A Survivor Tree sapling, to honor the late Gus Fullbright Jr., will soon grace the lawn at the Sallisaw Post Office.
Postmaster Greg McCain said the previous tree on Fullbright’s memorial at the post office was dead, and had been dead for some time. Several persons had commented about the dead tree.
Fullbright was a postal employee for nearly 25 years and a Sallisaw firefighter for 20 years. He served as Sallisaw fire chief for the last two years of his life. In 1994 Sallisaw firemen were called to a garage fire on the east side of Sallisaw. Within minutes of their arrival at the fire, the garage exploded, dousing many of the firemen with burning fuel.
The other firefighters survived, but Fullbright was burned over 80 percent of his body. He died on Sept. 29, 1994, in a Tulsa hospital. A well-respected member of the Sallisaw and the firefighters’ communities, Fullbright was taken to his final resting spot in the Sallisaw Cemetery aboard the Sallisaw Fire Department’s antique fire truck, while firefighters from the community and from around the nation lined the streets and the path to his grave. They saluted as he passed.
A memorial at the post office was soon set up in his honor, and the Sallisaw Fire Station also bears his name.
Unfortunately the original tree planted at the memorial did not last. McCain explained, “The tree at his memorial was dead for quite some time. That thing just went over with a couple of tugs.”
McCain had plans to participate in the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon and Half Marathon on April 24. While there he visited the Oklahoma City National Memorial that honors the victims, survivors, rescuers, and all who were affected by the Oklahoma City bombing on April 19, 1995.
McCain said he visited the memorial gift shop, and just happened to mention he needed a tree, and why he needed a tree. The need was passed on, and after a week of email exchanges, McCain was told to come and get a Survivor Tree sapling.
“I jumped in my Jeep and went and got that tree,” McCain said.
The Survivor Tree represents all that is good about one of the worst bombings in U.S. history, the bombing of the Alfred P. Murray Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995.
The Survivor Tree is an American elm, believed to be about 100 years old, that stands in the parking lot across the street from the Murrah building. It was said commuters arrived early to work to get a parking spot under its limbs, one of the only shady parking spots in the area.
But the force of the bombing blast ripped most of the branches from the tree and embedded glass and debris in its trunk. Most did not believe the tree would survive, and some wanted to cut the tree down in order to gather the evidence from its remains.
That idea was nixed, and at a memorial service a year later, it was noticed the tree had begun to bloom. Ever since it has been a symbol of survival.
A plaque at the tree reads, “This spirit of this city and this nation will not be defeated; our deeply rooted faith sustains us.”
Saplings from the Survivor Tree are nurtured and given away throughout the nation as a symbol of survival and resilience.
Now one of those saplings will stand as a memorial to Sallisaw’s fallen fire chief.
McCain said it is amazing how the elements of this story fell into place.
“It just happened that everything came together the way it did. It’s a really cool story for me. I’m not doing this for me. We’re doing this for Gus and his family and to get rid of that dead tree.
“The Survivors Tree is a symbol of all those first responders and firefighters who responded to the bombing, because it is flourishing again.”
Now, a Survivor Tree sapling will also stand as a memorial to a beloved and lost fire chief, postal employee and family man and father, Gus Fullbright Jr.
The re-dedication of the post office Fullbright memorial will be at 8 a.m. Monday. The public is invited.
Sally Maxwell, Senior News Director
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