Wreaths Across America: How one tribute started a movement - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

Wreaths Across America: How one tribute started a movement

National Wreaths Across America Day has become such a big tradition that it’s hard to believe it began from just one personal tribute.

How it Happened

The Worcester family of Harrington, Maine, owns their own tree farm. In 1992, they had a surplus of wreaths during the holiday season, so the family patriarch, Morrill — who had long felt indebted to our fallen veterans — got help from a Maine politician to have those spare wreaths placed beside graves in Arlington National Cemetery in areas that received fewer visitors each year.


Several volunteers stepped up to help, including veterans from American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts and a truck company owner who transported the wreaths to Arlington, Virginia, where a small ceremony was held at the cemetery’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This remained a small yearly tradition for nearly 15 years until a photo taken at the 2005 ceremony went viral. Almost immediately, thousands of people wanted to know how to help or how they could begin a similar tradition in their states.

Wreaths Across America: How one tribute started a movement

Christmas wreaths adorn headstones at Arlington National Cemetery, Va., in December 2005.

(Photo by Master Sgt. Jim Varhegyi)

By the next year — with the help of some civic organizations and volunteers, including in the trucking industry — there were 150 simultaneous ceremonies held across the country. By 2008, the movement to remember, honor and teach had grown so much that Congress had declared the third Saturday in September National Wreaths Across America Day.

By 2014, the now-nonprofit Wreaths Across America had reached its goal of placing a wreath at all 226,525 graves in the cemetery.

Wreaths Across America: How one tribute started a movement

Navy personnel from the Navy International Programs Office, Washington, distribute wreaths to volunteers during the Wreaths Across America event at Arlington National Cemetery, Va., Dec. 15, 2012.

(Photo by Chief Master Sgt. Robert W. Valenca)

Wreaths Across America today

The event continues to grow. In 2018, the organization shipped a staggering 1.75 MILLION wreaths to 1,640 locations that held ceremonies across the U.S. A few dozen locations overseas also participated. According to the organization, this was the first year it was granted permission to place wreaths at Normandy to honor those who died during World War II’s D-Day invasion.

Wreaths Across America: How one tribute started a movement

Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Charles C. Orf salutes a headstone at Fort Richardson National Cemetery during the annual Wreaths Across America Day at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, Dec. 16, 2017.

(Photo by Staff Sgt. James Richardson)

Veterans and Gold Star families are many of the roughly 2 million volunteers who prepared the wreaths, shipped them across the country, and put them on graves.

This article originally appeared on the United States Army. Follow @USArmy on Twitter.

Articles

Is the new Iranian fighter a paper tiger?

Iran has made waves announcing new weapons, like the Bavar 373 and Qaher 313 in recent years, and they’ve been conducting a lot of tests. Iran even claimed to have copied the RQ-170 “Beast of Kandahar” reconnaissance drone after one of the American spy planes made a forced landing in Iran.


But are these systems paper tigers? According to the National Interest, the Iranians may not have thought through their Qaher 313 very well. In fact, the Qaher 313 may be in the pantheon of “most useless combat planes” that includes such luminaries as the Boulton-Paul Defiant and the Brewster F2A Buffalo.

Wreaths Across America: How one tribute started a movement
Lineart of the Qaher-313 mockup based on estimations. (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

In fact, when Iranian-made versions of the Chinese C-802 missile were fired at American ships on multiple occasions this past October by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, they failed to score any hits, and drew a retaliatory strike.

The Qaher 313 is touted as Iran’s fifth-generation stealth fighter, capable of carrying 2,000-pound bombs, Chinese PL-12 missiles, and other weapons. That’s the hype. But what is the reality?

Wreaths Across America: How one tribute started a movement
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani joins Defense Ministry officials at the unveiling of the Bavar 373 SAM system. (Photo: Tasnim)

The claim drew skepticism, with the National Interest reporter recalling a comparison of the Qaher 313 to a GI Joe toy. One of the reasons is that the Iranians appear to only have the option of using reverse-engineered versions of the J85 engine, which is used on their inventory of F-5E Tiger fighters.

Wreaths Across America: How one tribute started a movement
Public Domain

The aircraft’s size has also caused some discussion, with some believing that the Iranians displayed a small-scale mock-up. Others, though, have claimed that the plane is just a propaganda exercise — and a poorly executed one, at that. Haaretz.com called the plane a “glorified mock-up” that “won’t cause any panic in the Israeli Air Force’s intelligence wing.”

Wreaths Across America: How one tribute started a movement
Iran has reportedly made a killer drone based on a secret U.S.-designed RQ-170 Sentinel.

This isn’t the only such dispute. Iran’s claims to have copied the RQ-170 also drew skepticism, with some claiming the Iranians had built a static mock-up. It should be noted that Iran has successfully built naval vessels, notably the Jamaran-class frigates and the Peykan-class missile boats, as well as an indigenous coastal submarine.

Military Life

5 reasons why troops and first responders get along so well

There’re no two groups of Americans that get along quite as well as the military and the first-responder community. It makes sense on a broad level; they’re both occupations filled by people who hope to help their fellow man and make the world a slightly better place.


But it goes much deeper than that — it’s not just a shared, we-got-10-percent-off-our-meal-at-a-restaurant connection.

Wreaths Across America: How one tribute started a movement

Civilians just don’t understand the actual amount of paperwork and bureaucracy that happens in both. That fact alone is why so many police officers love ‘Hot Fuzz.’

(Photo by Sgt. Elizabeth Taylor)

They share the same culture

Part of what makes the armed forces fun is the inter-service banter exchanged between branches. Funnily enough, first responders playfully mock one another as well.

EMS will throw some jabs in jest at firefighters and firefighters will tell jokes at the police’s expense. Hell, even within the different bureaus, police will riff on each other. Law enforcement officers and firefighters, just like Marines and airmen, will happily mock one another all day long, but treat each other as family when push comes to shove.

This is just one of the many areas in which the two cultures overlap.

Wreaths Across America: How one tribute started a movement

They also come up with the same off-the-wall insults that troops love.

(Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Pedro A. Rodriguez)

They share the same lingo

Troops say a lot of little things that they don’t realize are uncommon in the civilian world, but the lingo is easily understood by first responders.

The phonetic alphabet is an obvious one, but it makes my veteran heart grow knowing that police also call each other blue falcons.

Wreaths Across America: How one tribute started a movement

The hardest times for both are often the memorial services.

(Photo by Tech. Sgt. Jonathan Fowler)

They share the same bad days

The sad reality is that the bad days both groups experience can be hard to explain to civilians.

There are fantastic moments that you can be proud to share with your children and your spouse, but helping the world will also show you things that’ll keep you up at night — you can’t know this feeling without experiencing it.

Wreaths Across America: How one tribute started a movement

Have you ever been to a fire station? It’s basically a frat house in between calls.

(Photo by Jamal Wilson)

They share a strong bond of brotherhood with their peers

It’s no secret that troops are close to one another — and first responders are no different.

They grow together through shared pain, mockery, and brief moments of brevity until the sh*t hits the fan again. This level of camaraderie is respected across both groups.

Wreaths Across America: How one tribute started a movement

Or you enlist for a change of pace but end up doing the same thing in a different uniform.

(Photo by Airman 1st Class Octavius Thompson)

Many have served in both

The main reason why so many of each community can relate with one another is because many troops leave the service and make a living as a first responder, and vice versa.

During a moment of peace in Basic or Boot Camp, it’s not uncommon to hear a new troop say that they were a volunteer firefighter for a few semesters in college.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Navy carrier strike group is weirdly deploying without its aircraft carrier

Ships from the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group are deploying without their carrier and accompanying air wing after the flattop suffered an unexpected electrical problem that required maintenance, the Navy revealed Sept. 12, 2019.

The destroyers USS Lassen, USS Farragut, and USS Forrest Sherman, along with the cruiser USS Normandy, will set sail from their homeports in Norfolk, Virginia, and Mayport, Florida, in the near future. These ships will be accompanied by helicopters from Helicopter Maritime Squadron 72 out of Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Florida. The USS Harry S. Truman aircraft carrier, however, will remain behind.


The move is unusual. Normally, if a carrier is down for maintenance or some other reason, it will simply be replaced with another carrier. But, the East Coast carrier fleet is currently short a suitable alternative in the inventory due to maintenance backlogs and delivery delays, among other issues.

Wreaths Across America: How one tribute started a movement

The U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) underway in the Atlantic Ocean.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Thomas Gooley)

In late August 2019, the Truman aircraft carrier experienced an “electrical malfunction within the ship’s electrical distribution system requiring analysis and repair,” US Fleet Forces Command spokesman Capt. Scott Miller told USNI News, which first reported the news of both the electrical issue and the unusual deployment.

US 2nd Fleet Commander Vice Adm. Andrew Lewis characterized the latest developments as “unfortunate” in talks with USNI News. “The situation with Truman frankly is unfortunate,” he told the naval affairs outlet. “Obviously, we’re working really hard to fix it, and we will fix it, but it’s unfortunate — nobody wanted that to happen certainly.”

The Navy said Sept. 12, 2019, that “repairs are progressing and all efforts are being made to deploy the carrier and air wing as soon as possible.” But, as there are still a number of unknowns surrounding the issue, it is unclear when the Truman will again be ready to sail.

Wreaths Across America: How one tribute started a movement

USS Harry S. Truman in drydock at Norfolk Naval Shipyard.

“Not having the aircraft carrier,” Lewis explained to USNI News, “it does detract from the symbolism and the deterrent effect, no question.”

“The aircraft carrier is a behemoth beast with an amazing capability, it shows up off your shores, and if you’re not our friend you become our friend quickly if you know what’s good for you. There is no question that that effect is lost with smaller ships.”

The deploying ships have formed a Surface Action Group, and the admiral insists that these ships bring the kind of capability to confront both low- and high-end threats.

Explaining that the ships have anti-submarine, air-and-missile defense, and strike warfare capabilities, he insisted that this is a “very capable group” that is ready “to do the nation’s bidding in this great power competition,” an apparent reference to 2nd Fleet’s role in countering a resurgent Russia.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

Articles

The first man killed in the Vietnam War was murdered by a fellow airman

On June 8, 1956, U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Richard Fitzgibbon died of gunshot wounds sustained in South Vietnam. He was the first casualty of what would be known to history as the Vietnam War.


Except it wasn’t a Viet Cong bullet that killed Fitzgibbon — it was a fellow airman.

Fitzgibbon was assigned to the Military Assistance Advisory Group, training South Vietnamese airmen in Saigon. A crew chief, he confronted the plane’s radio operator when they came under fire mid-flight, making sure the operator did his job.

Wreaths Across America: How one tribute started a movement
An early aircrew patch from MAAG Vietnam.

After the mission, the radio operator stewed over the altercation, heading to a bar to have a few drinks and loosen up. Except he drank heavily, and the incident only intensified his anger.

Later that day, the man approached Fitzgibbon on the porch of his barracks room as he handed out candy to Vietnamese children and shot the crew chief to death.

Fitzgibbon was a Navy veteran of World War II who later joined the Air Force. His son Richard joined the Marines and fought in Vietnam. He was killed in combat near Quang Tin in 1965.

Wreaths Across America: How one tribute started a movement
Richard Fitzgibbon Jr., left, and Richard Fitzgibbon III. The father was killed in Vietnam in 1956, while the son died there in 1965. (Photo from Sen. Ed Markey)

Technical Sergeant Fitzgibbon’s name wasn’t added to the Vietnam Memorial Wall until 1999, after a lobbying campaign from his family, with the help of Senator Ed Markey. The Department of Defense had to first change the criteria for adding a name — specifically identifying the start of the war.

The DoD now recognizes the date the MAAG was set up, Nov. 1, 1955, as the start of the conflict in Vietnam — the earliest date to qualify for having a casualty’s name added to the memorial wall.

Wreaths Across America: How one tribute started a movement
Richard Fitzgibbon’s name on the Vietnam Memorial Wall.

The Fitzgibbons were one of three father-son pairs who died in the Vietnam War.

MIGHTY CULTURE

A World War II vet wants cards for his birthday – here’s how to send him one

World War II veteran Recil Troxtel turns 93 years old on April 17, 2019. He stares longingly out the window for much of the day, excited for the mail to arrive. When it finally does, he hops up in the hopes that there might be a personal letter or two, just for him.

With his birthday coming up, all he really wants is more mail. His fellow veterans and members of the military community are sure to step up and drop their friend Recil a line – right?


He sits here in his chair looking out the window every day,” his daughter, Liz Anderson told KSWO, an Oklahoma ABC affiliate. “When the mail is here, he’s like the mail is here, we better go get the mail.”

Unfortunately, there’s not often anything in there for Recil. Now, the soon-to-be 93-year-old Oklahoma man is undergoing cancer treatment. His days of watching for the mail may be short, so maybe we shouldn’t wait for April 17th to roll around. Maybe we should send out greetings, letters, and good wishes to Recil right away. Send them to:

Recil Troxtel
2684 North Highway 81
Marlow, Oklahoma 73055


Wreaths Across America: How one tribute started a movement

“I don’t get mail anymore,” Recil said. That’s about to change, buddy.

It’s exciting when he gets it because he will sit there and hold it,” his daughter said. “Sometimes he won’t open it for an hour or two. Other times, he has a knife in his pocket, and he rips that knife out and rips that letter open to see what it is.

His family tells KSWO that he didn’t always enjoy the mail, but he’s at an age now where receiving something doesn’t mean he’s getting a bill. It’s more likely a personal message.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Why the US Navy will stop publicizing Admiral promotions

A top US admiral explained March 13, 2019, that the Navy is keeping high-level promotions a secret because hackers from China and other adversarial countries are targeting flag officers.

While the Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps all continue to publish lists of newly promoted officers, the Navy abruptly stopped in October 2018, USNI News first reported February 2019.

The policy reportedly began with the promotion of Trump’s doctor, Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, who withdrew from consideration to lead Department of Veterans Affairs amid a scandal.


Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson defended the policy decision March 13, 2019, arguing that publishing this information — which the US Senate continues to publish— leaves high-ranking Navy officers vulnerable to cyberattacks.

“I don’t know if you’ve been personally attacked in the cyber world, but our flags are,” Richardson said at a conference in Washington, DC, Breaking Defense reported. It is “just a vulnerability that we are trying to think about,” he added, according to Military.com.

Wreaths Across America: How one tribute started a movement

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson.

“There’s always a tension between on the transparency and security,” he explained, telling reporters that the Navy intends to do anything it can “to make sure we’re keeping their information and stuff secure.”

An alarming internal Navy cybersecurity review recently concluded that the service, as well as its industry partners, are “under cyber siege,” The Wall Street Journal reported March 12, 2019.

“We are under siege,” a senior US Navy official stressed to The Journal. “People think it’s much like a deadly virus — if we don’t do anything, we could die.”

The service has been hit relentlessly by Chinese, Russian, and Iranian hackers, with the threat presented by Chinese cyber criminals among the most severe. China is accused of hacking the US military, large and small defense contractors, and even university partners to steal anything not nailed down.

In 2018, Chinese government hackers stole important data on several US Navy undersea-warfare programs from an unidentified contractor. Among the stolen information were plans for a new supersonic anti-ship missile, The Washington Post reported in June 2018, citing US officials.

Speaking to Congress March 13, 2019, Army Gen. Paul Nakasone, head of US Cyber Command, said that the US is prepared to aggressively strike back against adversarial powers in cyberspace.

While Navy leadership argues that the decision to keep flag officer promotions a secret is to eliminate exposure that could put its admirals at risk, the defense appears a bit thin, as their names, ranks and biographies are still publicly available.

“This may not work out in the end, I don’t know, but that’s kind of our mindset there,” Richardson reportedly said March 13, 2019.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MUSIC

The unexpected history of the hilarious ‘Spirit of 76’ meme

The historic piece of art that’s featured in the hilarious meme showcasing three marching Revolutionary War musicians has a long, long history. While it might not date as far back as the Revolutionary War, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone to learn it was inspired by and modeled after drunken American war veterans.


Wreaths Across America: How one tribute started a movement

Ohioan Archibald Willard was a Civil War veteran who enlisted with the 86th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. During the Civil War, the 86th saw action at the Battle of the Cumberland Gap and headed off Confederate General John Hunt Morgan as he made the furthest incursion northward during the war, but it only lost 37 men total — all due to disease. Willard began to draw pictures of the things he saw as he moved with the unit. He and a business partner began to finish and sell the drawings throughout the war.

Wreaths Across America: How one tribute started a movement

Archibald Willard, Civil War veteran and creator of “The Spirit of ’76.”

Before moving back to Cleveland, Willard studied art in New York City. He stayed for a number of years, but it was back in his native Ohio that Willard was inspired to paint a humorous picture he called, “Yankee Doodle.” It was the first incarnation of what would become his most famous and celebrated work, with three Revolutionary War musicians marching in tune to their martial music. But this first pass was less of a serious work and more of a funny comic-book painting.

The original featured three natives of Wellington, Ohio — all slightly intoxicated veterans of the War of 1812 — goofing around and creating mock battles with instruments in the town square. He also used Wellingtonians as models to paint the patriots seen in the famous painting. These models included his father, the Reverend Samuel Willard, fellow Civil War veteran Hugh Mosher as the fife player, and a local named Henry Devereaux, a military academy cadet and the son of a local railroad president, as the drummer boy.


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Willard drew the original as a comic scene, but a friend who saw his sketch suggested that Willard take it a little more seriously, perhaps draw it up with a patriotic theme. The idea intrigued Willard because it was outside the realm of anything he’d ever done before. He preferred to paint landscapes and comical scenes of everyday life. Thinking back to old stories his grandfather would tell him about fighting in the American Revolution, Willard created an eight-by-ten foot masterpiece, re-titled “The Spirit of ’76.”

“The Spirit of ’76” first went on display in 1876 as part of a celebration of the American Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. Willard went on to paint several different versions of the painting but there were none so iconic or reproduced in American culture than the original. In the years following the Civil War, years characterized by mixed feelings, resentment, and Reconstruction, “The Spirit of ’76” was a work of art that evoked a shared sense of national unity.

Wreaths Across America: How one tribute started a movement

And lived on in many different iterations.

After the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, the original painting was sold to General John H. Devereux, father of the drummer boy in the painting, who took it to his home in Marblehead, Mass. where it remains on display to this day. The drum used by the younger Devereux and Hugh Mosher’s fife can be seen in the Spirit of ’76 Museum in Wellington, Ohio.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

How the US Air Force trains to fight Russia using real Russian fighters

The United States Air Force needs aggressor aircraft. There is no geopolitical adversary for the United States quite like Russia and its Soviet-built airplanes. American combat crews need to train against someone, and the best we can get comes in the form of MiG-29 fighters and Sukhoi-27 aircraft.


It doesn’t matter that the aircraft are from the 1970s, so is the U.S. Air Force’s F-16 fleet. American airmen need targets, and these are the most likely real-world ones.

Wreaths Across America: How one tribute started a movement

Target acquired.

In 2017, onlookers spotted an F-16 engaged in a life or death dogfight over Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. with a Russian-built Su-27 Flanker aircraft. It’s highly unlikely an errant Russian fighter penetrated NORAD and began an attack on a specific base. The only logical explanation was that Nellis has a supply of Russian-built fighters for U.S. airmen to train against. It turns out, that is exactly what happened in the skies over Nevada that day. Make another notch in the win column for Occam’s Razor.

The United States Air Force has acquired and maintains a number of Russian and Soviet-built aircraft for airmen to fly against. Where they get the aircraft is anyone’s guess, but The National Interest reported it likely gets the most advanced fighters from Ukraine. Other fighters are on loan from private companies who acquired the Russian planes on their own. That’s another W for capitalism.

Wreaths Across America: How one tribute started a movement

Anything is possible with enough money.

So even if the United States Air Force couldn’t afford to own and maintain its own supply of Russian aggressor aircraft, there are apparently a number of civilian contractors who have acquired them and are willing to loan those fighters out to the USAF. Among those come MiG-29s from a company called Air USA, MiG-21s and trainer aircraft from Draken International, and the two aforementioned Sukhoi-27 fighters from Pride International via Ukraine.

Let’s see the semi-Communist oligarchs in Moscow pull off acquiring an F-22 Raptor using their shady business dealings. But even if the United States couldn’t fight real Russian fighters, American pilots could still get excellent training.

Wreaths Across America: How one tribute started a movement

The emperor has new clothes.

If you’re not sure what’s happening in the photo above, that’s an F-16 Fighting Falcon all dressed up as a Sukhoi-57 fifth-generation stealth fighter. While the F-16 may not have stealth and definitely isn’t a fifth-gen fighter, it still gives U.S. airmen training on what to look for while engaging a Russian in the skies. The paint job is used by the Russians to make the Su-57 look like a different, smaller aircraft from a distance. Acquiring real enemy aircraft and training under the conditions closest to combat will give American pilots the edge they need.

That is, if they ever need that edge against the Russians.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The US and Russia are fighting over these key missiles

Russia must scrap its Novator 9M729 missile systems and launchers or reduce their range to comply with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) and prevent a U.S. withdrawal from the Cold War-era pact, U.S. officials say.

Andrea Thompson, the undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, told reporters on a teleconference call on Dec. 6, 2018, that the weapons system has a range that is not in compliance with the 1987 INF pact.

She added that Moscow must “rid the system, rid the launcher, or change the system so it doesn’t exceed the range” to bring Russia back “to full and verifiable compliance.”

“The ball’s in Russia’s court. We can’t do that for them. They have to take the initiative,” she added.


U.S. President Donald Trump announced in October 2018 that Washington would abandon the INF, citing alleged Russian violation and concerns that the bilateral treaty binds Washington to restrictions while leaving nuclear-armed countries that are not signatories, such as China, free to develop and deploy the missiles.

U.S. officials have said Russia’s deployment of the 9M729, also known as the SSC-8, breaches the ban on ground-launched cruise and ballistic missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers.

On Dec. 4, 2018, the United States said it would suspend its obligations under the treaty if Moscow did not return to compliance within two months.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the decision after NATO allies meeting in Brussels “strongly” supported U.S. accusations that Russia violated the terms of the INF.

Wreaths Across America: How one tribute started a movement

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

(Photo by Gage Skidmore)

“During this 60 days, we will still not test or produce or deploy any systems, and we’ll see what happens during this 60-day period,” Pompeo said.

Russian officials have repeatedly dismissed such demands, and President Vladimir Putin gave no indication that Moscow plans to abandon the 9M729, which it claims does not violate the treaty.

Russia has alleged that some elements of U.S. missile-defense systems in Europe were in violation of the treaty, which Washington denies.

The U.S. ambassador to Moscow, Jon Huntsman, who was on the briefing call with Thompson, insisted that a U.S. withdrawal from the INF did not mean “we are walking away from arms control.”

“We are doing this to preserve the viability and integrity of arms control agreements more broadly,” he said.

“We remain committed to arms control, but we need a reliable partner and do not have one in Russia on INF, or for that matter on other treaties that it’s violating.”

He said “one can only surmise” that Moscow is attempting to “somehow seek an advantage” with the missile — “a little bit like violations we’re seeing with other treaties, whether it’s the Open Skies Treaty or whether it’s the Chemical Weapons Convention.”

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Why Arlington National Cemetery needs to become more exclusive

Arlington National Cemetery will reach full capacity by the early 2040s if changes aren’t implemented soon, according to the Army National Military Cemeteries executive director.


“Arlington National Cemetery is an iconic place devoted to honoring the memory of individuals in the armed services who made a significant commitment of service to the defense of our nation,” said Karen Durham-Aguilera, during a House Armed Services Committee briefing about Arlington’s current and future plans, March 8, 2018.

Also read: Who is buried in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier?

“The Army recognizes that the cemetery is at a critical point in its history … changes to eligibility combined with expansion will ensure Arlington continues to be an active cemetery well into the future,” Durham-Aguilera said.

In February 2017, Army officials engaged with Congress to explain how the current space constraints limit the amount of time Arlington National Cemetery will be able to continue to serve veterans.

Current eligibility requirements for in-ground burial at ANC are the most stringent of all U.S. national cemeteries. Nevertheless, most veterans who have at least one day of active service other than training, and who have been honorably discharged, are eligible for above-ground inurnment at the cemetery, officials say.

Wreaths Across America: How one tribute started a movement

“It’s a tough reality. The current veteran population is over 20 million. The retiree population is over two million. The total force, both active and reserve, is over 2 million right now. Today we have around 100,000 available burial spaces. We cannot serve that population,” Durham-Aguilera said.

During that 2017 meeting with Congress, Army officials outlined considerations for additional expansion opportunities beyond current boundaries, and evaluated alternative ideas for maximizing the space within the cemetery’s geographic footprint, Durham-Aguilera said.

“With no changes, we would be out of space in the early 2040s. If (Arlington) were to get a southern expansion, that can push us for another ten years,” said Katharine Kelley, Arlington National Cemetery superintendent. Still, she characterized the value of that possible expansion as not providing a significant gain for the cemetery.

Related: Could a wreath shortage leave Arlington Cemetery graves bare this Christmas?

In addition to the physical expansion, Arlington officials have considered increasing the amount of niche wall inurnment sites. However, that option would only serve as a temporary solution and could change Arlington’s “iconic look and feel,” Kelly said.

Moving forward, Army officials have determined a need to redefine Arlington’s eligibility criteria for interment and inurnment. The last significant change to Arlington’s eligibility criteria was in the late 1960s, Durham-Aguilera added. Another, more recent change occurred in 2016 when active duty designees were added to the above-ground eligible population at ANC. These groups consist of about 200,000 active duty designees, or nearly double the current capacity at the cemetery.

Wreaths Across America: How one tribute started a movement
(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Timothy Tamargo)

To help make a better-informed decision about the cemetery’s future, officials conducted an initial public survey about burial options in November 2017.

Out of the 28,000 people polled, 94 percent agreed that the cemetery should remain active well into the future. Additionally, over 50 percent of those who were in favor of expansion also recognized the need to modify eligibility policy. Further, if no expansion is possible, a full 70 percent were in support of restricting eligibility in some manner to extend the life of the cemetery.

Based off the survey results, officials are now considering restricting Arlington’s eligibility requirement to service members killed in action, Medal of Honor and high award recipients, former prisoners of war, and military members that were killed while on active duty during operations or training, Kelley said.

More: Mattis spent Veterans Day with fallen warriors in Arlington National Cemetery

Arlington officials are slated to conduct another survey in the coming weeks. At the conclusion of the study, results and recommendations will be compiled by cemetery officials and released to the secretary of the Army. From there, information from the study will be shared with the other armed forces secretaries and the secretary of defense, and eventually released to Congress, Durham-Aguilera said.

Finding ways to keep Arlington National Cemetery open well into the future, while at the same time honoring all who served, will be a challenge, Durham-Aguilera said. “These hard choices are on our minds every single day, as we go out and lay our veterans and patriots to rest.”

Articles

America bought this British bomber in the 1950s and used it over Afghanistan

The English Electric Canberra is a classic Cold War bomber. Its service with the United Kingdom and a host of other countries began less than five years after World War II, and it stuck around until 2006 with the Royal Air Force, while India flew them until 2007.


But less well-known is the American version of the Canberra, the Martin B-57, which has had the distinction of supporting combat troops almost 40 years after it was retired.

Wreaths Across America: How one tribute started a movement
B-57B Canberras in flight. (USAF photo)

Here’s the scoop on this plane. According to aviation historian Joe Baugher, the Korean War showed the United States that it would need a replacement for the A-26/B-26 Invader in the role of a night intruder.

The Air Force looked at the North American B-45 and A2J Savage, both of which were already in service, but found them wanting. Then, the Air Force looked abroad, and considered the CF-100 from Canada before deciding to license-build the English Electric Canberra.

What won them over was endurance: The Canberra could hang around a target 780 miles away for over two hours. The B-57 could carry up to 7,300 pounds of bombs, could mount eight .50-caliber machine guns or four 20mm cannon, and had a top speed of 597 miles per hour, according to MilitaryFactory.com.

The Air Force liked that long reach, and eventually 403 B-57s were built. The plane served as a bomber in the Vietnam War and some were modified to carry laser-guided 500-pound bombs and called the B-57G under a program called Tropic Moon III. One of the B-57Gs was even equipped with a M61 Vulcan and 4,000 rounds (which is a lot of BRRRRRT!). However, the United States soon realized that the Canberra’s true calling was as a high-altitude reconnaissance bird.

Wreaths Across America: How one tribute started a movement
A B-57G assigned to the Tropic Moon III program. (USAF photo)

The definitive reconnaissance version, the RB-57F, could reach an altitude of 65,000 feet. This gave it a very high perch that many fighters in the 1960s could not reach. Even one of today’s best interceptors, the Su-27 Flanker, can only reach a little over 62,000 feet, according to MilitaryFactory.com. Some of the RB-57Fs later were designated WB-57Fs to reflect their use as weather reconnaissance planes.

Wreaths Across America: How one tribute started a movement
A WB-57F parked on the ramp at Yokota Air Base in Japan. (USAF photo)

The Air Force retired the B-57s in 1974. However, a number of the WB-57F planes found their way to NASA, where they were used for research. This included monitoring for signs of nuclear tests.

At least two of the NASA birds, though, are reported to have served over Afghanistan in the War on Terror. Spyflight reported one of the NASA birds flew sorties from Kandahar in 2008, officially as a “geological survey” for Afghanistan. Wired.com reported in 2012 that two NASA planes have alternated flying out of Kandahar to help relay data, alongside modified RQ-4 Global Hawk drones and versions of the Bombardier business jet known as the E-11A.

Wreaths Across America: How one tribute started a movement
One of NASA’s WB-57F Canberras. (NASA photo)

This means that nearly four decades after officially retiring from service, these B-57s have been serving in wartime – while under NASA’s flag. Not bad for a plane that first took flight in 1949!