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VA National Cemeteries Will Open Memorial Day Weekend

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U.S. Army
Thursday, May 21, 2020

National cemeteries managed by the Department of Veterans Affairs will be open during Memorial Day weekend, but the traditional wreath-laying ceremonies will be closed to the public because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia will remain closed to the public. The cemetery will be open only to family pass holders, officials announced.

“We are expecting several thousand family pass holders to visit their loved ones’ graves this Memorial Day weekend,” Charles “Ray” Alexander Jr., superintendent of Arlington National Cemetery, said in a statement. “Protecting the health of our employees, service members, contractors and our visitors is paramount.”

Each VA national cemetery will conduct a brief wreath-laying ceremony, observe a moment of silence and play taps, according to an announcement from the VA, whose National Cemeteries Administration manages the country’s 142 national cemeteries.

Group placement of flags at gravesites and other public events that have traditionally taken place at the national cemeteries on Memorial Day also will not take place. However, all VA national cemeteries will be open Memorial Day weekend from dawn to dusk for public visitation. This year, the U.S. will observe Memorial Day on May 25.

“This year, by necessity, will be different from past Memorial Day observances,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in the announcement. “While the department can’t hold large public ceremonies, VA will still honor veterans and service members with the solemn dignity and respect they have earned through their service and sacrifice.”

Wilkie will preside over the wreath-laying at Quantico National Cemetery in Virginia on Memorial Day; acting Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs Pamela Powers will do the same at Culpeper National Cemetery in Virginia, while Undersecretary for Memorial Affairs Randy Reeves will lay a wreath at Riverside National Cemetery in California on May 22 and at Calverton National Cemetery in New York on Memorial Day, the announcement said.

The events will be livestreamed on the National Cemeteries Administration’s Facebook and Twitter pages. The VA also will share recorded video and photographs from these and other ceremonies.

The public also can pay tribute online at the VA’s Veterans Legacy Memorial page. Launched in 2019, the website contains a memorial page for each veteran and service member interred in a VA national cemetery. Visitors can leave a tribute comment or a voice memory on a veteran’s page. All comments will be reviewed before posting, the announcement said.

Cemetery visitors are asked to adhere to health and safety guidelines and maintain physical distancing. Visitors are also urged to consider visiting Friday, Saturday or Sunday to avoid possible crowds on Memorial Day. Families may continue the tradition of placing flowers and small American flags at their veteran’s gravesite, the VA announcement said.

Officials at Arlington cemetery also reminded visitors to practice social distancing. Family pass holders must wear masks during their visit if they are unable to maintain a 6-foot distance from others, and they are only allowed to visit their loved one’s grave. Historic locations throughout the cemetery are closed.

Pass holders are asked to use the Memorial Avenue gate at the main entrance of the cemetery from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visitors must have face coverings and a valid family pass to enter the site.

Throughout Memorial Day weekend, cemetery staff will produce a multimedia virtual visitation feature that will be available on the cemetery’s website or social media sites.