Veteran’s unique collection makes him a target for thieves

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ARVADA, Colo. – A World War II veteran said his backyard has become a target for thieves. His home was robbed over the weekend for the third time in three years and the criminals are not taking money or electronics. Instead, they are taking trees.

Bonsai trees are tiny versions of regular trees. They take decades to grow. And they mean the world to Merle Freeman.

“It’s a good hobby. Just a real good hobby,” Freeman said.

Freeman got his start with the traditional Japanese art form 35 years ago in a class at the Denver Botanic Gardens. He ssaid he thought he was going to hate the class because of the Japanese instructor.

“I was in the Marines fighting the Japanese all during the war,” the almost 95-year-old U.S. Army veteran said. “I had basically hatred for Japanese.”

Something about the tiny branches and miniature needles transcended the war-torn relationship between the two men.

“We became real good friends. I never told him I was a marine during the war,” Freeman said.

The bonsai trees helped him form a new friendship and discover a new passion.

“We spent hours and hours out here,” Freeman’s granddaughter Jessica Freeman said of her grandfather’s backyard.

The two grew dozens of bonsai trees from pine cones they found in a nearby park. They even named the trees they planted.

“He had ones that were 30 or 40 years old,” Jessica Freeman said. “Just beautiful trees.”

Now Freeman is only left with young saplings. Three times burglars have come into his backyard and taken almost his whole collection.

“It just made me as mad as I could be,” Freeman said.

Together the adult bonsai trees are worth about $10,000. To the Freeman family, it is not about the money.

“For him, it’s like a part of his heart and when you break his heart you break everyone’s heart who knows him and loves him,” Jessica Freeman said.

The two are working on replacing what has been lost. And Freeman has a message for anyone thinking of taking the rest: “If they want some of them, grow them themselves.”

Freeman has stepped up security in his home to prevent anyone else from taking his prized collection.

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