(KMSP) - Fort Snelling National Cemetery is a national shrine many consider sacred ground and it's why approximately 50,000 visitors are expected at the site this coming Memorial Day Weekend.
Sprawled over 423 acres the cemetery is a final resting place to hundreds of thousands, mostly veterans, who served in every war period since the Civil War.
“Each of us that have served in the military, we’ve all given a little piece of ‘us,’ but these individuals have given everything,” said Matt Foy, a U.S. Navy Reserves veteran.
Foy is also the treasurer of Flags for Fort Snelling – a nonprofit whose sole purpose is to honor our fallen soldiers.
“They’ve paid a great sacrifice to the country and we want to make sure they’re always remembered for that,” Foy explained of his latest mission. “We want to make sure we can get a flag at every headstone possible.”
The non-profit needs approximately 174,000 flags to decorate each headstone at Fort Snelling National Cemetery, but there are more than 225,000 people laid to rest on its grounds. This means one flag in many instances also honors family and group burials.
“That flag is a symbol of America and a symbol of the service to the nation that that veteran has given,” said Cemetery Director John Knapp.
Knapp confirms Flags for Fort Snelling attempts to revive a tradition that ended more than three decades ago. With approximately 5,300 internments annually, as the cemetery grew, they lacked the staff to continue the custom.
“The families are quite moved by it, they are quite moved. I’ve seen many break into tears over seeing these flags being placed and asking, ‘how can they help’,” Knapp said.
With only 20,000 flags so far, the group still seeks donations. The 'Flags for Fort Snelling' treasurer said each flag costs less than $1 and ordering them in bulk would reduce costs.
“At least $60,000 would be our goal to be able to cover the majority if not all of the cemetery,” Foy said.
Following the national holiday the group plans to preserve every flag.
“After Memorial Day we have another crew that comes out and we pick up the flags and store them in containers for next year,” he explained.
“We only do it one day a year, but I wish we could do this every day,” Foy said of the significance of acknowledging what each head stone represents.
“We can never give enough back to those who have given the ultimate sacrifice.”
To learn how you can volunteer or donate click here.