- The Washington Times - Monday, October 4, 2004

PAPILLION, Neb. - For months now, Bill Deane has been building an 8-foot-tall tree made of copper leaves, each engraved with the name of a U.S. or coalition soldier killed in Iraq.

He started with just a few branches. He since has added four or five more and nearly 1,100 more leaves.

“It makes the war real for me,” Mr. Deane said.

Children in his suburban Omaha neighborhood ride by on bicycles and ask Mr. Deane when he will finish the tree. He responds, “Hopefully, soon.”

Every five days or so, Mr. Deane prints out the pictures and biographies of the latest soldiers killed. He binds them together in an old white folder that has “Fallen Soldiers” written in black on the front. Almost every day, he sits in his garage, cuts a leaf from a sheet of copper, facets it with a hammer and then reads a biography, looks at a face and engraves a last name and age.

“It’s almost like I’m touching them when I put the leaves on,” Mr. Deane said. “They’re becoming part of my life. It’s real tough.”

A sheet-metal worker for much of his adult life, 56-year-old Mr. Deane said when the war started, he felt he had to do something. Working with metal is all he could do, he said.

“That one kid,” he said, pointing to the tree. “I wish I could take his place. I’ve lived my life.”

Mr. Deane began making the tree in May, but stopped after cutting just a few leaves.

“I went back into the house and told my wife I couldn’t do it,” he said.

His wife, Karen, who is retired from the Air Force, told him he had to keep going.

Mr. Deane has taken the tree to his local union hall and churches, but he hopes that others eventually will see it.

At the St. Paul Methodist Church in Papillion, the Rev. Dan Flanagan said the tree had a tremendous effect on parishioners from nearby Offutt Air Force Base.

“People would look at it for a while and come back very quiet,” Mr. Flanagan said.

One soldier who has seen the tree is Shawn Humphrey, Mr. Deane’s 26-year-old stepson, whose Army unit left yesterday for Iraq.

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