Patrick Crosby next to his tree with photographs of fallen military members, dedicated to Gold Star Mothers and Families, Wednesday on his property in Lynnwood. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Patrick Crosby next to his tree with photographs of fallen military members, dedicated to Gold Star Mothers and Families, Wednesday on his property in Lynnwood. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

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Tree is a tribute to those who served and gave their lives

Lynnwood’s Patrick Crosby wasn’t in the military, but he felt it was time to “give something back.”

On a weekend when many are taking down Christmas decorations, Patrick Crosby’s towering outdoor tree is still up. Rather than ornaments, passersby along a busy Lynnwood street see a grand tree covered with pictures of fallen heroes.

One local woman, Mary Erickson, saw it while out walking and contacted The Herald.

In her email, Erickson described the tree, along with a nearby metal sculpture of a soldier kneeling, Christmas cards attached to a fence, and a poster saying “Dedicated to Gold Star Mothers and Families With Love, Honor & Respect.” And she wrote: “I’m sure there is more to the story.”

Yes, there’s more.

This was the second holiday season that Crosby — who’s not a military veteran — put up the tribute tree on his Lynnwood property. Crosby shares the address, 6406 208th St. SW, because it’s part of his effort. He has asked the public to send mail thanking families for their loved ones’ service and sacrifices. Cards sent so far have been attached, in waterproof plastic bags, to the tall metal fence surrounding the property. Once the tree comes down, the messages will be scanned and sent to Gold Star families, he said.

Crosby, a 61-year-old land developer, helps veterans through the Hero’s Cafe at the Verdant Health Community Wellness Center in Lynnwood and with a local support group that meets on Saturdays. He is also head of a Northwest chapter of the Xtreme Couture G.I. Foundation.

That volunteer organization, based in Las Vegas, was founded by Randy Couture. A U.S. Army veteran who served with the 101st Airborne Division, Couture was a pro mixed martial arts fighter and six-time UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) winner. He’s an actor, too, with credits including “The Expendables” and other films, the “Hawaii Five-O” TV series and “Dancing With the Stars.” He has a gym, Xtreme Couture MMA, in Las Vegas.

Couture’s foundation, according to its website, was formed to raise money and awareness to help combat veterans and their families “struggling with financial burdens as they return to civilian life.”

Crosby, whose wife is Lynnwood City Council member Julieta Altamirano-Crosby, said he is also an ex-fighter.

He and Couture have more than mixed martial arts in common. Both the Everett-born Couture and Crosby attended Alderwood Junior High and Lynnwood High School. Crosby, who’s several years older than Couture, said that at Alderwood they had the same wrestling coach. John Casebeer, inducted in 2015 into the Washington State Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Fame, has been a friend and mentor, Crosby said.

It was at the Hero’s Cafe, which before COVID-19 restrictions hosted vets for monthly lunches and camaraderie, that Crosby met Myra Rintamaki. Her son, Marine Cpl. Steven Rintamaki, was killed in Iraq in 2004. The 21-year-old died when two suicide bombers blew themselves up in front of the Humvee on which he served as a gunner.

Steven Rintamaki’s picture is among those young faces on Crosby’s Christmas tree.

After meeting Crosby at the Hero’s Cafe, Myra Rintamaki said “he became an avid supporter of our cafe and of veterans.”

“It amazes me, he didn’t grow up with that background in the military community,” Rintamaki said Thursday. She helped Crosby reach out to Monica McNeal, chapter president of the American Gold Star Mothers of Washington State. McNeal’s son Eric Levi Ward, a 19-year-old lance corporal in the Marine Corps, was killed in Afghanistan in 2010.

McNeal sent Crosby the 130 pictures for his tree, which for the second year was donated by Campbell’s Tree Farm of Snohomish.

In the rain near the tribute tree Wednesday, Crosby talked about his life.

Although he was never in the military, he said he feels a kinship with veterans whose service left them with post-traumatic stress. Crosby said he’s been in recovery for decades — since Jan. 12, 1987 — after battling alcoholism and other troubles as a young man. “I was a troublemaker,” he said. The military “wouldn’t take me.”

A few parents whose service members’ images are on the tree have come to see it, he said.

“For me personally, it was heartwarming to see someone outside our veterans community wanting to engage the community — with notes saying, ‘Hey, let’s support these families,’” Rintamaki said.

She’s now part of an effort to have a Gold Star Families Memorial Monument installed in Lynnwood’s Veterans Park, south of the Lynnwood Library on the Civic Center campus. It’s a project tied to the nonprofit Hershel “Woody” Williams Medal of Honor Foundation, which provides scholarships to Gold Star children and encourages communities nationwide to establish permanent memorials.

Walking around the tree Wednesday, Crosby said “there shouldn’t be that many photos.”

“Every one of those pictures is somebody’s life,” he said. “I didn’t serve. It’s time I give something back.”

Julie Muhlstein: jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com

Send a card, learn more

Cards thanking families whose loved ones were killed while serving in the military may be sent, in care of Patrick Crosby, to: 6406 208th St. SW, Lynnwood, WA 98036. Messages will be scanned and shared with families of 130 fallen heroes whose photos are displayed on Crosby’s outdoor Christmas tree.

Information about Xtreme Couture G.I. Foundation: www.xcgif.org/

Information about a Gold Star Families Memorial Monument in Lynnwood: www.hwwmohf.org/monuments/lynnwood-wa.html

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