Ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery
Two major annual remembrance ceremonies take place at Arlington National Cemetery's Memorial Amphitheater, on Memorial Day (last Monday of May) and Veterans Day (November 11). Some 5,000 visitors attend each of these national ceremonies, which are sponsored by the U.S. Army Military District of Washington. The president of the United States typically delivers an address at the Memorial Day ceremony.
Numerous military and government organizations also conduct annual memorial services at the cemetery. All ceremonies and special events are free and open to the public.
Just before Memorial Day weekend, the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (the "Old Guard") honors America's fallen heroes by placing American flags at gravesites for service members buried at Arlington National Cemetery and the U.S. Soldiers' and Airmen's Home National Cemetery.
This tradition, known as "Flags In," has taken place annually since the Old Guard was designated as the Army's official ceremonial unit in 1948. Every available soldier in the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment participates, placing small American flags in front of more than 228,000 headstones and at the bottom of about 7,000 niche rows in the cemetery's Columbarium Courts and Niche Wall. Each flag is inserted into the ground, exactly one boot length from the headstone's base.
At the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Sentinels (who are members of the Old Guard) place flags to honor the Unknowns. Army chaplains place flags in front of the headstones and four memorials located on Chaplains' Hill in Section 2.
All flags are removed after Memorial Day, before the cemetery opens to the public.
Offering flowers at a memorial site is a ritual that occurs around the world, symbolizing the beauty and brevity of life. Floral tributes are made each day at Arlington National Cemetery — at funeral services, public ceremonies and individual visits to a loved one's gravesite.
Formal ceremonies at Arlington often involve the laying of a wreath. These ceremonies typically take place at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, attended by ceremonial units from the uniformed services. You may have the opportunity to observe such a ceremony during your visit. You might even be taking part in one.
The most solemn ceremonies occur when the president of the United States, or the president's designee, lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to mark the national observance of Memorial Day, Veterans Day or some other special occasion. Ceremonial wreath layings also occur during state visits of foreign dignitaries, who pay formal respects to the sacrifices of America's veterans by placing a wreath before the Tomb.
Wreath layings by other public figures and organizations take place at the Tomb or at the scores of other memorials throughout the cemetery, although most are not marked with the same ceremonial pomp of the state events. These include annual observances by veterans' groups and special events such as the dedication of a marker or the commemoration of an anniversary.