Army Secretary Orders Arlington to Go Ahead with Wreaths Across America Event

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A wreath is laid across a grave at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, on Dec. 14, 2013.
A wreath is laid across a grave at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, on Dec. 14, 2013. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Kristina Truluck)

Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy on Tuesday ordered Arlington National Cemetery to reverse course after it canceled the annual "Wreaths Across America" tribute to the nation's fallen that had been set for next month.

On Monday, the cemetery announced "with great regret" that the event could not be conducted safely because of the nationwide surge in COVID-19 cases. However, McCarthy, who has jurisdiction over the Army cemetery, overruled the cancellation.

In a statement, the service said that McCarthy "has directed Arlington National Cemetery to safely host Wreaths Across America."

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"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 [with the annual laying of wreaths at gravesites]," the Army said.

The event, which has come to be associated with the holiday season, had been set for Dec. 19, but it was not immediately clear whether that date will hold.

"Arlington National Cemetery will provide an update on the final schedule soon," according to the Army.

It is also not clear whether the event is also back on at the Soldiers' and Airmen's Home Cemetery in Washington, D.C. Arlington had announced its cancellation as well, but the initial brief Army statement made no mention of it. That cemetery has more than 14,000 graves near the Armed Forces Retirement Home in northwest Washington.

Arlington and the Soldiers' and Airmen's Home Cemetery are the only two national cemeteries administered by the Army. The Department of Veterans Affairs is in charge of the rest.

In canceling the Wreaths Across America event Monday, Karen Durham-Aguilera, the executive director of Arlington National Cemetery, said it could not be conducted safely while the cemetery continued with its main mission of funerals and burials.

"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," she said.

Neither the cemetery nor the Army immediately commented on how those safety concerns would be mitigated.

The Wreaths Across America event, which has become a tradition at Arlington since beginning in 2005, is also continuing at about 2,000 other cemeteries nationwide.

The locations can be found on the Wreaths Across America website.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

Related: Arlington National Cemetery Cancels Annual Wreath-Laying Amid COVID-19 Surge

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