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Flags return to national cemetery for Memorial Day

Thursday, May 24, 2018  
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Hometown Source (May 24, 2018) - Three months ago the Super Bowl hangover was subsiding, and a volunteer group that wanted to shine a different national spotlight on Minnesota by restoring a Memorial Day tradition had a lot of work left to do.

The volunteers were confident that they could achieve their goal of placing flags at every grave marker in Fort Snelling National Cemetery. They determined $100,000 needed to be raised to make it happen.

They succeeded, and then some.

More than $260,000 has been raised by Flags for Fort Snelling, the nonprofit group that will place flags at every gravesite in the cemetery for Memorial Day. It will be the first time in more than 30 years that every gravesite will be adorned with a flag.

It’s a grassroots effort, and it began humbly in 2015.

The cemetery had long abandoned the tradition, due to both the labor and cost required to place flags at the headstones. That was a surprise to Joanne Malmstedt of Blaine, who wanted to bring her children to the cemetery on Memorial Day a few years ago to see such a display. She was disappointed, but unwilling to accept walking away disappointed.

Through social media outreach, she organized a group of family and friends to place flags at the cemetery for Memorial Day, in accordance with the cemetery’s regulations. The loose-knit group placed about 3,000 flags at the cemetery in 2015. The effort was modest, given that there are more than 200,000 gravesites at the cemetery. That modesty brought with it a realization: an ongoing effort was needed if flags were to be placed at every gravesite, according to Rocky Borchardt of Coon Rapids, a friend of Malmstedt and part of the organizing committee of Flags for Fort Snelling.

Formation of a nonprofit and marketing of the cause helped grow the effort, and last year the group placed 50,000 flags at the cemetery for Memorial Day. The group had come a long way in three years, yet was placing flags at less than 25 percent of the gravesites.

Year four brought new partnerships to the organization, partnerships that are helping it exceed its goal.

A discussion between the cemetery’s staff members and RBCU credit union representatives forged the partnership that got the ball rolling. RBCU began working with Flags for Fort Snelling to increase awareness and raise funds for the 2018 effort. At the bare minimum, organizers determined that they’d need to raise $100,000 in order to place flags at every gravesite, according to Todd Barduson, RBCU vice-president of marketing and development.

There were also logistics to work out, such as organizing the transportation of volunteers to and from the cemetery and storing the flags prior to and after Memorial Day. Mall of America soon became a partner, and in doing so helped resolve issues regarding warehousing.

The wheels were in motion and optimism was high three months ago. And then Flags for Fort Snelling forged a partnership that not only raised the expectations of all involved, it exceeded them.

Mall of America helped bring in KARE-TV, which began promoting Flags for Fort Snelling through news stories and public service announcements. The television station was confident its promotion of the effort would help the organization exceed its goal. The goal was increased to $225,000, more than double the original goal, Barduson explained.

Through all the promotion, word has spread, generating countless individual donations in modest amounts such as $10 or $20, according to Barduson. And word spread far beyond the Twin Cities. “We have seen support from literally all over the country,” he said.

Support has come from many individual donors, from Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion posts across the state, and beyond. From the smallest out-state posts sending modest checks to the Bloomington American Legion’s donation of $2,000 early in the campaign last fall, Barduson estimates the VFW and Legion posts have contributed $50,000 to the effort.

Like the individual donors, the effort has out-of-state support from veterans, too, as Flags for Fort Snelling received a check from an Arizona post, Barduson noted.

“As a state, to rise up and accomplish this is fun, and impressive,” he added.

The funding increase will benefit the organization twofold. The organization will be able to provide a few extras this year, such as rented golf carts to assist veterans with accessibility issues at the grounds during a private gathering being organized Sunday morning, May 27, according to Barduson.

Since the flag placement is intended to be an annual Memorial Day exercise, many of them will be stored for use in subsequent years. But new flags will be purchased annually, as it is expected that some may be damaged or no longer suitable for display, while others may go home with the family of a soldier buried at the cemetery, Barduson explained.

The sight of 200,000 flags at the cemetery on Memorial Day should help sustain the effort for many years to come, according to Barduson. “This is going to be an expected event now,” he said.

Volunteer registration is closed. As is the case with the financial donations, the organization has reached its volunteer goal, Barduson said. Volunteers will begin placing flags Saturday, May 26, which will remain at the gravesites until Thursday, May 31.

Mall of America will host memorial displays throughout the weekend, beginning Friday, and the cemetery will host a Memorial Day program on Monday, May 28, beginning at 9:45 a.m.

More information about Flags for Fort Snelling is available online at flagsforfortsnelling.com.


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(800) 477-1034