EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

March 2, 2013

Marine's mom angry with city

Workers cut down tree bearing ribbon for son serving overseas

By Mike LaBella
mlabella@eagletribune.com

---- — HAVERHILL — The mother of a Marine who was recently deployed to Afghanistan is angry with the city, and so are her fellow Marine moms.

She said the yellow ribbon and bow she tied to a tree at the end of her driveway to remember her son while he fights for his country was treated like trash.

Suzanne Burke said the city cut down the tree yesterday without notifying her. She said that if she had been informed ahead of time, she would have removed the ribbon and bow herself.

No sooner had Burke informed other Marine moms on Facebook about what happened than they began rallying around her. Burke replaced her Facebook profile image with a photo she had taken Wednesday after tying the ribbon to a tree. Other Marine moms in her support group are also changing their profile pictures, while one member of her support group is taking it a step further and is asking others to join her “Tie a Yellow Ribbon” campaign.

“Proud Mother of a United States Marine,” Burke posted on her Facebook page.

Burke, a bus driver for Whittier Regional Vocational Technical High School, said that when she returned home from shopping about 9:30 a.m. yesterday, the tree was gone. The ribbon, which she found torn, was on a nearby bush, she said.

She took a photo of the stump that was left and emailed it to her husband at work. Then, she reached out to her support group of fellow Marine moms, but was so upset she could barely type on her computer.

“My heart is breaking,” Burke said yesterday just hours after finding the tree was cut down. “I have never had to experience the military life and having my first born, my 19-year-old son so far away from me is hard enough.”

Burke said that like other military families in America, she displayed the yellow ribbon to symbolize a family member is deployed overseas, “protecting our rights and freedom.”

“I can’t understand how the city of Haverhill could be so cruel,” she said.

David Van Dam, Mayor James Fiorentini’s chief of staff, said residents of Corliss Hill Road had previously called the city about dead trees on that road and, in response, the city sent out its tree expert to assess the trees. He said workers with the city’s Parks and Trees Departments cut down the tree in front of Burke’s home yesterday, but did not realize the significance of the yellow ribbon.

“The mayor is reaching out to Mrs. Burke today to apologize for the situation and to present her with a blue star flag, indicating she has a family member in the military,” Van Dam said yesterday afternoon. “Once Mrs. Burke raised the issue of the significance of the yellow ribbon, the mayor reached out to our veterans agent to obtain a blue star flag for her.”

Burke said her son, Marine Lance Cpl. Justin Isaac, 19, a 2011 graduate of Whittier Regional High’s plumbing and heating program, joined the Marines in October 2011.

“He deployed to Afghanistan this Wednesday and that day I tied a yellow ribbon around a tree on the corner of my driveway, and also a ribbon around my flagpole at the end of my driveway that also flies the Marine and U.S. flag,” Burke said.

She said her other sons Robert, 16, and Aaron, 11, were proud to display the ribbon, knowing it was for their brother. Even though it was up for only a few days, they paused every time they passed by it, Burke said.

“Aaron looks at it and says ‘Semper Fi,’” she said about the Marine motto “Semper Fidelis,” — Latin for “Always Faithful” or “Always Loyal.”

Burke said she often notifies the city of any dangerous trees, tree limbs or potholes on her road and was not aware the tree in front of her home needed to be cut down.

She said she sent email to the mayor yesterday and to the Highway Department expressing her anger over what had happened.

“It wasn’t a very thick tree and they probably could have cut above the ribbon and removed it,” she said.

Burke tied the ribbon back together and attached it to another tree in her yard.

Jenny Colon, a Marine mother who lives in Myrtle Beach, S.C., has been friends with Burke since their sons graduated from Parris Island, the Marine boot camp.

“We all have sons in the Marines and we all have that special connection,” Colon said about a support group of Marine mothers she and Burke are part of. “We chat on Facebook and talk every day.”

When Burke sent her a message yesterday about the tree being cut down, Colon became angry as well.

“I really took it to heart,” Colon said. “To me, it’s like throwing the flag on the ground.”

Colon said that in support of Burke, she launched a “Tie a Yellow Ribbon” campaign and is asking others to tie a yellow ribbon around a tree on March 9.

“We’re doing this to show support and unity for Sue,” Colon said. “I changed my profile picture to Sue’s yellow ribbon, and other moms and friends are doing the same thing.”