MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A Vermont couple has found a special way to honor fallen soldiers in our state.

“It kind of amazes me, the age. They are so young,” said Mark Hoffmann.

On a warm, August morning Mark and his wife Linda are honoring the fallen. Soldiers they never knew, but whose names they’re proud to say.

“The best way to honor, as a whole, all the casualties of Iraq and Afghanistan is a monument like this,” said Mark.

There are memorials for both World Wars, Vietnam, Korea and other conflicts, but as a veteran of the Iraq War, Mark wanted to make something special. Two and a half years ago the couple and two other Iraq War veterans began printing stainless steel dog tags for every soldier killed in the conflict.

“It’s one letter, one number at a time. That’s why it takes about 10 minutes per tag to make. But that’s okay. That’s what it’s all about,” said Mark.

Then they fly the tags from their home in Vermont, cross-country to family land near Becker where they find a permanent place among their fellow soldiers.

The goal is to get to all 50 states and U.S. territories to honor every man and woman who made the ultimate sacrifice- and to show that they are not forgotten.

Rank, name, the age the soldier died, and their branch of service, are displayed. It’s tedious and time-consuming but more than worth it. Mark and Linda’s son Larry followed in his dad’s footsteps and is currently serving in Afghanistan.

“It really impacts me. It hits me in the heart,” said Mark. “My son has lost comrades. I have lost my comrades too. 27 years in special forces and I have lost more than I can count on both hands.”

It’s no secret where the inspiration comes from. But the hardest part is putting a friend’s tags on the memorial.

“This is Master Sergeant Richard Ferguson. I served with Fergy for a little more than 15 years,” said Mark while holding a tag. “He volunteered one more time to go back and then retire when he came back- and he never made it back.”

The names do weigh on Mark, but they also keep him going. And the sacrifices made by soldiers and their families are all the motivation the Hoffmann’s need.

“I think when people end up seeing how many are out here and everything, a lot of people have to see it and hear it and everything….to really feel,” said Linda.

“Just realize the sacrifice. That’s all. These people gave everything they had for us,” said Mark.

Mark and Linda Hoffmann have put up about 2,500 dog tags so far, but they still have thousands to go.

A dedication for the memorial will be held on Saturday, August 24 beginning at 11:00.

To learn more click here.

John Lauritsen