HUNTINGTON - In the 1920s, around the time the U.S. was celebrating its first Veterans Day, which was known at that time as Armistice Day, 91 trees were planted in honor of the soldiers from Cabell County who gave the ultimate sacrifice during World War I.
The trees start near the Memorial Boulevard intersection with 14th Street West in Old Central City and go east all the way to 12th Avenue.
To mark those trees, a metal cross was placed at the foot of the tree.
To further honor these soldiers, a limestone arch was erected nearby in 1929, in what is now knows as Memorial Park.
While the Veterans Memorial Arch still stands today, the metal crosses are long gone, having been melted down in the 1930s to aid with World War II manufacturing.
With no permanent marking signifying the importance of these trees, most pass by them unaware of their significance.
For Veterans Day last year, and for first time in decades, the Buford Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) finally gave notice to these trees by wrapping them with ribbons and placing signs naming the Cabell County soldiers who served in World War I.
Having read about these efforts, Benjamin Woodard, a member of Boy Scouts of America Troop 62 in Huntington, was struck by the feeling that more could be done to permanently mark these trees and their significance.
This notion would eventually lead Woodard on a nearly 10-month project that consisted of hundreds of hours of research as well as help from the several organizations near and far.
"These guys were heroes, and that's what these trees are here for - to remind people of their sacrifice," he said.
As a Boy Scout, Woodard, 14, turned this venture into his Eagle Scout project.
"I didn't really know what I was getting myself into, but it just seemed really important," he said.
When he started the project in January 2017, Woodard was given a list of names from the local DAR and not much else.
From there he spent months researching their names using online databases. To further his research, he also enlisted the help of Nancy Von Behren, a regent at the St. Louis-Jefferson Chapter DAR in Missouri.
Woodard tasked Von Behren with helping him acquire information from the National Personal Records Center in St. Louis, which also contains military personnel records.
Von Behren, whose father was a World War I veteran, said she went to the National Archives for Woodard three times to collect info on dozens of soldiers.
"I had no idea his project was this large, but it's marvelous what he's done," Von Behren said.
After roughly 500 hours of research, scouring hundreds of documents, Woodard had more than enough information to bring his project to life.
Having partnered with the Greater Huntington Park and Recreation District, Woodard commissioned 17 signs that would be placed along the trail where the trees were planted. Fifteen of the signs display the soldiers' names as well as their rank, branch, when they were born and when they died. The final two signs, located near the beginning and end of where the trees were planted, explain the importance of the trees and where they are located.
Since the signs are relatively small and don't contain all Woodard's research, Woodard also partnered with David Trowbridge, an associate professor of history at Marshall University and creator of the Clio history app, to create a walking tour, which is available on the app.
However, Woodard said even the Clio did not have sufficient space to display all of his research, so he created his own web page (www.cabellwwi.wordpress.com), which not only has information about the soldiers, but also contains background about the Veterans Memorial Arch as well as the trail.
In honor of his efforts, Woodard was recognized Saturday at the annual Veterans Day Ceremony.
Patricia Daugherty, regent for the Buford Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, awarded Woodard the Mary Desha Medal for Youth for his outstanding of service in leadership in his community.
"He is a remarkable young person and an outstanding person as an example to our youth and helpful to our community," Daugherty said.
Woodard said he was surprised by the award but was happy that his hard work will have a lasting impression.
"I just wanted the public to be reminded of who the trees are dedicated for so that they can honor those guys," he said.