Wreaths Across America, the non-profit organization that organizes wreath placing at the graves of fallen service members every Christmas season, announced Monday that Arlington National Cemetery will not allow the wreath-placing event on December 19 to take place this year.
The organization announced on its Facebook page:
This afternoon, Wreaths Across America was made aware of the decision by Arlington National Cemetery to no longer allow the placement of veterans’ wreaths on National Wreaths Across America Day this year, which is scheduled across the country at more than 2,400 other participating cemeteries for Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020.
As an organization, we are shocked by this unexpected turn of events. To say we are devastated, would be an understatement. It has been a trying year for all, and we too, want all our volunteers, donors and their communities to remain safe! This is why over the last six months, the team at Wreaths has been working tirelessly with local, state and national officials to ensure that all of our outdoor wreath-placement events are done so safely, following local rules and mandates.
Like our U.S. Military, we will adjust and adapt, and work together towards fulfilling the mission which is to Remember, Honor and Teach. Our Gold Star Families have lost too much for us to just give up. Please stay tuned for more details about how you too can recommit to the mission and join us in remembering all those laid to rest at Arlington elsewhere in the country, in their honor. #RememberHonorTeach
Wreaths Across America has upheld the tradition for the past 23 years on the second or third Saturday of every December, on Wreaths Across America Day at Arlington and more than 2,400 participating cemeteries across America.
The Arlington National Cemetery said in a press release on Monday that it was cancelling wreath placing due to COVID-19. It said:
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,” said 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,” she said.
The cemetery will allow family pass holders and visitors to visit the cemetery and place wreaths on their own. However, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) urged Army leaders to reconsider the decision, noting that thousands of people marched in D.C. streets in support of former Vice President Joe Biden and President Donald Trump.
“Surely volunteers can responsibly place wreaths on the graves of our fallen heroes at Arlington,” he tweeted:
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
Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX), a Navy SEAL veteran, called on Arlington to reverse its decision:
Reverse your decision. https://t.co/KxWGShfdxX
— Dan Crenshaw (@DanCrenshawTX) November 17, 2020
Rep. Tim Burchett (R-TN) called on Trump to step in:
— Tim Burchett (@timburchett) November 17, 2020