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In reversal, Arlington National Cemetery will host Wreaths Across America event

Wreaths Across America at Arlington National Cemetery on Dec. 12, 2015. The 2020 event was canceled by Arlington National Cemetery officials on Monday, but the Secretary of the Army reversed that decision hours later.

MEREDITH TIBBETTS/STARS AND STRIPES

By NIKKI WENTLING | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 17, 2020

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WASHINGTON – Arlington National Cemetery will take part in the Wreaths Across America event this year, despite an announcement Monday that the cemetery would abstain from the tradition because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy ordered Arlington National Cemetery on Tuesday to host the event. Karen Worcester, CEO of Wreaths Across America, told reporters over the phone Tuesday that she met earlier in the day with cemetery leaders, and everyone agreed to hold a scaled-down event this year. Details of what the event would entail had not been decided, Worcester said.

“It just seemed as we got together and talked that we all want to do the right thing and do it safely,” Worcester said. “Now, we have a challenge – one we’re up to meeting.”

Wreaths Across America is a Maine-based charity. Every year, the group organizes volunteers to place Christmas wreaths on the graves of American veterans and service members around the world. Their event at Arlington National Cemetery is the largest and typically involves tens of thousands of volunteers gathering at the cemetery. The event this year is scheduled for Dec. 19.

ANC leaders said Monday they wouldn’t take part in the tradition because they could not mitigate the risks of holding the event during the ongoing coronavirus surge. In Virginia, where ANC is located, the governor imposed a 25-person limit on gatherings in an effort to slow rising coronavirus cases and hospitalizations.

When Worcester heard about the cemetery’s decision, she put her team into action.

“It’s been a difficult year, and we didn’t want to have another disappointment,” she said.

At a meeting today between ANC and Wreaths Across America officials, everyone indicated a willingness to hold the event, though it will look different than in a typical year, Worcester said. There won’t be tens of thousands of volunteers, and anyone placing wreaths will likely be ordered to wear masks, gloves and keep their distance from one another.

Arlington National Cemetery will create the guidelines, Worcester said. The details were unknown as of Tuesday afternoon.

President Donald Trump said Tuesday that he was the one to credit for the reversal.

“I have reversed the ridiculous decision to cancel Wreaths Across America at Arlington National Cemetery. It will now go on!” he tweeted.

When asked Tuesday about the cemetery’s initial decision to cancel the event, Worcester defended ANC leaders.

“There are no bad guys here,” she said. “They’re dealing with a lot. Everybody is trying to do the best they can and do this in the right way.”

Wentling.nikki@stripes.com
Twitter: @nikkiwentling