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Operation Holiday Cheer volunteers from Long Island send Christmas trees and menorahs to troops overseas

Volunteers send Christmas trees, menorahs to troops overseas
Volunteers send Christmas trees, menorahs to troops overseas 02:05

LONG ISLAND, N.Y. -- Gold Star families joined Girl Scouts in this Long Island tradition to send Christmas trees and menorahs to troops who won't be home for the holidays.

Santas joined a military escort from Oceanside to Kennedy Airport to unload and ship hundreds of freshly cut balsam firs for troops overseas. 

"This is spectacular when they can get a Christmas tree within days. It's amazing," said Dennis Zilinski. 

Dennis and Marion Zilinski feel that joy, and pain. Their son Dennis II, an Army lieutenant and West Point graduate, was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq. 

The couple's younger son now volunteers for deployment overseas, a daunting departure as the holidays approach. 

"He is a soldier. He serves, he wants to, and yet I know the fear of that knock on the door," said Marion Zilinski. 

The Zilinskis were surrounded by support at Dees' Nursery in Oceanside, the hub of trees for our troops. 

"They're over in the desert. So they basically smell sand, and when they get a tree it reminds them of home," said Joseph Dee. 

This marks the 20th year of Operation Holiday Cheer. It started with a stranger's request to ship a tree to the warzone.

The Adelis family, whose son was stationed in the Middle East that Christmas, overheard the question and jumped in to help. 

"I get very emotional. But that's the least that we can do besides praying for them to come home," said Lucy Adelis, a volunteer. 

The aroma of pine is supplanted with handmade cards from Girl Scouts and schoolchildren. 

"I'm sad you can't come home for the holidays. I hope you come home soon," wrote 8-year-old Aiden Healey from Lynbrook. 

"I know it must be hard spending time away from your family, but you do that to protect us. I love that," wrote 9-year-old Simone Moskaw. 

DHL Express will be flying trees, menorahs, lights, ornaments and decorations.

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