With her son, Cape grad Spencer Grinder, currently in basic training with the U.S. Army, Heidi Grinder looked for a way to reduce her anxiety and brighten her home over the holiday season.
She bought a white Christmas tree and trimmed it with red and blue ornaments. Then, she added several U.S. flags, one adorned with Spencer’s name and each additional flag with the name of a soldier in his unit. She posted the idea on an Army Facebook page and offered to honor other families’ soldiers on the tree.
“I didn’t think a lot of people would respond; the world is so negative right now,” she said. “But it got over 1,000 comments.”
So far, Heidi has more than 500 flags on her tree, representing 500 Army service men and women.
“We will keep buying flags and adding them as names continue to come in,” she said.
Heidi has learned a lot about the people behind the names on her tree, and she said it’s helped her to connect with other military families, some in Germany and Italy, and to support their sons and daughters.
One soldier passed away after his name was added to the tree, where his flag remains. Another mother said her son also just started basic training and asked for his name to be placed on a flag.
“I sent her a picture of it, and she sent it to him,” Heidi said. “She said it really lifted his spirits.”
Heidi said she is unsure if Spencer will be home for Christmas. He graduated high school without a live ceremony, and when he turned 18 in June, he couldn’t celebrate with friends and family due to COVID-19. When he left in September, she held a small farewell party on the beach.
With COVID keeping families separated during the holidays, including her own family, Heidi said the tree makes her house feel full of family, and that families can still find ways to honor soldiers.
“Our tree has brought so many strangers together, and it’s made such a positive impact in this negative lifestyle that we all are living in,” Heidi said. “I feel like all these people are in our living room with us. Whoever you are, wherever you are, you’re being honored on our tree.”
To request a name be added to the tree, email FlagsForSoldiers@gmail.com.