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All VA National Cemeteries Open to Place Flags Over Memorial Day Weekend

Pandemic restrictions eased for in-person visits, but virtual events also planned

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As coronavirus restrictions continue to ease, the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) 155 national cemeteries will allow volunteers to place flags on graves to commemorate Memorial Day. Cemeteries will be open from dusk to dawn over the holiday weekend. Additional events and ceremonies, including wreath layings, will be streamed online.

"Memorial Day is a sacred day where we remember the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of freedom,” VA Secretary Denis McDonough said in a statement. “We can never forget these heroes nor the families who continue to grieve the loss of their mother, father, son, daughter, sister or brother who stood in the gap for each of us to maintain the very democracy that we are able to treasure every day."

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Fully vaccinated cemetery employees, volunteers, honor guards and visitors are no longer required to wear masks while indoors, outdoors or during memorial services. Those who are not fully inoculated are asked to continue wearing a face mask, stay 6 feet from others, avoid large crowds and consistently wash their hands or use hand sanitizer.

All cemeteries with full staff will hold wreath-laying ceremonies followed by a moment of silence and the playing of taps throughout the weekend. However, these events will not be open to the public.

Those who wish to place flags on gravesites should contact their local national cemetery for further information.

Additionally, services for veterans and eligible family members who were interred without a committal service between March and June 2020 are now being scheduled and conducted. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is providing a funeral assistance reimbursement program to help cover the costs of services for loved ones who died of COVID-19.

Virtual commemorations

Those who want to avoid the crowds will be able to stream Memorial Day weekend events and ceremonies on the National Cemetery Administration's Facebook and Twitter pages. VA's McDonough will preside over the wreath laying at Quantico National Cemetery in Virginia on May 28, one of the many events that can be viewed online.

Online tributes can continue to be made at the Veterans Legacy Memorial where there is a page for each veteran and service member interred in a VA national cemetery. By the holiday weekend, visitors will be able to submit photos and biographical summaries of a veteran's life, along with historical documents such as awards and newspaper clippings. Online visitors will also be able to sign up for email alerts when new content is posted on a particular service member's page.

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Arlington National Cemetery begins to fully reopen

Like other VA national cemeteries, Arlington National Cemetery (ANC) requires unvaccinated people to practice the recommended safety procedures. However, all must wear a face mask in its indoor facilities, whether vaccinated or not, and undergo a security screening at the Welcome Center.

The cemetery is now permitting visitors to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, President John F. Kennedy's gravesite, the Memorial Amphitheater and Welcome Center.

"ANC is a safe environment and we are pleased COVID conditions have improved enough that we may fully reopen to the public,” said Charles R. Alexander Jr., superintendent of ANC. “We greatly missed everyone and our staff and the Tomb Sentinels miss sharing the cemetery's rich history to our visitors."

Aaron Kassraie writes about issues important to military veterans and their families for AARP. He also serves as a general assignment reporter. Kassraie previously covered U.S. foreign policy as a correspondent for the Kuwait News Agency's Washington bureau and worked in news gathering for USA Today and Al Jazeera English.

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