Wreaths Across America at Arlington National Cemetery back on after cancellation reversed

Wreaths Across America, which was canceled by Arlington National Cemetery on Monday, is back on, organizers said Tuesday.

Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy “has directed Arlington National Cemetery to safely host Wreaths Across America,” the cemetery said on its website less than a day after the initial decision to cancel the event due to the coronavirus pandemic.

President Donald Trump said that he had reversed the decision in a tweet later Tuesday.

Though Wreaths Across America said in an email Tuesday evening that it “cannot comment on what really happened today,” spokesman Sean Sullivan confirmed that organizers sent “phone calls, emails and pleas” to the White House to intervene.

WAA Executive Director Karen Worcester announced the reversal Tuesday afternoon, but what this year’s program will look like remains unclear. “We do know that there will not be [the usual] 30,000 to 40,000 people invited to come down there,” Worcester said.

Worcester did not mention Trump, but said that many people responded to the cancellation decision with anger and sadness, and that this response played a role in the reversal.

“The people spoke … from all levels … some people with a lot of clout and some people with nothing but a prayer,” Worcester said.

In past years, thousands of volunteers participated in WAA — laying wreaths across veterans’ gravestones — but Worcester said there will be fewer volunteers this year.

She also said that volunteers will wear face masks and maintain social distancing during the Dec. 19 event, and that the event will be safe amid the coronavirus pandemic.

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On Monday, the cemetery had said that it “could not implement sufficient controls to mitigate the risks associated with hosting an event of this size … while still conducting a respectful and honorable public event.”

Cemetery spokeswoman Karen Durham-Aguillera had said that they “reviewed various options” and that they “could no longer envision a way to safely accommodate the large number of visitors we typically host during this event.”

On Tuesday, Worcester acknowledged the cemetery’s concern.

“They are concerned about their workers, being in an area where rates are high; they are concerned about workers intermingling with volunteers,” she said.

But Worcester said, “It just seemed as we got together and talked and listen to each other that we all want to do the right thing, and we want to do it safely.”

“I am a believer that with adversity comes opportunity,” she said. “We are altering to keep people safe. We want to protect the living and honor our heroes.”

Worcester added, “We don’t know what this is going to look like, but we do know that we’ve come together. And we’re committed to represent the families and those that are buried there. … So now we have a challenge — one that we’re up for meeting with some of the greatest minds out there and the greatest hearts out there.”

Luke Garrett

Luke Garrett is a D.C. native dedicated to journalism. He is a reporter and the creator, host and producer of the original WTOP podcast, “DMV Download.” The podcast debuted in 2022. On the show, Garrett takes a weekly look at the biggest stories and ideas in the D.C. region.

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