ST. GEORGE — In October of 2018, Santa Clara resident and Navy veteran Anton “Tony” Kuhlman attended a barbecue fundraiser organized by the Daughters of the American Revolution Color Country Chapter. The fundraiser was organized to support the Wreaths Across America program, which places Christmas wreaths on the graves of military veterans every December on National Wreaths Across America Day.
From that day on, the 90-year-old has made it his mission to have wreaths placed on the graves of all veterans in Washington County.
National Wreaths Across America Day, taking place this Saturday, is a coordinated wreath-laying effort, usually accompanied by a patriotic ceremony, at Arlington National Cemetery as well as cemeteries in all 50 states, at sea and abroad, according to information from the Wreaths Across America website.
During the fundraiser, Valerie King, who is the Regent of the DAR Color Country Chapter, spoke about the Wreaths Across America program, its mission and the group’s efforts to fulfill that mission in Southern Utah, Kuhlman said.
At the time, the Color Country Chapter was raising funds to purchase wreaths for veterans’ graves in the St. George, Tonaquint and Shivwits Paiute cemeteries in Washington County, he said.
The mission of Wreaths Across America resonated with Kuhlman who wanted to extend the wreath-laying to other Washington County cemeteries.
Kuhlman said he has a grandson who served in the Utah Army National Guard’s 2nd Battalion 222nd Field Artillery, also known as the “Triple Deuce.” He is buried in the Ivins Cemetery and Kuhlman said he also wanted to honor the many veteran friends who have been laid to rest in the Santa Clara Cemetery.
“When he was told none of these cemeteries were participating locations, he urged me to quickly get them registered with WAA,” King said in a letter about Kuhlman.
With time running out in 2018 and no fundraising efforts for the Ivins and Santa Clara cemeteries, King said that Kuhlman reached into his own pocket.
“Once these cemeteries were set in place, and with little time left to do any kind of fundraising activities, he quickly wrote checks to personally fund the wreaths for all the veterans buried at these two locations,” she said in the same letter.
The following year, with more preparation, Kuhlman was able to help identify and provide wreaths for veterans buried in seven additional cemeteries in Washington County, many of which he personally funded, King said.
That is just the kind of person and patriot Kuhlman is, King told St. George News.
“His heart for patriotism is beyond measure.”
A veteran of the United States Navy, Kuhlman said he served aboard a destroyer. He had served for 2.5 years when the Korean War started, he said.
“Our function was actually developing anti-submarine warfare for the United States Navy, so we, we worked in some very special areas,” Kuhlman said.
Though he comes from a place of understanding, Kuhlman said he doesn’t want recognition for his efforts. He just wants to honor veterans who sacrificed a portion or all of their lives for the country.
“I don’t think most people understand what veterans go through,” Kuhlman said through tears. “And I don’t care where they served … every one of those people that served, have sacrificed a portion of their life that they were no longer in control over. Uncle Sam controlled their lives. He told them where they’d eat, where they’d live, what they’d do, where they’d go and they served him honorably.”
Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Kuhlman’s efforts to continue to identify veterans’ graves, fundraise and purchase wreaths have continued this year.
It is Kuhlman’s ultimate goal, he said, to place a commemorative wreath on the grave of every veteran buried in the county, including those in family cemeteries on private property.
It is a goal, King said, she believes he will reach.
“I have no doubt with his perseverance that he will accomplish that goal at some point,” she said, adding that he has made it a legacy request of his family members to continue his work as well.
Because of his efforts and service to the Wreaths Across America program, the DAR Color Country Chapter surprised Kuhlman Tuesday by honoring him as the 2020 Community Service Award recipient.
It wasn’t an honor he sought, but one King believes Kuhlman was worthy of.
“I am just an old sailor,” Kuhlman said.
Wreaths will be laid this Saturday at cemeteries across Washington County with most ceremonies or wreath-laying efforts commencing at 10 a.m. to coordinate with Arlington National National Cemetery’s at noon Eastern Standard Time.
Cemeteries in Washington City, Enterprise, Springdale and the Shivwits Paiute cemetery have commemorative ceremonies planned.
The Shivwits Paiute ceremony will begin at 1 p.m.
At the time of this report, due to the pandemic, ceremonies will not take place at the St. George or Tonaquint cemeteries but wreath-laying will continue with Tonaquint beginning at 10 a.m. and St. George at approximately 11 a.m.
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