Updated: 12/14/2013 11:50 AM
Created: 12/12/2013 8:25 PM KSTP.com
By: Stephen Tellier
Every holiday season, thousands of wreaths are laid at the graves of fallen American soldiers across the country -- and here in Minnesota. But this year, donations are down, meaning fewer veterans will be honored in this holiday tradition.
He's been gone for five Christmas seasons. Ben Kopp, a Rosemount High graduate and Army Ranger, was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2009. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery, and every year, his mother makes the trip from Minnesota to visit her son, and see the transformation of the cemetery.
"It's this sea of white headstones that's covered with these beautiful green and red wreaths," said Jill Stephenson, Kopps' mother.
It's run by Wreaths Across America, a nonprofit whose goal is to make sure every veterans' grave has a wreath for the holiday season.
"It feels really special, and it's a validation that Ben and all the other people laid to rest at Arlington are not forgotten for Christmas," Stephenson said.
But this year, the organization is falling short of its fundraising goal. That means about 120,000 graves at Arlington won't receive wreaths.
"They've been very vocal about it, about wanting to cover all the graves, and they just can't get to that number," Stephenson said.
The decrease in donations is happening here, too. Last year, about 3,000 wreaths were laid at Fort Snelling National Cemetery. This year, that number will drop to about 2,000.
"The worst thing for them is to to think that nobody remembered," said Brenda Johnson, who organizes local fundraising for Wreaths Across America for the Hastings Rivertown Lions Club.
Johnson said she doesn't know why donations are down -- but does know the importance of such a simple but powerful gesture.
"For me to be able to give one day to be able to say thank you in an appropriate way is very meaningful," Johnson said.
Wreath-laying ceremonies take place at cemeteries across the country this Saturday. At Fort Snelling, wreaths will be laid at 11 a.m. But they will cover only a small fraction of the total number of graves there.
Learn how to sponsor a wreath here.