Arlington National Cemetery Holds Annual Wreath-Laying Virtually

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Wreaths lay on the graves of fallen service members at Arlington National Cemetery
Wreaths lay on the graves of fallen service members at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, on Dec. 15, 2012. The annual event to place wreaths at each grave in Arlington National Cemetery went virtual in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by E.J. Hersom)

The annual event to place wreaths at each grave in Arlington National Cemetery went virtual this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, taking place without the thousands of volunteers who usually participate.

The cemetery was closed to the public, but soldiers from the Army's Military District of Washington, the 3rd U.S. Infantry known as "The Old Guard," and family members placed wreaths donated by the nonprofit "Wreaths Across America" organization at about 267,000 graves in all, cemetery officials said in statements.

About 6,500 family members placed wreaths at more than 5,000 graves for the virtual event Saturday, the officials said.

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One who did so was Dr. Susan Myers, widow of Army Maj. Gen. Harold Joseph "Harry" Greene, the highest-ranking U.S. officer killed abroad in hostile action since the Vietnam war. Greene died at age 55 in a "green on blue" attack in Afghanistan on Aug. 5, 2014, when a member of the Afghan National Army opened fire during an inspection at a camp outside Kabul.

Saturday's virtual event showed "that our nation respects and values and supports and keeps this place a special place for us," said Myers, a retired Army colonel. "That's what the Army is about -- family -- and that's what the Army was about for my husband."

Army Maj. Jeremy Tilley, director of operations at Arlington, said preparations for the wreath-laying were spread over eight days this year because of COVID restrictions.

"We kind of had to go back to the drawing board" to get ready for the delivery by truck from "Wreaths Across America, he said.

Gerrell Whitlock, an Arlington maintenance worker, said, "I have many family members that are prior military involved and currently in the military so it was just an overall honor to be able to be a part of this team."

On Nov. 16, Arlington and the Army announced "with great regret" that the wreath-laying would have to be canceled because of the surge in coronavirus cases. But the next day, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said that the event would go ahead.

Shortly after McCarthy's announcement, President Donald Trump said via Twitter, "I have reversed the ridiculous decision to cancel Wreaths Across America at Arlington National Cemetery. It will now go on!"

In a statement Saturday, Wreaths Across America said that a total of 1.7 million wreaths had been placed at headstones in the U.S. and overseas as part of the annual event.

The group's 2020 theme is "Be an American worth fighting for," said Executive Director Karen Worcester.

The virtual event can be seen here.

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

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