to remember Wisconsin service members for the Tribute to Our Troops tree since 2005. This year she made 392 butterfly ornaments, each with a paper “dog-tag” indicating who it represents.
“Yesterday was the last one that I did,” Hughes said. “I’m a pre-school teacher, and I always tell parents, ‘Let ‘em fly — let them do their own thing.’ So I got to thinking, okay — a butterfly design would be really neat.
“I know the men and women that died for our country and the veterans that serve our country are dedicated,” she continued, “and sometimes they have to fly above their own expectations to honor the military’s orders.”
Making the ornaments is a year-round project for Hughes. She also runs “A Case of Caring and Sharing,” a military care package effort she began in 2001.
Master Sgt. Deborah Severson, who works for the Service Members Support Division at Joint Force Headquarters in Madison, Wisconsin, has decorated the Tribute to Our Troops Tree five times over the past several years.
“Every year it almost becomes a little more emotional,” she said. “After a while you start seeing all the numbers of Soldiers and Airmen [represented on the tree]. It’s amazing — very heartfelt.”
Senior Airman Ronneika Horton, a medic with the Wisconsin Air National Guard’s 115th Medical Group — part of the Madison-based 115th Fighter Wing — found the experience of decorating the tree to be inspiring.
“It’s the first time I’ve done anything like this,” she said. “I think it’s a great opportunity.”
Staff Sgt. Grant Coisman, an aircraft maintainer with the 115th Fighter Wing, acknowledged his interest in decorating the tree initially had more to do with visiting the Executive Residence.
“But then I began learning more about the honor that goes into the ornaments,” he said. “It’s patriotic and Christmas all wrapped into one.”
Sgt. Liam Walsh, who also works for the Service Members Support Division, said decorating the Tribute to Our Troops Tree brought a certain tranquility.
“I find this a very spiritual event, communing with my brothers and sisters in uniform,” Walsh explained. “Sort of that Norman Rockwell feeling.”
For Sgt. Kimberly Mianecki, decorating the Tribute to Our Troops Tree was another way to support the troops.
“My current full-time job is working for Military Funeral Honors, so any way I can show support for service members currently serving or deceased, I like to do those things,” she said.
Spc. Amy Winn, a supply specialist with the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 147th Aviation Regiment, appreciated everything involved with the tree.
“I feel very grateful to be here,” she said simply. “This will be special.”
The Tribute to Our Troops Tree can be seen during public tours on Dec. 3, 4, 9 and 10 from noon-2 p.m., and on Dec. 5 and 12 from 9 a.m.-noon.