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A volunteer places a wreath during Wreaths Across America at Arlington National Cemetery, Dec. 13, 2014.
A volunteer places a wreath during Wreaths Across America at Arlington National Cemetery, Dec. 13, 2014. (Stars and Stripes)

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WASHINGTON — Arlington National Cemetery will close to the public from Dec. 13 to 19 to allow Christmas wreaths to be placed at 267,000 graves, officials announced Wednesday.

The wreaths will be placed as part of the Wreaths Across America event, an annual tradition during which volunteers gather at cemeteries around the world to adorn the graves of American veterans and service members. Arlington National Cemetery announced last week it would take part in the event this year, despite an earlier decision to abstain from the tradition because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The decision to cancel the event drew widespread criticism, and Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy ordered Arlington National Cemetery leaders to reverse the decision. President Donald Trump said over Twitter that he was the one to credit for the reversal.

Karen Worcester, CEO of Wreaths Across America, said the decision was amicable. She met with cemetery leaders the day after they announced the cancellation, and everyone agreed to hold a scaled-down event this year, she said.

The event typically draws tens of thousands of volunteers to Arlington National Cemetery to place all the wreaths in a single day. ANC announced Wednesday that this year, wreaths would be placed in phases. Aside from family members, funerals attendees and designated wreath-layers, the cemetery will be closed to the public.

“We developed this plan to balance our security posture and health and safety requirements with the desire to allow limited in-person participation,” John Harlow, ANC media relations officer, said in an email.

First, family members of people buried in Arlington National Cemetery will be welcomed to lay wreaths at their loved ones’ graves from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Dec. 13.

From Dec. 14 to 18, soldiers with the U.S. Army Military District of Washington and the 3rd U.S. Infantry will lay most of the wreaths. During this week, the cemetery will also conduct more than 100 funerals.

Finally, on Dec. 19, a small group of Wreaths Across America volunteers will place wreaths in one section of the cemetery, and the event will be live-streamed. ANC did not specify how many people would be involved.

The cemetery will reopen to the public Dec. 20.

Aside from Arlington National Cemetery, Wreaths Across America is planning wreath-laying events at more than 2,100 locations across the world.

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Nikki Wentling has worked for Stars and Stripes since 2016. She reports from Congress, the White House, the Department of Veterans Affairs and throughout the country about issues affecting veterans, service members and their families. Wentling, a graduate of the University of Kansas, previously worked at the Lawrence Journal-World and Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. The National Coalition of Homeless Veterans awarded Stars and Stripes the Meritorious Service Award in 2020 for Wentling’s reporting on homeless veterans during the coronavirus pandemic. In 2018, she was named by the nonprofit HillVets as one of the 100 most influential people in regard to veterans policymaking.
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