ANC Employees Lay Wreaths at Headstones

By Kevin M. Hymel, Historian on 12/18/2023

On Dec. 15, 2023, the day before the public comes to Arlington National Cemetery to lay wreaths on headstones as part of Wreaths Across America, ANC employees spread out in Section 37 to lay wreaths themselves. This practice is a holiday tradition to give those who work at the cemetery a chance to honor those laid to rest.

Some employees have been laying wreaths for almost a decade, while others participated for the first time. Lisa Davis, who has worked as a cemetery representative for 15 years, oversaw laying wreaths at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier before wreaths were laid at every headstone. “I’m glad they’ve extended it for everyone at the cemetery,” she said.

Mark Upshaw, who has been an ANC maintenance mechanic since 2019, stated: “I’m just trying to give back.” Shawn Smith, a fellow mechanic, also lays wreaths every year. “I care about the soldiers,” he said.

Those new to laying wreaths expressed gratitude for the event. “You don’t realize the importance of it until you get out here and get the goosebumps,” said cemetery representative Lasean Vauss. “There’s so many people around the world who can’t get here to lay a wreath, so I’m glad to be a part of it.”

Public Affairs Army Fellow Kate Nee enjoyed the camaraderie. “It’s great to see the sense of community the cemetery creates,” she said, “and how it bridges together different generations and military veterans to civilians.”

Other employees noted the seasonal vistas and the experience of being outside. “It’s fun, and you get to smell like evergreen by the time you’re done,” said Agnes Sullivan, the deputy director of engineering, who took extra care in laying wreaths. “I always try to make sure the bow looks pretty.” Lauren Roesch, a cemetery interment specialist, looked over the rows of headstones with wreaths in front of them. “It’s a nice way to give an individual touch for every single person,” she said.

Active duty and former service member employees expressed personal care for this task. “I take a moment to pause and recognize each individual soldier,” said Maj. Judith Phinn, assistant executive officer. For James Walker, the director of operations, “it’s another form of honoring those who served their country at the holiday time of year.”

Military leaders from the Pentagon also came to the cemetery to lay wreaths, including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Air Force Gen. Charles Brown; Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth; Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall III; Chief of the National Guard Bureau Gen. Daniel Hokanson; Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. David Allvin; and Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force JoAnne Bass.

Once the service chiefs departed, ANC Chief of Staff Col. Michael Binetti and Deputy Chief of Staff Bob Quackenbush headed into Section 37 to lay wreaths. “It’s nice to get out in the cemetery on a nice day and engage with the rest of the workforce,” said Binetti.

Quackenbush, who served in the U.S. Army, emphasized, “I feel the bond of those who are interred here. It doesn’t matter the branch of service because they all did their part.” This opportunity for employees has become a tradition the ANC team enjoys as they prepare for the Wreaths Across America Day.