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Fallen service members from 33 states will be recognized on the "Fallen Heroes Tree of Honor" being dedicated Tuesday morning and staying on display through Jan. 2 at Central Illinois Regional Airport. The project was inspired by a similar tree, seen here, that was at the state capitol in Springfield last year.  

FOR THE PANTAGRAPH

BLOOMINGTON — Central Illinois Regional Airport's traditional main terminal Christmas tree will have a very meaningful roommate this holiday season.

The 'Fallen Heroes Tree of Honor' will be dedicated at the airport 10:30 a.m. Tuesday and stay near baggage claim through Jan. 2 as a reminder of those killed while serving America's armed forces.

“The holidays are a joyous occasion for many, but there’s also many dead. It’s very sad and difficult for their families," said Patti Smith, president of America's Gold Star Families, which helped bring the tree to the Twin Cities. "Our hope is in some small way we help these grieving survivors by letting them know, not only do we honor their hero, but we support them as well by remembering their loved one’s sacrifice for our freedom.”

The tree, which will feature 155 ornaments representing service members from 33 states, was inspired by a similar tree erected at the state capitol in Springfield for the first time last year. Both are on display this holiday season.

The project is sponsored by America's Gold Star Families and the Sgt. Anthony Maddox Memorial, which honors a Normal native killed while serving in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan. Smith said Maddox's family, especially his mother, Frances, has been instrumental in establishing both trees.

“Their family makes all the ornaments. ... One tree alone is a huge project, and she’s taken on two,” said Smith. “It's really been a great way for their family to deal with their grief. It’s been therapeutic for them.”

Another Twin City soldier killed in Afghanistan, Sgt. Joshua Rodgers, will be honored at the dedication. His mother, Vonda, will speak, as will state Sen. Jason Barickman and state Rep. Dan Brady, both Bloomington Republicans.

Fran Strebing, deputy director for marketing at CIRA, said the airport is honored to host the tree. Officials chose to put it near baggage claim, before the terminal's security checkpoint, so the public can come in and see it.

“it’s very moving, and I’m assuming it will be very moving for everyone who does view it,” Strebing said of the tree. “The holiday season is a time that’s difficult for anyone who has lost family and loved ones, and we all owe this group of folks a particular debt of gratitude and want to remember them.”

Follow Derek Beigh on Twitter: @pg_beigh

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