Thousands of wreaths are placed at the graves of fallen soldiers in the three Minnesota State Veterans Cemeteries through the Wreaths for the Fallen organization. Contributed photo

As an event that began in 2006 with a half dozen friends and only five wreaths, the organization, “Wreaths for the Fallen” has “grown exponentially every year,” according to one of the founders, John Thomas.

Each year on the second Saturday in December, volunteers place honor wreaths at the three Minnesota state veterans cemeteries — Little Falls, Preston and Duluth. The remembrance ceremony receives assistance with the wreath laying from the Minnesota Patriot Guard, many civic and veteran organizations, and the general public.

In 2018, more than 5,000 wreaths were placed on graves in 17 minutes at the Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery outside the gates of Camp Ripley.

“The wreaths are pre-staged throughout the cemetery,” said Thomas.

This year, the ceremony and laying of the wreath event will be held Saturday, Dec. 14 at 11 a.m. at each location.

The event that began so small continues to grow year after year. On just one day in mid-November, Thomas received 111 envelopes in the mail from contributors and supporters.

“Wreaths for the Fallen is a non-profit organization that doesn’t pay anyone wages. All the work is done by volunteers,” he explained. “Every dollar donated goes toward the wreaths.”

Volunteers placing wreathes on the graves of fallen veterans. Contributed photo

Although there are organizations that might host similar events, “What we do is unique. No other organization does what we do,” Thomas said.

Following months of extremely detailed planning, hand-made wreaths are delivered on the morning of the event, so they are fresh and green.

“Last year, there were three truckloads of wreaths dropped off at the Little Falls cemetery at 7 a.m. Volunteers pre-stage them in locations around the cemetery,” said Thomas. “There were more than 2,000 people in attendance at the ceremony and wreath-laying.”

The annual ceremony begins at 11 a.m. and lasts for no more than 20 minutes. Then, it’s time to place the wreaths. The final resting place of every veteran and their family members receives an honor wreath. Coffee, cider and cookies, all donated by local businesses, are available for participants.

“This my passion, to honor our country’s fallen veterans and their families,” Thomas said. “We refine the event every year.”

Thomas built a building next door to his house to use as an office for Wreaths for the Fallen. He spends all day there, seven days a week, during the busiest times of the year.

“Many people said it couldn’t be done,” he said.

The annual Wreaths for the Fallen event relies solely on volunteers. In 2018, more than 5,000 handmade wreaths were placed in 17 minutes through the Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery in Little Falls. The wreath placing is always the second Saturday in December. This year, that falls on Dec. 14.
Contributed photo

Thomas and others in the core group of volunteers are now in their 80s, but they are setting up the event so that it will run perpetually.

“We will continue to honor these veterans and their families forever,” he said firmly.

Due to the limited parking at the cemetery, it is recommended that people car pool to minimize congestion.

“This can be a very rewarding experience, to be involved in the actual planning and execution of this most successful event,” said Thomas.

Any person wishing to have a wreath placed on a family member’s grave can contact Wreaths for the Fallen. The necessary arrangements will be made to have a handmade wreath placed on the grave specified at a Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery in Little Falls, Preston or Duluth.  Go to the website listed below and click on the red ribbon that says “Honor a Veteran Here” and either make a request online or print a form to send in with a contribution and sponsorship.

For additional information, contact John Thomas at the 24-hour information line (218) 829-6622, email to Office@WreathsForTheFallen.org or go to www.WreathsForTheFallen.org.

WreathsForTheFallen.org is a 501(c) 3 organization. All contributions are tax deductible.