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Finding Minnesota: ‘Wreaths For The Fallen’ In Little Falls

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LITTLE FALLS (WCCO) — Sometimes a simple gesture can be so inspiring, it leads to something bigger than anyone expected. That’s what we found in central Minnesota.

A few years ago, people chipped in to put a few winter wreaths on the graves at the State Veterans Cemetery near Little Falls.

The way this gesture has multiplied since then, takes people’s breath away.

Tammy Angrimson of Paynesville is a proud Gold Star family member who visits her younger brother’s grave at least once a month.

“When my brother died,” she said, “many, many organizations said to us, ‘we will never forget.'”

Her brother, Army Sgt. Kurt Kruize was killed in Baghdad back in 2010.

“I find the cemetery very peaceful,” Angrimson said. “It’s usually pretty quiet in the winter time.”

The chill makes it harder to stay out very long this time of year, but that’s where strangers come in with a heart-warming gesture.

A Minnesota group, Wreaths For The Fallen (http://www.wreathsforthefallen.org/) and a national group, Wreaths Across America collect donations to place wreaths on veterans’ graves each December.

We just put the word out, we’re going to honor our country’s fallen veterans and amazingly, everybody shows up,” said John Thomas, president of Wreaths For The Fallen.

A few years ago it started with a few dozen wreaths, the next year, a few hundred, and then last year, there were more than 3,000 — enough for every grave in the State Veterans Cemetery.

Teenage cadets from the Civil Air Patrol are among many groups helping to collect $15 for each wreath, and then placing them at the graves.

“Because here lie America’s heroes and so many of them just go unremembered,” said Emmett Richardson, 15.

Beneath their serious expressions, the cadets can feel what this means for the families. 1st Lt. Jessica Holmes, 16, had an especially poignant moment with the sister of a fallen veteran who could hardly compose herself at the sight of all the wreaths.

“All I know is I hugged her and I was just like ‘oh, don’t cry, Jess,’” she said, “’please don’t cry, don’t let it out.’”

It’s a way to show appreciation to families for their loved ones’ sacrifices. Beth Pfingsten’s stepson, Jacob, died of a brain aneurysm while serving with the Army National Guard in Germany in 2005.

“He was so proud to serve his country,” Beth Pfingsten said, “and that makes his parents very proud as well.”

For Tammy Angrimson it’s especially meaningful. Christmas was her brother’s favorite holiday.

“Coming out here in December and having that wreath out here is just so symbolic that people haven’t forgotten,” she said.

The State Veterans Cemetery adds about 400 graves each year, but those gathering donations don’t think they’ll ever fall short of wreaths.

“We are going to honor our country’s fallen veterans every single year,” said Thomas.

Do you have an idea for a Finding Minnesota story? Let us know here.

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