Tribute to a Korean War Veteran
He can still hear
the rattle of the tin pail
as the Korean children beg
for food scraps
from the young American soldiers.
He is there, in uniform,
looking into the dark, slanted eyes
that peer through the barbed wire fence,
eyes hungry for food,
eyes hungry for more than he can give.
The children tug at his heart
in this land so foreign to him,
so far from the flat lands of Minnesota,
where he worked the soil,
a young farmer until he became a soldier.
Orders. Sent to the front line,
rifle in hand,
armed to fight Communism,
a faceless intellectual word to the world,
but here a word with a face, the enemy.
He is dug now, deep in a foxhole,
hugging the earth,
boots planted firmly in the dirt,
braced for war,
braced for death.
It is all around him—
this death for freedom—
young men like him blown up
before his eyes, blood everywhere.
The enemy is so close
he can see the whites of their eyes
before he shoots.
It is him or them.
Death is always there,
like the cold that seeps inside his bones,
like the hunger that never goes away,
like the fear that keeps him alive.
Life or death in the trigger of a rifle.
It still haunts him, nearly five decades later,
when he is an old man
back home in Minnesota,
with war encased in a wooden box
hung on his living room wall.
His dog tags, his military-issue spoon, his medals,
the Purple Heart he received forty-seven years
for the bloody wounds of war,
wounds that pierced more than his flesh.
Nine months of hell stretched into a life-time
to the eyes of war.
THE ABOVE POEM HONORS my father, Elvern Kletscher of Vesta, and his buddy, Ray Scheibe of Wolbach, Nebraska. They fought side-by-side on the front lines during the Korean War. My dad came home. Ray did not.
In May 2000, my father received a Purple Heart for wounds suffered in February 1953 in Korea. This poem was made public for the first time at his visitation and funeral in April 2003 and was later published in the May/June 2009 issue of Minnesota Moments magazine.
I also wrote a story, “Faith and Hope in a Land of Heartbreak,” about my dad’s service in Korea. That was published by Harvest House Publishers in 2005 in the book God Answers Prayers Military Edition—True Stories from People Who Serve and Those Who Love Them, collected and edited by Allison Bottke.
Today, on Veterans’ Day, let us honor all who dutifully served, and serve, their country. Let us especially remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice and gave their lives for freedom.
© Copyright 2009 Audrey Kletscher Helbling