Volunteers place flags at every headstone in Ft. Snelling Cemetery

Image 1 of 6

Thousands of volunteers headed to Fort Snelling Cemetery Saturday morning to honor fallen heroes ahead of Memorial Day.

“To see the sea of flags with headstones in the wind, it’s just so moving,” said Joanne Malmstedt with the nonprofit Flags for Fort Snelling. “It’s so heartwarming and amazing to see that Minnesota is stepping up. Minnesota wants to make this a tradition.” 

The decades-long Memorial Day weekend tradition was nearly lost. In 2015, Flags for Fort Snelling started out small, first covering 10,000 burial spots.

“This year is super exciting because we were able to get the entire cemetery done, which is no small feat,” Malmstedt said.

It was the first time in 35 years that the organization had enough resources to place flags on all 200,000 headstones.

“That’s kind of the big thing in doing this is just remembering everybody that’s fought,” said volunteer Kevin Ely.

“Words can’t describe it, I mean they gave their lives for the country,” said Thomas Thurlow, a volunteer and member of the honor guard at Saint Thomas Academy in Mendota Heights. “They gave their lives for me to be standing here today and talking to you.” 

Rod Schmidt, a retired Marine and volunteer has a grandfather buried at Fort Snelling.

“Proud, proud, it makes me really proud to see everyone band together,” he said.

“For so many of the younger generations, they had lost what the meaning of Memorial Day really was and so to see so many younger people, families and small families who are excited about this as much as we are—it’s amazing, because I know this will sustain for years and years to come,” Malmstedt said.

Flags for Fort Snelling has been raising money to cover the cost of American flags for every headstone. This year the organization exceeded its fundraising goal of $225,000.