ST. GEORGE — As a nation, how do we remember the sacrifice our men and women in uniform have made? For nearly 15 years, Wreaths Across America has tried to answer that question.
Wreaths’ mission – remember the fallen, honor those who have served, and teach children the value of freedom – has become a national symbol representing the full measure of devotion and sacrifice people have made since the birth of this nation in 1776 to protect and defend the ideals of our Constitution.
In December, service groups including a legion of volunteers have coordinated wreath-laying ceremonies at more than 2,500 cemeteries across the United States, at sea and abroad.
A potent force of action for more than a decade to complete the mission of Wreaths Across America in Southern Utah has been taken up by the Color Country Chapter, National Society – Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR).
Valerie King, the regent of the Daughters of the American Revolution Color Country Chapter in Southern Utah, helps organize the wreath-laying at St. George, Tonaquint and Shivwits cemeteries.
Separately, the Bald Eagle Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution is holding a Wreaths Across America event at Cedar City Cemetary.
Along with its three mission pillars, the national organization of Wreaths and those behind local efforts aim to make sure each veteran’s name is said aloud as wreaths are placed upon their graves.
“I think the wreath is a wonderful way to honor and remember those who have served to preserve and protect our freedoms with some of them sacrificing their lives,” King said. “They are not forgotten as long as their names are said. A soldier dies twice. Once when they take their last breath and a second time when their name is no longer spoken or sacrifice remembered.”
When King began volunteering for the local effort in 2010, volunteers placed approximately 330-350 wreaths on graves at Tonaquint Cemetery. This year, DAR has ordered more than 2,000 wreaths to be placed at three cemeteries across Washington County.
“The reason Wreaths is here is that we never forget,” King said. “It is probably the most unique, heartwarming and gratifying way to say the fallens’ names every year for the people who have served.”
The freedoms that we enjoy in America, King added, came at a cost. Whether it was the loss of life, the anguish of combat, or the families left behind at home who silently served along with their loved ones. “We should never forget what it took to preserve and protect freedom.”
This year, Wreaths will honor the Nation’s newest branch of the military, the United States Space Force.
Launched in December 2019, the mission is to provide deterrent capabilities to protect U.S. and allied nations’ security interests in space. Its also been tasked with providing support to ground combat units with surveillance, communications and geo-positioning data that determines or estimates the geographic location of any object.
One poignant reminder of sacrifice is a gravestone near the summit of Square Top Mountain 20 miles Northwest of St. George.
In December 2020, a wreath was laid on the headstone at the site of a B-52 crash that resulted in the death of all six onboard including one observer.
On April 11, 1983, a B-52G – registration number 58-0161 – call sign LURE 75 – slammed into the 7,050-foot Square Top Mountain after missing clearing the summit by approximately 250 feet.
As part of America’s ongoing military preparedness, B-52s would regularly join “Red and Green Flag” combat training maneuvers at Nellis Air Force Base, outside Las Vegas, which would often take the Stratofortorus over Southern Utah en route.
A series of unfortunate circumstances led to the plane crash.
58-0161 Crew Lost
- Pilot – Capt. Donald Hiebert, 28, of Shirley, Mass.
- Copilot – 1st, Lt. Thomas C. Lennep Jr., 25, of Brownsville, Texas
- Navigator – 1st, Lt. Matthew W. Cervenak, 24, of Jacksonville, N.C.
- Electronic Weapons Officer – 1st, Lt. Bernard S. Russell, 26, Anniston, Ala.
- Radio Navigator – Capt. Jonathan M. Bishop, 27, of Fairhope, Ala.
- Air Gunner – Staff Sgt. Major Carter, 25, of Savannah, Ga.
- Pilot/Observer – Col. Caroll D. Gunther, 45, of Salina, Kan.
It is unclear who placed the gravestone at the crash site, but the loss of the crew has not been forgotten.
The first wreath was laid by St. George resident Roger Edington who has made the 5-hour long hike to the site twice. If given the opportunity, he will make the trek again this year to remember the flight crew who had lost their lives.
Southern Utah’s Wreaths Across America Ceremonies – Dec. 18, 2021
- Tonaquint Cemetery – 11th annual event – 1777 S. Dixie Dr., St George. Ceremony 10 a.m. with the wreath-laying to follow. Guests are asked to come 30 minutes early for the ceremony and bring chairs if needed.
- Shivwits Cemetery – 9th Annual Event. Private Ceremony to start at 1 p.m.
- St George Cemetery – 4th annual event – 650 E. Tabernacle, St George. A parade processional from Tonaquint Cemetery will start at approx. 11 a.m. The wreath-laying at the cemetery will start upon arrival.
- Santa Clara Cemetery – 3780 Windmill Dr., Santa Clara. The ceremony begins at 10 a.m., and includes a member of the Air Force women’s basketball team, members of the Dixie State women’s basketball team and the dedication of a memorial to those who fought in the Pacific theater in World War II.
- Toquerville Cemetery – 1180 S. Toquerville Cemetery in Toquerville. Event begins at 10 a.m.
- Cedar City Cemetery – 685 N. Main St., Cedar City. The event begins at 2 p.m.
For more information on the history of Wreaths Across America, follow this link and additional links contained within this article.
St. George News reporters Jeff Richards and Chris Reed contributed to this story.
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