Officials at Arlington National Cemetery announced Monday evening that the annual Wreaths Across America grave decoration scheduled for December 19 was being cancelled due to concerns about the COVID-19 China coronavirus. Family members and visitors will still be allowed to leave wreaths at graves during the holiday season.
(UPDATES at end)
The laying of Christmas wreaths at Arlington has become a tradition since 1992, initiated by the Morrill Worcester wreath company in Harrington, Maine. A charitable group was formed that now leads wreath layings at a reported over 1,000 locations around the country.
President Trump visited Arlington on Wreaths Across America Day, December 15, 2018, image via Cheryl Bolen/White House pool/Twitter.
(Note: As commander-in-chief, President Trump can countermand the decision and order the wreath laying to be allowed to take place.)
The announcement was met with criticism and calls for the decision to be reversed.
Statement by Arlington Cemetery:
Arlington National Cemetery Announces Wreaths Across America Event Cancellation
ARLINGTON, VA – Due to the current COVID-19 situation across the nation and within the National Capital Region, it is with great regret that Arlington National Cemetery is canceling Wreaths Across America at Arlington National Cemetery and the Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home Cemetery on December 19, 2020.
Following a thorough analysis of the annual Wreaths Across America Wreaths-In event this year, and in close collaboration with the Joint Task Force, National Capital Region, 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.
“We did not make this decision lightly. Despite the controls developed to disperse potential crowds in time and space, and required personal safety protocols, we determined that hosting any event of this scale risked compromising our ability to accomplish our core mission of laying veterans and their eligible family members to rest,” stated Karen Durham-Aguilera, Executive Director, Office of Army National Cemeteries and Arlington National Cemetery. “We reviewed various options to safely execute this long standing event and held numerous consultations with WAA leadership and local government and public health officials. We understand that although this is disappointing for so many, we could no longer envision a way to safely accommodate the large number of visitors we typically host during this event.”
ANC’s most sacred mission to lay our nation’s veterans and their family members to rest continues during this COVID-19 environment. In order to ensure that our primary mission takes place, and to protect our workforce and visitors, the cemetery is taking this proactive step to adhere to the guidance outlined by the CDC to prevent contracting or spreading respiratory illnesses like the flu or COVID-19.
“Our strong hope is to be able to resume hosting this great event next year in 2021,” said Charles “Ray” Alexander, Superintendent, Arlington National Cemetery. “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. We invite everyone to virtually visit the cemetery through our multimedia platforms @ArlingtonNatl.”
Family pass holders and visitors are still welcome to visit the cemetery on their own schedules and place graveside tributes of privately purchased flowers or wreaths in accordance with our floral policy. Click here for more information.
If this notification impacts your participation in the Wreaths Across America event, please visit their website for updated information: https://wreathsacrossamerica.org.
Check this website and our social media platforms (@ArlingtonNatl) for the most updated visitor information and COVID-19 policies and procedures, or contact our call center at 877-907-8585.
Wreaths Across America posted a statement saying they are “shocked” by the decision.
Combat veterans in Congress criticized the announcement by Arlington:
Former Navy SEAL Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) appeared on the Fox News Channel Tuesday morning.
“Why would you choose emotional reasoning over sophisticated, rational reasoning:” @RepDanCrenshaw slams officials for suspending Arlington National Cemetery Wreaths Across America event on @foxandfriends pic.twitter.com/eiygIuaZsS
— Brian Kilmeade (@kilmeade) November 17, 2020
Army veteran Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), “I encourage Army leaders to reconsider this decision. Thousands of people have marched in DC streets the past couple weekends for Joe Biden and Donald Trump. Surely volunteers can responsibly place wreaths on the graves of our fallen heroes at Arlington.”
I encourage Army leaders to reconsider this decision. Thousands of people have marched in DC streets the past couple weekends for Joe Biden and Donald Trump. Surely volunteers can responsibly place wreaths on the graves of our fallen heroes at Arlington. https://t.co/rSHZC5qJoV
— Tom Cotton (@SenTomCotton) November 17, 2020
Non veterans in Congress also spoke out.
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Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), “I hope @ArlingtonNatl will reconsider the decision to cancel @WreathsAcross America. I am sure they can find a way to do this that protects people from getting #Covid_19”
I hope @ArlingtonNatl will reconsider the decision to cancel @WreathsAcross America. I am sure they can find a way to do this that protects people from getting #Covid_19
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) November 17, 2020
Please @realDonaldTrump reverse this. https://t.co/WMktRanFdz
— Tim Burchett (@timburchett) November 17, 2020
UPDATE: Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy directed Arlington to allow Wreaths Across America to take place, “I have directed Arlington National Cemetery to safely host Wreaths Across America. 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.”
I have directed Arlington National Cemetery to safely host Wreaths Across America. 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.
— Secretary of the Army Christine E. Wormuth (@SecArmy) November 17, 2020
SECOND UPDATE: President Trump said he ordered the decision reversed, “I have reversed the ridiculous decision to cancel Wreaths Across America at Arlington National Cemetery. It will now go on!”
I have reversed the ridiculous decision to cancel Wreaths Across America at Arlington National Cemetery. It will now go on!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 17, 2020