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Gold Star Christmas tree honors fallen service members, families

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POLSON — Inside the second floor foyer of the Lake County Courthouse stands the Gold Star Family Memorial Tree, covered in ornaments for families honoring service members who lost their lives. 

The tree was installed by Jeannie and Bill Butler who lost their son Matthew in 2015 during his service in the Army. “When he passed, he was only 25 years old,” Jeannie said. “We decided to get involved with anything that had to do with the service for veterans, for soldiers that had passed, anything that we could get involved with. We were told that Gold Star families are people that have lost their loved ones.”

The Gold Star, which first appeared in World War I, signifies a family member who has lost a loved one in military service taking pride in the loved one’s sacrifice. A Gold Star lapel pin is sometimes worn by these families, displaying a gold star with a purple background surrounded by a gold laurel wreath. The Christmas tree, Jeannie said, signifies the same thing.

“I saw one on a video and it took my breath away. I said, ‘I want to be a part of that if I can.’” The project hit home for her, so she approached her husband with the idea and he agreed to help. 

The couple got a tree, and Jeannie reached out to a friend of hers in Polson to make the custom gold star ornaments. She then personally contacted other Gold Star families throughout Montana to ask if they would like to be a part of the tree. “There’s a whole community in Montana for Gold Star families,” she explained. 

The ornaments are made for the families’ lost service members and can include their name, military branch, rank, birthday, and day of passing, if the family desires. A family can change or leave off whatever they like as they are entirely custom for each soldier. An extra ornament is then made and sent to the family for their own personal tree, all costing the family nothing. 

The Butlers founded their own nonprofit, Welcome Home Inc., that allows them to help veterans and their families in this and a multitude of ways, always listening to the needs of veteran families. They offer services such as equine therapy, transportation, and even assistance getting dental work, along with more lighthearted offers such as free boating fun on Flathead Lake during the summer. 

“We love doing these kinds of things for people to put a smile on their face and kind of make it a better day for them,” Jeannie explained. “Because it’s rough … But we have a platform now, so we’d like to help out as best we can where we can for the veterans.”

Those interested in seeing the tree can find it on the second floor of the courthouse, where it has been and will be each year, sparkling gold and safe from the elements where anyone can go and see it. 

Those interested in learning more about the Butlers’ nonprofit, donating, or getting involved can do so at: 

“It takes time to get acclimated,” Jeannie said. “(But) they’re not in the dark, they’re not left behind. We want to be friends, and we want to help as best we can.”

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