Myles Eckert, 9, shovels dirt from the grave of his father, Sgt. Andy Eckert, into a vessel held by Mary Robinson of the Patriot Soil Project as Lt. Col. Frank Dailey looks on at Whitehouse Cemetery. Sergeant Eckert died while serving in Iraq nine years ago on Thursday.
A new project to create a living memorial to soldiers who have died in service to the United States was launched in Whitehouse on Thursday. A few dozen people gathered at the grave site of Sgt. Gary “Andy” Eckert, who was killed in Iraq nine years ago, to mark the beginning of the Patriot Soil Project.
Sgt. Eckert’s family was thrust into the national spotlight when his son, 9-year-old Myles Eckert, found $20 in a Cracker Barrel parking lot in February and gave it to an airman, Lt. Frank Dailey, who was having dinner with his family.
After the story first aired on a Toledo news station, it was picked up by national news media. Myles and his mom have become celebrities, appearing on shows such as The Ellen DeGeneres Show, and meeting former President George W. Bush.
Gary and Mary Robinson, a Florida couple, also heard the story of Myles Eckert on a Sunday morning news program and asked the family to be a part of this project aimed at retrieving soil from the graves of soldiers to create the foundation to grow trees.
“The concept of a living memorial, a patriot tree planted on behalf of fallen soldiers, just seems to make the memorial accessible,” said Mr. Robinson. The Robinsons, who are both veterans and are financing the project, said they would like to plant at least one tree in each state in the country.
They hope to gather soil from one grave site in each Ohio county during the next year or two. Participants can go to the Robinsons’ Web site, patriotsoil.org, for information on how to submit grave-site soil samples, along with the story of the person buried there, Mrs. Robinson said.
Myles Eckert, 9, replaces a cross at the tomb of his father, Andy Eckert, at Whitehouse Cemetery on the anniversary of his death.
Some of the soil from each county would then be blended together to create the foundation to plant an oak tree at the governor’s residence.
The Robinsons have not contacted Ohio Gov. John Kasich or his staff about the memorial, however, Mr. Robinson said.
“What we are hoping for is to receive the endorsement from all of the governors in the United States and then ultimately to encourage the President of the United States to receive us in the same fashion,” Mr. Robinson said.
Tiffany Eckert said the family is really excited about the project and that her late husband was chosen to be the first soldier honored.
“I know that the Robinsons really have a sincere heart with what they are doing. I’m on board and willing to do all I can with the initiative,” Mrs. Eckert said.
She said the family has been inundated with requests from people across the country after Myles became a national celebrity.
“Fifteen minutes isn’t gonna last forever, so I’m just trying to make the right choices and do things I think down the road are going to continue to preserve Andy’s legacy. I would say on average, in a week, we get two to 10 requests, and we say no to most of them, but this just really struck a chord,” Mrs. Eckert said.
Contact Marlene Harris-Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6091.