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Yule tree honors Utah war casualties

Lights, stars, ribbons, portraits line branches

Desert camouflage helmet, boots and other gear rest under the mansion tree.
Desert camouflage helmet, boots and other gear rest under the mansion tree.
Jason Olson, Deseret Morning News

The main Christmas tree in the Governor's Mansion this year is festooned with lots of lights, red-and-white-striped ribbons, big gold stars — and gold-framed portraits of Utah's casualties from the nation's war on terror.

"I hope it will be received in the spirit in which it was meant to be," first lady Mary Kaye Huntsman said Tuesday as she showed off the towering, somber-themed tree in the mansion's lobby.

"These," she said, nodding toward the faces of military personnel killed in Afghanistan, Iraq and related fronts in the ongoing war, "are a list of people who are sacrificing out there for our freedom."

Beneath the tree, tucked among brightly wrapped gift boxes, are additional portraits of the fallen troops, and a helmet and vest covered with desert camouflage. There is also a pair of sandy boots worn in Iraq by a National Guard soldier who made it back safely.

"There is a reverence in here," Huntsman said of the room, which, starting Thursday, will be open to the public Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2 to 4 p.m. through Dec. 15, along with other areas of the mansion that have been decorated for the holiday.

The tree was put up before Thanksgiving and has already had an effect on the governor and his family, the first lady said, along with visitors to the mansion.

"Everyone just stops and there's silence," she said. "I think it was the boots that did it to me."

Huntsman said she chose the unusual theme of supporting the military for the mansion's holiday decorations this year because she wanted the South Temple home to make people "think about those things that are most important."

Besides the military tree, the mansion will feature origami peace doves made by students at Washington Elementary School in Salt Lake City; nutcrackers, tin soldiers and Santa Clauses from Mary Kaye Huntsman's own collection; and other trees.

The South Temple side of the mansion grounds is also getting the only fresh-cut tree on the premises. All of the indoor trees are artificial as a result of the December 1993 fire, which started when a faulty electrical connection ignited a real tree and severely damaged the mansion.

This is the first Christmas in the mansion for the governor, who took office in January. The first lady received help with holiday decorating from several groups, including spouses of members of the Utah National Guard, Modern Display and Every Blooming Thing.

Huntsman said she and her family are looking forward to hosting the public at the open houses that begin Thursday.

"That's what Christmas is all about," she said. "It's about memories."