| WASHINGTON, Nov. 28, 2006 -- Draped in strands of red, white and blue lights, and crowned with an American flag, Louisvilles biggest-ever Christmas tree was lit Nov. 24 in honor of all U.S. servicemembers.
A Chinook helicopter from the 159th Aviation Regiment out of Fort Eustis, Va., moves a tree from its original location in New Albany, Ind., across the Ohio River to Kentucky. Scottie and Debby McCorkle donated the tree, a 65-foot Norwegian spruce, to Louisville, Ky., where it's serving as the city tree for the 2006 holiday season. The 159th Aviation Regiment was able to turn the tree moving into a military exercise. Courtesy photo '(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
But that wasnt the original plan, Wayne Hettinger, organizer of the annual holiday event, Light Up Louisville, said. We decided we were going to build an electronic tree that was 40 feet (tall) with a programmed lighting show, he said.
That was before he got a call from Scottie and Debby McCorkle of New Albany, Ind. The couple offered Louisville a tree from their property.
With plans for an electronic tree already under way, Hettinger was making no promises. Then (Debby) said, Well, I understand, (and) if we do (this) the only thing that were asking in return for the tree is that we dedicate it in the memory of the men and women serving in the military past and present, he said.
That sealed the deal for Hettinger.
Like so many others living
in America, Scottie and I wanted to show our support for the men and women that defend our country and freedom, Debby said in a Light Up Louisville news release.
The perfectly-shaped, 65-foot Norwegian spruce presented some relocation challenges, however, Hettinger said.
Getting a flatbed trailer up the winding road that led to the McCorkles residence on a wooded hill overlooking the Ohio River wasnt an option. Factor in that the tree was estimated to weigh at least 4 tons before it was cut, and the logistics were daunting.
The tree, which ended up weighing in at 9 tons, required the services of something not in the citys fleet: a heavy-lift helicopter, Hettinger said. So he turned to the military.
We ended up finding a Chinook unit, the 159th (Aviation Regiment) out of (Fort Eustis) Virginia that said that they could make it into a training exercise and help us out, he said. It was a great story from the get-go, because it was two cities coming together to have a Christmas tree that was going to be dedicated to the men and women serving in the military, plus the Army was coming in to help out.
But the tale of the tree continued to grow, he said. Once in Louisville, the behemoth tree was reloaded onto a flatbed trailer and driven downtown.
It was in place for less than 24 hours before a storm hit the area and blew it over in the pre-dawn hours. Fortunately, no one was injured in the incident, and the effect on traffic was minor, Hettinger said.
With the help of the crane company, the tree was standing again before rush hour really got under way, Hettinger said. Everybody was head over heels to get this thing straightened out, because (the tree) had been dubbed the Pride of America, he added.
The Pride of America, sporting 57,000 red, white and blue lights donated by Lowes home improvement store, was lit in a special ceremony during the Light Up Louisville parade. When the parade stopped in front of the tree, 200 to 300 servicemembers and their families got a primo view of the special tree-lighting ceremony. A joint color guard presented the colors and a vocalist performed the national anthem.
With the first salute, we lit that one tree all in red, white and blue to honor (the servicemembers) and to say thank you to those families, Hettinger said. It was our chance for this community to say thanks to them.
The rest of the festival lights were lit later in the evening when Santa Claus arrived.
The Pride of America tree will remain lit until the end of the holiday season when it will be removed in pieces for the Louisville Zoo to recycle as bedding for the animals and landscaping mulch.