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People walk among headstones adorned with holiday wreaths in Arlington National Cemetery during Wreaths Across America Day on Dec. 14, 2019. Associated Press/Sait Serkan Gurbuz

The secretary of the Army has reversed Arlington National Cemetery’s decision to cancel its annual Wreaths Across America holiday memorial event.

Each December, about a million wreaths supplied by Maine-based nonprofit Wreaths Across America are placed on the graves of soldiers buried at Arlington National Cemetery and other cemeteries across the United States and abroad.

But Arlington National Cemetery announced Monday that it was cancelling the event, which typically takes place on Dec. 19, over concerns about spreading the highly contagious coronavirus. The cemetery said it could not implement sufficient safety measures to mitigate the risk at an event that size.

Army Secretary Ryan D. McCarthy overrode that decision Tuesday following objections by President Trump and several Republican lawmakers.

“The Secretary of the Army has directed Arlington National Cemetery to safely host Wreaths Across America,” the cemetery said in a message on its website. The 639-acre cemetery, located in Arlington, Virginia, falls under the Army’s jurisdiction.

“I encourage Army leaders to reconsider (the decision to cancel),” Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas tweeted. “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.”

Each year, Wreaths Across America organizes a caravan of tractor-trailer trucks that carry hundreds of thousands of wreaths from Maine to Washington, D.C. The caravan, which originates in Washington County, is escorted by the motorcycle club Patriot Guard Riders and is typically greeted on its journey south in cities such as Portland, where well wishers, firefighters and police officers line the streets.

The decision to preserve the tradition was praised by Karen Worcester, executive director for Wreaths Across America, in a message posted on the organization’s Facebook page Tuesday evening.

“Wreaths Across America has had a collaborative, good relationship with Arlington National Cemetery for 29 years,” Worcester said. “Over the last seven months, our team has developed a number of optional plans for Arlington’s review that would ensure safety at any level of the COVID mandates that have been put in place.”

Worcester said during discussions, the cemetery’s leadership team indicated they would be willing to work on safe plan for placing the wreaths. Worcester said that Wreaths Across America plans to deliver wreaths to 2,500 locations around the country. She said it will be the largest distribution of wreaths in the nonprofit’s history.

Wreaths Across America was founded in 1992 by Worcester’s husband, Morrill Worcester, the owner of Worcester Wreath Company in Harrington. The couple found themselves with a surplus of wreaths near the end of the holiday season and decided to place those wreaths in one of the older, less visited sections of Arlington National Cemetery. Over the years, the effort has grown.


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