Arlington National Cemetery going ahead with holiday wreath-laying ceremony

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HAMPTON, Va. (Dec. 14, 2019) Master-At-Arms 1st Class Aaron Olander, from Houston, assigned to Carrier Strike Group 4, renders a salute during a Wreaths Across America event at Hampton National Cemetery. Wreaths Across America provides wreaths annually to honor and remember fallen service members during the holiday season.

HAMPTON, Va. (Dec. 14, 2019) Master-At-Arms 1st Class Aaron Olander, from Houston, assigned to Carrier Strike Group 4, renders a salute during a Wreaths Across America event at Hampton National Cemetery. Wreaths Across America provides wreaths annually to honor and remember fallen service members during the holiday season.

Arlington National Cemetery will go ahead with its annual Wreaths Across America after being directed on Tuesday by Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy to reverse the cancellation of the event.

On Monday, Arlington canceled its annual Wreaths Across America event in December amid a sharp rise in novel coronavirus (Covid-19) cases across the United States.

“Our strong hope is to be able to resume hosting this great event next year in 2021,” Charles “Ray” Alexander, the superintendent of Arlington National Cemetery, said in a statement. 

“While many of our families and visitors associate the wreath event with the holiday season, we thank all the thousands of volunteers who had planned to take this time to honor, remember, and explore those who are laid to rest at our nation’s most hallowed ground."

Holding the event on Dec. 19 was deemed too risky after a thorough analysis, according to an official press release. "We determined that we could not implement sufficient controls to mitigate the risks associated with hosting an event of this size under current and forecasted infection and transmission rates, while still conducting a respectful and honorable public event," it said.

But McCarthy on Tuesday "directed" the cemetery to "safely host" the event, according to a statement from Army public affairs. "We appreciate the families and visitors who take time to honor and remember those who are laid to rest at our nation’s most hallowed ground. Arlington National Cemetery will provide an update on the final schedule soon.” 

About 35,000 volunteers helped place more than 245,000 wreaths at the gravesites of fallen service members and veterans last year. 

Officials explored several options for safely laying wreaths throughout Arlington and the Soldiers' and Airmen's Home Cemetery such as requiring pre-registration for the event and face coverings. But the event was ultimately nixed since it "risked compromising" the cemetery's core mission of burying fallen service members, veterans and eligible family members, according to the press release.

The number of new Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations increased sharply this month across the United States, which has reported more than 100,000 new cases every day since Nov. 4, according to the Covid Tracking Project.

Family members and visitors will still be allowed to visit the cemetery and place their own wreaths or flowers.

Related: Eligibility changes could be coming to Arlington. Here's what you need to know