A couple creates a dog tag memorial for fallen soldiers in a Minnesota apple orchard

BECKER, Minnesota (WTVQ) — A poignant memorial at an apple farm in Becker, Minnesota, honoring fallen soldiers and their loved ones.

Photojournalist David Porter shows us the couple who created it.

“Every time we come here, we go around, we get them all straightened up, a sign of respect, you know, dress properly, it’s the military. So they still have to be dressed properly even though they served their country and died doing it.

“We do it twice a year. Look at this one, the red stripes ended up being orange, so it needs to be replaced,” Linda Hoffman said.

“Labels should always change. Flags should always be changed. And I retired as a senior officer. No regrets, no regrets at all. It’s been a great career,” Mark Hoffman said.

“This is my brother Lee’s apple orchard, the tree farm, and he said, well, go ahead with the memorial. The area is beautiful, it’s peaceful,” Linda said.

“You know when they say rest in peace, it is,” Mark said.

“Our son was deployed to Afghanistan and then Mark was deployed to Iraq. They both lost their comrades there,’ Linda said.

“This is Richard Ferguson… he had to retire and said I want to go one more time and never come back. I had served with him for 15 years. He was my friend. yes You can see how many squares this takes up. That’s 3-4 labels per square. We have eight states, we need to replace them. Now we process the labels in Vermont and then bring them here… in stainless steel. A guy came out to talk to us about it and it was windy that day and the first thing he said when he got out of the car was, for God’s sake, hear them ring,” Mark said. “So it’s quite an emotional reaction … it kind of makes the hair on the back of your neck stand on end. No matter how many times I’ve heard it, all the label names are listed. Surname, first name in alphabetical order. So there is a line within a line for each of the names. We are working on the book that will document where all these fence tags are. So when a person goes out to see the memorial and if they’re looking for a comrade or a loved one, they can go to the book and it makes it really easy to find.”

“Stabilize it in place,” Linda said.

“There are many monuments there. This is my personal… way of saying… thank you for your sacrifice. Thank you to these families who lost loved ones,” Mark said.

“It’s not just the soldier, it’s the whole family,” Linda said.

“The sacrifice for the family is huge. It really is. Everyone is family. Every single one is an American. It’s a lot of work. But that’s good. It’s a living monument…we’ll be in it until we’re gone. It’s worth the effort. Absolutely, said Mark.

Mark served the United States in the Special Forces for 27 years and served three tours of duty in Iraq.

His son also served seven tours of duty in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.