Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Remembering my soldier-father and Elizabeth Taylor March 24, 2011

WHEN I HEARD the news on Wednesday of Elizabeth Taylor’s death, I didn’t think of the Hollywood star or the two-time Oscar winner, the stunning beauty with the violet eyes or the woman who married eight times, or even the starlet who struggled with addiction and was a crusader in the fight against AIDS.

Rather, I thought of my dad.

He was smitten with Liz.

He never met the Hollywood actress. But he had seen her on a United Service Organizations stage while serving during the Korean Conflict. That was enough for my Minnesota farmer turned-soldier dad to fall for her. Hard. I don’t recall him ever, in his life-time, talking about another actress. He had eyes only for Elizabeth.

His wasn’t an obsession. Nothing like that. It’s just that he seldom talked about his time on the front lines as a foot solider during the Korean War. He told us about the orphans begging for food across barbed wire fences, the sniper (he eventually killed) picking off members of his platoon, watching his buddy blown up the day before he was to return home to the States, the cold and lack of food, the digging into foxholes for protection…and then Elizabeth Taylor, dear, dear Liz.

I expect that the movie star offered a welcome and pleasant diversion for soldiers who faced death on a daily basis.

My father, Elvern Kletscher, on the left with two of his soldier buddies in Korea.

If my dad was still alive—he died eight years ago at the age of 72—I would ask him about the woman who enamored him with her beauty when she stepped onto Korean soil to entertain the troops. I don’t know details about her USO appearance. I wish I had cared enough to ask him.

I tried to find more information online, but Taylor’s USO tours don’t exactly pop up all over the Internet. She once received the USO Woman of the Year Award and won a USO Merit Award. Otherwise I didn’t find much out there.

And that is dismaying to me. Her time entertaining our servicemen, soldiers like my dad, seems as notable as her roles in Cleopatra or Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.

For me, Elizabeth Taylor will always be more than just another actress. She will be a reminder of my father, of the young Minnesota soldier who was struck by shrapnel at Heartbreak Ridge in Korea and was awarded the Purple Heart 47 years later. It is his memories of Liz that define her to me, not her beauty, not her accolades, not her anything except the temporary escape she gave my soldier-father nearly 60 years ago from the battlefields of Korea, from the horrors of war.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


16 Responses to “Remembering my soldier-father and Elizabeth Taylor”

  1. Mark Ritchie Says:

    Thank you for this beautiful remembrance of your dad and this amazing woman.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      You’re welcome. It’s a nice memory to share of something that meant so very much to a Minnesota soldier.

  2. Bernie Says:

    What a sweet memory. I had no clue that she did USO tours. I thought I had a good handle on who were doing those at the time. You learn something new everyday. I’m glad she was able to do that and give your day something pleasant during his service time.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      My dad’s time in Korea was difficult, which would be an understatement. He dealt with post traumatic stress syndrome and other issues throughout his life due to being on the front lines during the Korean Conflict. If you go to this link, you can read a story I wrote about my dad and published in the book, God Answers Prayers Military Edition–True Stories from People Who Serve and Those Who Love Them. Scroll down to “Faith and Hope in a Land of Heartbreak.”


      • Bernie Says:

        I read it. Very moving. Thank you for pointing me to the link.

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        You’re welcome, Bernie. It was an emotionally difficult story to write, but I wanted others to understand what it was like for soldiers who went into battle in Korea. I will never know all of the turmoil my dad faced, but I knew enough.

  3. vicki Says:

    Thank you for sharing the story. I never heard about her and the USO. Yes, I imagine the soldiers took notice!!! My Mom was the one who was in awe of Elizabeth. After what your Dad went through, I’m sure she was what he needed to think of instead of the awful things.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      This side of Elizabeth Taylor seems to have been forgotten as we read and hear media reports of her death. I just wish I knew more about my dad seeing her with the USO in Korea.

  4. lanae Says:

    I thought the same thing as you as soon as I heard of Elizabeths death. To many people at work I kept saying did you hear?…. Then the story about dad and his fondness for her. It was one of the few good things that happened to him in Korea. I hope that he was there to greet her and thank her for making so many young men happy for a short time.
    I miss him.

  5. A lovely lovely post Audrey.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Thank you, Dana. I’m sure not too many others out there, except my mom, siblings and I, think of Liz Taylor in the same way. My dad’s “love” for her is something I will always cherish. She brought him a moment of happiness in the midst of war. He held on to that memory for a life-time.

  6. Allan Says:

    Thanks SOOOO much for sharing this story! I’ve been a VERY loyal fan of Elizabeth’s since I was a child in the early ’60’s. This is the very first I’ve ever heard of Elizabeth going overseas to entertain the troops. Now I want to know – why IS that??? Marilyn’s entertaining of the troops in Korea is FAMOUS! But, Elizabeth? At any rate, this is Elizabeth in a nutshell, For decades before her death, she did all KINDS of private hospice visiting, charitable work for children, and on and on, rarely, if ever reported. She wasn’t doing this for publicity! She was doing it because………SHE TRULY CARED!!!!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I believe you answered the question yourself, “because she truly cared.”

      My father experienced so much horror while fighting on the front lines in Korea. Elizabeth was the single shining moment, or at least the single positive for him in the awfulness of war.

  7. Carol Says:

    Thank you for this beautiful and touching post. How sad that this side of Elizabeth Taylor seems so little known, while there’s never been a lack of publicity about the less positive. But that’s not even relevant now; God always knew her sweet and generous side!

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