Thousands of people lined up at the gates of Arlington Cemetery before dawn Saturday morning. It was a bitterly cold. The temperature was far below freezing. There was snow on the ground. None of it dampened the spirits of those who looked forward to laying a wreath on a gleaming white headstone of an American hero.
Wreaths Across America has been going on for 26 years. The tradition seeks to place a fresh pine wreath on the headstone of every fallen soldier in a national cemetery. Around 1,000 locations in 50 states participate. The effort is massive and the payoff is spectacular.
The process is very simple:
Family members, spouses and volunteers line up, often times before dawn.
Upon entering, the family members line up behind a semi trucks full of wreaths.
In the case of Arlington, tens of thousands of wreaths are brought in and distributed.
Wreaths in hand, people spread out through the cemetery.
If they have loved ones, they will go to them.
Ultimately, every grave gets a wreath.
This morning, before the crowds were let in, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke stood in a section of Arlington far too familiar. Zinke was walking the rows of Section 60, the section of Arlington reserved for those who have died in America’s most recent wars. Zinke, who served as a Navy SEAL, has friends buried here.
He’s come to honor one of them with a Christmas wreath.
Zinke, one of the most high-profile members of the Trump administration, today walked silently and anonymously through the tombstones, as his security detail trailed behind him.
When the semi truck doors swung open wreaths began to decorate the landscape. Zinke laid his down. The gravestone read “Bradley Keyes.” “Parachute accident,” Zinke says.
Zinke addressed a small group of volunteers before consoling a sobbing mother at a grave. Her son was 21 when he lost his life. He was a member of the honor guard.
“The first thing I saw Trump do as president was attend the funeral of a Navy SEAL,” the Secretary said. “That’s the moment I saw him go from being a president to becoming a Commander-in-Chief. Look around. There’s no politics here.”
Shortly thereafter, president Trump flew overhead aboard Marine One.
Others were too busy focusing on something more important.