I’VE JUST PULLED TWO FILES from a cabinet in my office. One’s labeled “Elvern K. (obit, death certificate).” The other is simply labeled “KOREA.”
Then I turn toward a chest of drawers, also in my office, and remove a shoebox from the bottom drawer. It’s tagged “Elvern Kletscher’s Korean pix, etc. Important stuff.” I’ve underlined “Important stuff” twice.
The contents of that shoebox connect to the contents of the files. All encompass my dad’s time serving with the U.S. Army during the Korean Conflict.
Sifting through the files and shoebox brings me to tears as I remember my dad, who fought on the front lines, was wounded on February 26, 1953, at Heartbreak Ridge and received a Purple Heart medal 47 years later. He died in 2003.
My father talked very little of his time in Korea. So other than generalities and a few shared stories, only his black-and-white photos and letters offer me a glimpse of the young man who was drafted and sent into combat.
In letters written to his family, my dad vents his frustrations and concerns. I’ll share snippets of a letter from Korea dated March 4, 1953, his 22nd birthday, and written days after he was wounded.
Dear Mother, Dad & all
Guess you’s have been snowbound for awhile. “Huh” Just got your letter today. Well I’m 22 now. Birthday is past by a couple hours. Sure isn’t much of a birthday. But guess I can’t expect much over here.
Then he proceeds to blast the draft board and politicians after learning that his younger brother, Harold, may be called to duty. I can’t quote everything he wrote, but let me tell you, my father is fuming. He writes, in part:
Do they know what this is like over here? Hell no. Why the heck don’t some of them come over here and look this over. They’d probably come to their senses…
In the third page of his letter, my father-soldier continues:
I didn’t get your package yet, but they will be here soon mail is awful poor in coming through. Nobody is getting any mail. I’ve got 17 points now I think. They pile up fast. Sure wish I had the 36 of them though. I still think I’ll leave Korea in August. So it isn’t too long anymore. I sure hope I get out 3 months prior to my discharge. That’s almost all we talk about in the day time is how many points each other has got and when we think we will leave this hell hole.
Those are two strong words: hell hole.
But the few war stories that my father shared were nothing short of hellish. He told of digging foxholes and praying that God would save him from death, of a buddy blown up before his eyes, of a sniper picking off members of his platoon until my dad picked off the sniper, of being pinned down for days in trenches under constant enemy shelling…
Through the attacks, the combat, the deaths of buddies, all through his year in Korea, my dad held strong to his faith. He wrote:
Sure was good to go to church. I had communion. I always try and make every church service they got over here. Once a week the chaplain comes up here on the hill. It’s always good to go. Always makes a guy know he isn’t alone.
In concluding his 3 ½-page letter, my father tells his parents:
I’m feeling fine and don’t worry about me. I’ll write again. Love Vern
Not once in his 87-line letter does my dad mention that just nine days earlier he was struck on the right side of his neck by shrapnel from a mortar round.
TODAY, VETERANS DAY, please take time to honor a veteran, remembering all they have sacrificed for their country.
In conclusion, I wish to quote a few lines from a news release issued by former Second District Congressman David Minge on May 12, 2000, the year my dad received his Purple Heart for those wounds suffered on Heartbreak Ridge in Korea.
These two men are a prime example of sacrifice and service to our nation. For fifty years, Norman Kalk and Elvern Kletscher knew the truth that they had earned these medals. I am gratified that we could finally recognize their contributions and acknowledge the debt we can never repay.
A STORY WHICH I WROTE about my Dad’s service in Korea was published in 2005 in the book God Answers Prayers Military Edition, True Stories from People Who Serve and Those Who Love Them, edited by Allison Bottke. To read that story, “Faith and Hope in a Land of Heartbreak,” click onto the Harvest House Publishers website.
© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling