MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. - More than 5,000 volunteers woke up before dawn to blanket Fort Snelling National Cemetery in stars and stripes for the Flags for Fort Snelling event.
The morning marked a historic moment where the 228,000 service men and women and their families have been laid to rest.
Because of the vast number of headstones, cemetery staff have not been able to put a flag on every headstone in an estimated 35 years.
That all changed on a steamy Saturday as the sun rose across the lawns, volunteers filed off the buses, and went to work.
“I get kind of choked up with all the stones, it’s amazing, it makes you want to tear up,” said Leah Shetka of Mora, Minnesota, who came up help take photos of the flags on headstones and upload them to the organization’s website, for loved ones who couldn’t travel to see the sight.
Reta Vomela, Shetka’s cousin, came from Alaska to visit her dad’s burial spot, but also to take part in tribute to the other veterans that served. She spent hours visiting the graves of family members and strangers.
“I haven’t been to his grave in a little while,” she said. “It’s nice to see him.”
On hallowed ground, now filled with red, white and blue, volunteers of every age took time to reflect and say thank you – more than 200,000 times over.
“I think this weekend gets lost in cabins, vacations, driving, and that’s not what it’s all about," said Jeff Brett, of Bloomington, who came with his children and grandchildren. "With everything going on in the world today, you think about the guys who provided us, the country we live in, you just have to be here.”
Flags for Fort Snelling will continue through the weekend with the goal of finishing all the flags by Memorial Day. Volunteers will help to take down the flags next Thursday.
Loved ones wishing for a photo of a flag on a grave can watch the organization’s website to sign up next year. Applications for flag placement are closed in 2018.