The dream: Plant a tree for each veteran


If Richard Sheffield’s idea takes root, the trees will be planted everywhere: the parks of California, golf courses in Colorado, school lawns in New Jersey . . .

He envisions an army of firs, maples, dogwoods and pines all across the United States -- one tree for every American veteran who ever served.

Trees for veterans: An article in Sunday’s Section A about a tree-planting program to honor veterans described Frankie Sanchez as a Vietnam War veteran. Sanchez served in the Army during the Vietnam War era but never deployed to Vietnam. —

How many are we talking?

“I have no idea,” said Sheffield, an Air Force veteran who works as a landscaper and nursery owner. “There must be millions, but we’re ready.”

On Saturday morning, Sheffield’s dream began to take shape as members of the nonprofit Veterans for Trees held their first tree-planting ceremony in the Kern County community of Frazier Park. They shoveled soil at Frazier Mountain Park to make places for 11 small trees -- including blue spruces, autumn blaze maples and quaking aspens. Next to a pair of pines, they placed the names of two local Vietnam War veterans: Frankie Sanchez, 71, and Simba Wiley Roberts, 61.

Surrounded by snowcapped mountains and the buzz of passing traffic, members of the local Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9791 presented the colors, a Girl Scout troop led the Pledge of Allegiance and an Air Force Honor Guard caringly displayed, then folded, the American flag.

“I feel such great gratitude for the appreciation of my service,” Roberts said. “That’s all any one of us have ever wanted. For somebody to give a damn. And this -- this is much more than that.”

The event took place near the Brian Cody Prosser Veterans Memorial, a monument honoring one of the first soldiers killed in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 attacks. The 28-year-old who used to work at the local lumberyard was well known in Frazier Park, a mountain community with one library, one post office and fewer than 4,000 people. He was killed Dec. 5, 2001, by “friendly fire.”

Sheffield hopes to persuade wholesale nurseries and retail garden stores nationwide to offer veteran trees. Trunks will be wrapped in red, white and blue and carry a tag detailing the memorial program’s mission. One dollar from each sale will be donated to the nonprofit to keep growing the program. So far, a handful of wholesale nurseries and nearly 20 retailers have enrolled.

“It’s a win-win for veterans and for the environment,” Sheffield said.

Sanchez watched quietly as four other veterans dug into the ground to plant the pine in his honor. Nearly four decades have passed since he returned from Vietnam. He settled into a mellow life in Frazier, a peaceful place with spotty cellphone reception and little traffic.

Still, he doesn’t forget his military days. Any time he drives past Prosser’s memorial and spots a tear in one of the monument’s six flags, he replaces it.

“It’s the least I could do,” Sanchez said.

As the other veterans shoveled his tree into place a few feet from the monument, Sanchez leaned over to pick up a small sprig that had fallen on the ground. Quietly, he put it in his pocket.

“I saw it fall,” he said. “And thought it would be nice to have part of it with me always.”