Dangerously cold temperatures will abbreviate Saturday's Wreaths Across America event at the North Dakota Veterans Cemetery. The event will begin at 11 a.m. to occur simultaneously with thousands of ceremonies throughout the United States and beyond.
Rather than a formal ceremony as has been done in fairer weather, a short prayer will be offered with some orientation, and the 6,000 wreaths will be placed at the veterans' gravesites, said Lt. Col. Sean Johnson, coordinator of the annual event and chief of staff for the North Dakota Wing of the Civil Air Patrol.
Saturday's high temperature is expected to reach only 10 below zero, with wind chills of 30 below, according to Michael Mathews, meteorologist for the Bismarck office of the National Weather Service. Overnight lows are forecast at 25 below zero with wind chills of 40 below. There is a possibility of snow earlier that morning.
Cancellation of the ceremonial portion of the annual event was not taken lightly, according to Johnson.
"The ceremony has the lessons of the wreaths — remembering, honoring and teaching. But there comes a point where we have to consider the safety of the public," he said. "The temperatures Saturday are past that point. It will be efficient, but respectful."
Those prepared for the extreme cold are welcome to attend and to help place the wreaths at gravesites after the prayer.
"It is important that anyone attending dress for the weather," Johnson said. "Wreath placements have gone very efficiently in past years since so many have attended and pitched in; and, with good turnout, we think exposure time can be minimized."
This the fourth year the CAP, with the support of the community, was able to sponsor a wreath for every gravesite at the cemetery.
Limited room will be available inside the chapel, which is set aside for those especially sensitive to being outside in the cold for long periods.
Overflow parking will be available at Fort Lincoln State Park, with free shuttle service back and forth. Signs will be posted to guide attendees there, and the CAP squadron encourages people to use this option and avoid parking along N.D. Highway 1806.
A significant amount of snow is at the cemetery, so parking is challenging. Participants are urged to arrive on time to allow all wreaths to be placed in an honorable and timely manner.
The mission of Wreaths Across America is to honor those who have fallen in service of the nation, to honor those who continue to serve America in the U.S. Armed Forces and to teach children that freedom comes with a price.