7th annual Warrior Tree Project

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EDWARDSVILLE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) – There was a special tree lighting in Edwardsville Sunday. One that celebrates the upcoming season, and military, past and present.

The cold didn’t stop people from gathering at Memorial Park in Edwardsville to decorate and light the Warrior Tree. The event honored veterans and those currently in the military who are away from their homes during the holidays.

“Whether it be they’re deployed over seas, or they just don’t have the time off or money to get home,” The Warrior Tree Project founder Karen Declet said.

On Sunday the Warrior Tree was decorated by the community. The ornaments are made by mothers from all over the world who have a child in the military and the photographs are of local veterans.

Declet says the holidays are tough for military families. She knows from experience. Her son served in the Marine Corps for four years. She hopes the ceremony helps families like hers feel the support of the community. It’s also tough to be away from home during the holidays as well.

“It’s extremely tough. I think it’s tougher now because they also have contact with their loved ones. So that makes it harder, when they have access to the internet and the phone,” U.S. Navy veteran David Ruddy said.

Frank Arnalod’s family is across the country in Hawaii.

“I’m by myself out here so it’s really heartwarming to do this,” Arnaldo, a U.S. Air Force recruiter said.

Officers tell Eyewitness News 22 veterans commit suicide everyday. That’s why there are 22 boots placed under the tree to honor them.

“Being in the military, it’s a huge battle. We want everyone to know that they’re not forgotten. That we have their back. If they ever need anyone, just to reach out,” Arnaldo said.

Gatherings like Sunday’s are important for veterans, who might have a difficult time during the pandemic.

“They get isolated, they feel like they’re alone, they feel like nobody understands them. You know their PTSD kicks in, things that they saw, things they had to do during war time. It’s rough,” Declet said.

“It’s important that we come together as a community, not just for veterans, but anybody in need,” Ruddy said.

The Warrior Tree will be lit until late January.

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