Christmas Honors moves to Chaffee Crossing this year
Just when it appeared the Christmas Honors program at the Fort Smith National Cemetery might become another victim of the coronavirus pandemic, Chaffee Crossing has stepped in to keep the holiday tradition going through this holiday season.
The program, which started in 2009 as a way to transform the Fort Smith National Cemetery into a beautiful tribute to all veterans during the month of December by the laying of wreaths on the cemetery’s headstones, was originally going to be canceled due to health concerns associated with the pandemic. But new plans were made when Chaffee Crossing announced it would host a tribute display made up of over 18,000 names of every veteran buried at the Fort Smith National Cemetery.
The original goal of the volunteer group that started the Christmas Honors program was to show respect and honor to veterans and their families. Now that mission will continue through the pandemic as a way to make sure these heroes will never be forgotten.
The drive-thru exhibit will be located at 7300 Buckhorn St. The public can start enjoying the Christmas Honors Tribute at the Chaffee Crossing exhibit on Saturday, Dec. 5, beginning at 10 a.m. The last day the tribute will be open is scheduled for Monday, Dec. 28.
Visitors must stay in their vehicles and make their way along a 1,200-foot, one-way drive. This way, the visitors will be able to observe social distancing guidelines by remaining in their cars and viewing the tribute set up to honor all who have served.
The partnership with Chaffee Crossing will give individuals the same opportunity to honor those who served through the month of December, just as they were able to do in years past while the program was in place at the Forth Smith National Cemetery.
Philip H. Merry Jr., chairman of the Christmas Honors program, said he is grateful for the support shown by the many local businesses, organizations and citizens who have made it possible to continue honoring area veterans at this time of year, especially in the face of the pandemic.
“The COVID-19 pandemic shall not cease our ongoing tribute to and remembrance of our heroes buried at the Fort Smith National Cemetery,” he said. “Our veterans will never be forgotten. We’ll never be able to thank them adequately, but we can keep trying.”
Daniel Mann, executive director and CEO of the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority at Chaffee Crossing, said this year’s partnership with the Christmas Honors program was a great opportunity for Chaffee Crossing to show its appreciation for the area’s veterans, especially after the decision was made not to have the annual Regional Veterans Day Parade.
“It was a very difficult decision to cancel the Veterans Day Parade this year, so we jumped at the chance to honor veterans with this tribute display,” he said. “We are committed to thanking veterans for all they sacrificed to protect us and preserve our freedoms. This year it may look a little different, but our sincerity is just as genuine.”
Officials said they expect to return to the Fort Smith National Cemetery in 2021 and resume the Christmas Honors program in its original location.
The Christmas Honors program continues to grow in popularity and participation. In its first year, over 1,000 volunteers helped place wreaths on each of the 12,000 headstones in the Fort Smith National Cemetery, and now the program honors 18,000 veterans thanks to networking efforts with other cities located along the Oklahoma/Arkansas state line. Over 44,000 burial sites are respected and honored by the program each year.