Just in time for Memorial Day weekend, Arlington National Cemetery and more than 150 national veterans’ cemeteries across the United States will drop many of the restrictions they imposed during the coronavirus pandemic and will allow vaccinated visitors to gather in large groups at graves without wearing masks.
Last Memorial Day, with the country in the grips of the first wave of coronavirus cases, Arlington, the national cemetery across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. shut down or modified many of its hallowed traditions. No more than 10 family members could attend each funeral; the soldiers of the Army’s Old Guard wore masks; and the folded flag usually presented by hand to the family was instead laid on a table next to the grave. Arlington closed the Tomb of the Unknowns to visitors, though the Army’s watch on the tomb continued uninterrupted.
Ceremonies were suspended at the National Cemetery Administration’s sites across the country in 2020. So while the perfect rows of white headstones were hosting an elevated number of veterans’ funerals because of the pandemic’s toll, the burials often happened with no bugle sounding “Taps,” no rifle salute and because of travel restrictions, no family in attendance.
This Memorial Day will still be pared down in comparison with years past, with no plans for big events at the national cemeteries, cemetery officials said, but they welcomed the loosening of restrictions that would allow more visitors. They said the traditional graveside ceremonies are being gradually restored as conditions allow.
With the number of new cases dropping and the number of vaccinated people climbing in the United States, Arlington National Cemetery reopened its Metro stop on Sunday; its visitor center will reopen on Thursday; and the Tomb of the Unknowns is once again welcoming visitors. Thousands of veterans and relatives typically gather at the cemetery to honor the dead on Memorial Day.
Masks will still be required for everyone indoors, and unvaccinated visitors will have to wear masks both indoors and out.
“We are very happy families and visitors are able to have a full visitor’s experience to honor, remember and explore,” said Karen Durham-Aguilera, executive director of Arlington National Cemetery.