(Updated May 20)
Memorial Day ceremonies will look different this year as Arlington National Cemetery and the National Cemetery Administration (NCA) plan to honor veterans while limiting crowds during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This year, by necessity, will be different from past Memorial Day observances,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a press release announcing the NCA moves. “While the department can’t hold large public ceremonies, VA will still honor veterans and servicemembers with the solemn dignity and respect they have earned through their service and sacrifice.”
The NCA – which oversees 142 national cemeteries and the resting places of more than 4 million Americans – has announced each of its cemeteries will hold a brief wreath-laying ceremony with a moment of silence and the playing of Taps. The ceremonies will not be open to the public.
Other public events typically scheduled for Memorial Day at the cemeteries, such as group placement of flags at gravesites, have been canceled. Families are permitted to place flowers and small American flags at their veteran’s gravesite.
The VA will live-stream some of the wreath laying ceremonies online via Facebook and Twitter. On Friday, Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs Randy Reeves will lay a wreath at Riverside National Cemetery in California. On Memorial Day, Wilkie will preside over the wreath laying at Quantico National Cemetery in Virginia, Acting Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs Pamela Powers will lay a wreath at Culpeper National Cemetery in Virginia, and Reeves will lay a wreath at Calverton National Cemetery in New York.
The VA is encouraging members of the public to pay tribute to veterans via its online Veterans Legacy Memorial. The site, which launched in 2019, allows visitors to leave comments honoring veterans’ service.
Arlington National Cemetery will be closed to the public. Family members must have a family pass and a face covering to enter. The cemetery has drawn a crowd as large as 5,000 people for its annual Memorial Day ceremony.
“We are expecting several thousand family pass holders to visit their loved ones’ graves this Memorial Day weekend,” said Charles “Ray” Alexander Jr., superintendent of Arlington National Cemetery. “Protecting the health of our employees, servicemembers, contractors and our visitors is paramount.”
Family pass holders who are visiting Arlington National Cemetery over Memorial Day weekend must enter through the Memorial Avenue gate at the main entrance of the cemetery between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Family visitors must wear a face covering and remain six feet apart when able.
Family pass holders are permitted only to visit graves and not permitted to visit historic locations throughout the cemetery.
Because the cemetery will be closed to the public, multimedia virtual visitations will be made available online. Details will be available at the cemetery’s website.