Wreaths Across America at Arlington National Cemetery has been canceled this year. The event is the latest of annual events to fall by the wayside because of the coronavirus pandemic. The concern is over crowd control and personal safety procedures in the year of COVID-19.
According to Wreaths Across America’s reaction to the cancellation, the decision comes as a shock. The organization is devastated that the December 19 event will not go forward. It has been working for months to assure that local coronavirus protocols would be followed. They ask that people stay tuned for more details when the news broke.
“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,” Wreaths Across America said. “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 and elsewhere in the country, in their honor.”
— Wreaths Across America (@WreathsAcross) November 17, 2020
The event began more than 20 years ago to honor the fallen laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery. Worcester Wreath Company owner Morrill Worcester, Founder of Wreaths Across America, and his wife Karen Worcester, Executive Director, began a tradition of placing wreaths on the headstones of our Nation’s fallen heroes at Arlington National Cemetery. His patriotic gesture was financed out of his own pocket. The business owner from Maine began doing this in 1992 with the help of former Maine Senator Olympia Snowe. The effort concentrated on older sections of the cemetery which see fewer visitors. The event soon grew to become an annual event, with other companies helping out.
Unable to donate thousands of wreaths to each state, Worcester began sending seven wreaths to every state, one for each branch of the military, and for POW/MIAs. In 2006, with the help of the Civil Air Patrol and other civic organizations, simultaneous wreath-laying ceremonies were held at over 150 locations around the country. The Patriot Guard Riders volunteered as escort for the wreaths going to Arlington. This began the annual “Veterans Honor Parade” that travels the east coast in early December.
And it continued to grow to what has become a hugely popular annual event with thousands of volunteers who place wreaths in 1,000 locations. The mission is to Remember, Honor, Teach.
In 2014, Wreaths Across America and its national network of volunteers laid over 700,000 memorial wreaths at 1,000 locations in the United States and beyond, including ceremonies at the Pearl Harbor Memorial, as well as Bunker Hill, Valley Forge and the sites if the September 11 tragedies. This was accomplished with help from 2,047 sponsorship groups, corporate contributions, and donations of trucking, shipping, and thousands of helping hands. The organization’s goal of covering Arlington National Cemetery was met in 2014 with the placement of 226,525 wreaths.
The wreath-laying is still held annually, on the second or third Saturday of December. WAA’s annual pilgrimage from Harrington, Maine to Arlington National Cemetery has become known as the world’s largest veterans’ parade, stopping at schools, monuments, veterans’ homes and communities all along the way to remind people how important it is to remember, honor and teach.
The announcement by Arlington National Cemetery expresses regret and notes that they are following guidance from the CDC.
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.
That’s odd. I don’t remember the wreath placing event being canceled during any other year due to active flu seasons. COVID-19 is much more serious and contagious, I know, but still, it sounds odd to include the flu in their reasoning. It seems unlikely, too, that something can’t be worked out to allow the volunteers to place wreaths in a controlled, limited manner. It’s an outdoor event, volunteers naturally social distance themselves as they spread out to place the wreaths on headstones, and the number of volunteers allowed in at any one time could easily be limited.
Rep. Dan Crenshaw, (R-TX), a former SEAL wants the cancellation to be reversed so that the fallen can be honored this year as in other years. He tweeted out his frustration with the decision.
This decision to cancel #wreathsacrossamerica must be reversed immediately. Critical thinking must win out over emotion. Large areas, outside and well spaced, with masks on, is perfectly safe. Our fallen deserve to be remembered.
— Dan Crenshaw (@DanCrenshawTX) November 17, 2020
Months of work goes into these events. It’s a shame if other cemeteries go along with the decision made at Arlington National Cemetery. Many supporters responded favorably to Crenshaw’s tweet but there are plenty of critics, too. One ironic one came from a twit with BLM in her Twitter handle. Protests and riots are large events that are a-ok, I guess, but not something like honoring fallen soldiers?
Don’t agree. The fallen can be remembered and honored by staying alive. Use some critical thinking Dan-O
— Black Lives Matter KC (@BLM_KC) November 17, 2020
This veteran answered the BLM supporter.
Those soldiers can be honored any old time, you know, but BLM protests can’t wait. There is something really wrong with that mindset.
UPDATE: The event is back on. After I wrote this post, some good news came in from a tweet from President Trump: