SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- Passing shoppers may not realize that the newly planted 10-foot live oak in a huge parking lot is a tribute to a young Army medic who died in battle.
Surrounded by the low din of traffic in a seemingly infinite asphalt expanse, the tree is a memorial to Spc. Marquis McCants, who died at age 23 when his unit was attacked in Iraq on May 18, 2007. About 75 people, including relatives and former co-workers, gathered Monday to dedicate it to the O'Connor High School graduate who dreamed of making music.
"One of the things we take for granted is the way we live today," said Damian Gonzales, manager of the Sam's Club at 5055 N.W. Loop 410, where McCants used to work.
"Even if I leave Sam's Club, I will come back here and make sure this memorial stands," he said.
Other trees have been dedicated to fallen troops at homes, military bases and schools. Few, if any, are in parking lots.
During the ceremony early Monday, amid delivery trucks and morning traffic, Army veteran J.R. Garza stooped to present a folded flag to 5-year-old Deja Martinez, the oldest of McCants' three children.
"We offer this as a small token of grateful appreciation to you and your family ... please accept this flag," said Garza, a member of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Association.
McCants, assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division, was part of the brotherhood of airborne troops, or "sky soldiers." But it was at Sam's, where he worked for two years before joining the Army in 2005, that he fell in love with a co-worker. He and the former Andrea Kaiser married in 2004.
His mother, Belinda McCants, still works at Sam's stocking shelves and helping customers, as he once did. Workers at Sam's and neighboring Wal-Mart decided to dedicate a tree on the south end of the lot as part of a landscaping project. They plan to add a plaque.
"Every time we see Belinda, we think of Marquis. So when someone suggested it, everyone went crazy and wanted to do it," Gonzales said.
McCants' father, Savage McCants, said the tree symbolizes life, and the spirit of an aspiring musician and loving father. The Army has said McCants gave "lifesaving care" to soldiers and Iraqis.
"We still have pictures of him at home and we tell stories," his father said. "The healing comes from God. But this is a memorial everyone can see."
Patrick Miller, whose son, Anthony Scott Miller, was killed in Iraq in 2003, said he sometimes visits the Chinkapin oak planted in his son's memory at the University of the Incarnate Word. McCants' relatives now have a similar living tribute they can see and share with others, Miller said."It gives me a sense of peace. I'm hoping the same thing for them," he said.