Joanne Malmstedt called Fort Snelling before Memorial Day in 2015 to ask if she and her family could help plant American flags on the resting places of fallen soldiers.
"I thought my kids understood the meaning of Memorial Day, but then there was a comment about what party or barbecue we were going to go to and I realized they didn't understand the gravity of it," the Blaine mother said. "It was a teaching moment for them."
That's when Malmstedt learned that the cemetery stopped placing flags more than 30 years ago due to a lack of funding. Malmstedt took matters into her own hands. She rallied her friends and family to buy and place more than 3,000 flags at Fort Snelling.
She didn't stop there. The next year, Malmstedt and three of those friends started the nonprofit organization Flags for Fort Snelling. More than 470 volunteers showed up to place 10,000 flags. The group's mission is to eventually place flags at the graves of every veteran and their family member — currently over 200,000 of them — every Memorial Day.
"We can never forget," said Rocky Borchardt, vice president of Flags for Fort Snelling. "I don't ever want to stop honoring the ones who have given the most for our country."
The group has raised enough money for 20,000 flags this year, but placing that many flags at the cemetery on its busiest day of the year will be no small feat. Flags for Fort Snelling is looking for volunteers to help.
Flags for Fort Snelling now works with Fort Snelling National Cemetery to organize the operation.
Family members who aren't able to go to the cemetery themselves can make a "flag placement request" on the Flags for Fort Snelling website. A volunteer will then place a flag, take a photo of the grave and post it to the group's Facebook page for family members to see.
Volunteers will also be needed a few days later to take down all the flags, which are cleaned, repaired and stored for use next year.
For information about donating and volunteering, visit www.flagsforfortsnelling.com.