Army Secretary Ryan D. McCarthy has directed Arlington National Cemetery to reverse course and allow the annual wreath laying at graves by Wreaths Across America. Cemetery officials had said that the annual December wreath laying would be canceled because of COVID, sparking an “outpouring” of concern to cemetery officials, as well as to Wreaths Across America, said Karen Worcester, executive director of the organization.
Through public donations and volunteers, the nonprofit has placed more than 2 million veterans’ wreaths at more than 2,000 cemeteries nationwide, including those in Fayetteville, for nearly three decades.
The most well-known of those locations is Arlington National Cemetery, where the tradition started in 1992, and Wreaths Across America has had a “collaborative, good relationship” with cemetery officials for 29 years, Worcester said. There won’t be thousands of volunteers this year, and they’re working with cemetery officials on the logistics.
“We don’t know what this will look like, but we do know we will meet the challenge,” she said. As for the other cemeteries across the country, conversations are ongoing with those cemetery officials, and the organization has asked that volunteers adhere to local regulations.
In some cases, the events may be limited online. In some places, there will be “drive-through” events where people will be handed wreaths. “It’s been a difficult year, and we didn’t want to have another disappointment,” Worcester said. After having developed various options over the last seven months to use at any level of COVID mandate, her team “jumped into action” and had a discussion with the cemetery’s leadership team.
Worcester said they were contacted by people from all walks of life, asking what they could do to help. Some were angry, some were indignant, some were “very, very sad,” she said. “There are no bad guys. Everybody is trying to take care of everyone,” she said. Through this adversity, Worcester is hoping the attention will be an opportunity to share the organization’s mission throughout the year, which is to remember, honor and teach.
Worcester’s husband Morrill began the tradition in 1992, after founding the Worcester Wreath Company in Harrington, Maine. That year, the company had a surplus, and he saw it as a way to honor veterans with wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery. He was inspired by Arlington cemetery when he visited there as a 12-year-old. Worcester read a message from her son Michael, who wrote that remembering the fallen service men and women can’t become one of those “used to be activities” that fade away because of the pandemic.
“Do you think for one moment that any of the brave men and women would have thought twice before running into battle?” he wrote. “Why would it even be an option to take a year off from remembering and honoring them?”