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Tens of Thousands Volunteer for 30th Annual Wreath Laying at Arlington National Cemetery

All photos Grace Billups Arnold

ALEXANDRIA, VA–On Saturday, Dec. 18, the 30th wreath laying at Arlington National Cemetery was held underneath a cool, cloudy sky.

For three decades now, wreaths have been placed at the base of each headstone in the Arlington National Cemetery; in 2007, this tradition became an official nationwide collaboration.

Wreaths Across America, a non-profit founded by the Worcester family, has grown so much over the years, that in 2021, there were 2.4 million wreaths placed across 3,100 cemeteries; in Arlington National Cemetery alone, there were 65 semi-trucks each hauling 4,000 wreaths, a total of 260,000.

Each year, on the second or third Saturday in December, these wreaths are laid “to remind people how important it is to remember, honor, and teach,” states Wreaths Across America.

That importance has only proliferated, following two years of pandemic and one year of forgone tradition. In 2021, tens of thousands of people gathered at Arlington National cemetery, children with parents, active and retired service members, first responders in uniform, and family of those buried under the headstones upon which the very wreaths are laid.

In 2019, a record 90,000 volunteers turned out in Arlington; this year, following endless months of isolation, it felt like a lot more. The gates opened at 8am, and people poured in with enthusiasm and energy.

Official ceremonies were held at the tombs of the Kennedys, the USS Maine, and the Tomb of the Unknown soldier. The crowds grew amidst deafening silence; as wreaths were placed, salutes were raised, and memories were honored, goosebumps spread across each and every arm.

JFK and his family.
Ted Kennedy

Robert Kennedy

The USS Maine
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

The final wreath laying concluded at 12:30pm at the Tomb of the Unknown soldier, overlooking the National Capital area. Wreaths piled high upon benches and tree trunks and statues, and the smell of Christmas pine blanketed the grounds…the sun never did peak out from behind the clouds, but that almost seemed fitting for the somber grace the morning obliged.

For more information on Wreaths Across America, or if you would like to volunteer next year, visit wreathsacrossamerica.org.

Scroll down for the full photo gallery:

No living thing must be placed upon a Jewish grave, thus wreaths were omitted from their plots.

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