Veterans groups, local students and elected officials gathered at Dee’s Nursery on Monday as the business teamed up with shipping company DHL Express for the 15th straight holiday season to send Christmas trees, Hanukkah menorahs and holiday letters to troops stationed overseas.
The event was part of DHL’s Operation Holiday Cheer, in which the company spreads the spirit of the season to those far from home. DHL and Dee’s teamed up to deliver hundreds of trees, menorahs and other decorations along with thousands of letters to U.S. servicemen and women in Afghanistan, Kuwait and Bahrain in time for the holidays. The trees were harvested from the nursery’s family tree farm in Maine.
On Monday, people gathered outside of Dee’s to see the items shipped overseas. The event included a visit from Santa Claus and a performance by the USO Show Troupe.
“I’ve had the pleasure of receiving my first tree [overseas] in 2006 and a couple other times and in between,” said veteran Col. Tom Sullivan at the event. “I’m here to say thank you on behalf of the soldiers standing out back there.”
The tree sendoff was followed by a motorcade to John F. Kennedy International Airport. DHL employees, Veterans of Foreign Wars, military and law enforcement personnel and members of the community loaded the shipment. Participants included Joe DiDominica of Dee’s Nursery, Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder, the Girl Scouts of Nassau County, the NCPD’s Nassau County Pipes and Drums, students from Oceanside schools and others.
Bernard L. Thompson, known as “Big Ben,” belongs to a VFW organization in Jamaica and called it “an honor” to attend Monday’s outing.
“Fifty years ago I was in Vietnam,” he said. “Many veterans here were in Vietnam 50 years ago, and we didn’t get anything like this. We were lucky to get a card, and it didn’t get there on time. And now we’re making sure that these troops that are standing in the back and the troops overseas get that love from home that we didn’t get, and we’re gonna make sure that as long as they’re deployed, we’ll be there for them.”
The tradition started in 2004, when a still unknown woman approached Tom Dee Sr. and asked if there was a way to send a Christmas tree to her son, who had just deployed overseas. Dee told Jim Adelis, a regular customer of Dee’s who owns an international security firm based out of JFK Airport, about the request, and he contacted people he knew at DHL Logistics and Freight Company to make it happen. Adelis had a son who was stationed in Iraq at the time. The event has since become a holiday tradition.
“Jim Adelis, with Joe, Dee and his family, had the tenacity and the persistence to keep on making those calls until they could get that Christmas tree over to Iraq,” said Cathy O’Reilly, the regional manager of global aviation and routing at DHL Express. “So there’s something to be said, something to be learned, about persistence, about tenacity, about not giving up and making a difference in this world, and when you do great things, you feel good. It’s a really good feeling.”