Resuming an annual tradition paused last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, Arlington National Cemetery welcomed roughly 40,000 volunteers on Saturday to lay wreaths to honor service members.
More than 150,000 wreaths were placed on gravesites for Wreaths Across America, a nonprofit effort founded in 2007 that brings in volunteers every December to honor those who died in service to the country.
Similar ceremonies take place at veteran cemeteries both in the United States and around the world. Wreathes Across America ships more than two million wreaths to over 3,100 locations around the world for the annual event.
This year marked a full return to the event, after Arlington’s volunteer wreath-laying ceremony was canceled in 2020 due to pandemic restrictions. The wreath layings last year were largely done by soldiers of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment instead.
But the return of the volunteer event was not without some controversy. An organization called the Military Religious Freedom Foundation complained earlier this month that the laying of wreaths on graves of non-Christian service members would be religiously insensitive and possibly violate the separation of church and state.
Wreaths Across America denies its aim is religious observance. “We are not ‘decorating graves’ but honoring American heroes,” said Amber Caron, a spokeswoman for the organization, according to the Tribune News Service.
The 2021 commemoration began on Friday with Gold Star families visiting the National Mall in Washington D.C., to lay wreaths across the Vietnam, Korean, World War I, and World War II memorials.
For more information, visit The Washington Times COVID-19 resource page.