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Trees for Vietnam vets.

Vietnam veteran Geof Steiner has begun a crusade to commemorate the 58,022 men and women killed or missing-in-action during the Vietnam War. The memorials are not stark stone monuments but green, living trees-one for each veteran who didn't return.

My dream," says Steiner, "is that the MIAs and POWS will someday come home and walk through their' forest with their children. This is something that is living, like them, rather than a stone monument.

Steiner, a U.S. Marine veteran, began his project in 1980, planting seedlings of many kinds from wherever he could get them on a 100-acre site in central Minnesota. He admits that the living memorial can help soften the after-pangs of war for returnees and their families as much as it commemorates those killed.

"After I returned to civilian life, the only place I felt good was in the woods," explained Steiner. "I was so filled with survivor's guilt that I couldn't be with anyone. But it came to me here that this could be a living forest memorial for the ones who didn't return."

So far about 33,000 trees have been planted, and a Living Memorial Trust Fund has been set up to underwrite establishment of a facility nearby to help living veterans overcome physical and psychological problems stemming from service.

Steiner doesn't pretend to be a sophisticated fundraiser, but he keeps working at his dream, corresponding often with Minnesota's governor and senators. In all, he's planted 35 varieties of trees and has started getting seedling donations from tree farms.

Steiner's Living Memorial Forest is located at the end of a gravel road just west of Camp Ripley, a few miles outside the village of Cushing, population 65. Its trees are still too young to be called a forest, but Steiner has decorated the site with flagpoles to fly the Star Spangled Banner and the POW/MIA flag. Crosses mark some trees to memorialize specific missing soldiers.

A Minneapolis native, Steiner has received national recognition for his project. He was one of 50 "American Heroes" honored by Newsweek magazine, and one of seven "extraordinary Americans" named by People magazine.

He later was profiled on NBC-TV, appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show, and was a guest of President Ronald Reagan at the White House. When Steiner's bank tried to auction off the 100-acre memorial site for the $5,400 still owed on it, the Coors Brewery Company stepped in to pay the mortgage.

As this issue went to press, Steiner had just been granted tax-exempt status, allowing KLXK 93.7-a Minneapolis "classic hits" radio station that targets "the Vietnam generation"to proceed with a fundraising campaign to complete the Living Forest Memorial. Ideas for the campaign include T-shirt sales, corporate sponsors, locally staged events, and fundraising concerts. AF
COPYRIGHT 1989 American Forests
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Copyright 1989, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Loeffelbein, Bob
Publication:American Forests
Article Type:column
Date:Jul 1, 1989
Words:464
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