Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The veterans of Vesta May 30, 2011

A flag placed on a veteran's grave at the Vesta Cemetery in southwestern Minnesota.


On this Memorial Day weekend, I have come to this hilltop cemetery outside of my hometown of Vesta in southwestern Minnesota to remember.

I walk the rows, between the tombstones, lean in close, read the names, memories only a thought away.

My focus is on my father and the other veterans buried here whose names I know, whose stories of war I will never fully know.

An in-ground marker honors my father, Elvern Kletscher, a Korean War veteran and recipient of the Purple Heart for wounds he suffered at Heartbreak Ridge in Korea.

How did they feel leaving family and farm? Were they scared? Were they honored to serve their country? Did they yearn for home as they shouldered their weapons? Did they leave as boys, come home as men? Were they scarred by war, forever changed?

I wondered as strong prairie winds whipped flags attached to white wooden crosses. So many flags. So many graves of men who’ve served.

If only I’d asked them to tell me their stories, these men whom I’d never thought of as soldiers, until I saw their graves marked by crosses and stars and American flags.

The local American Legion marks veterans' graves with white crosses.

Barb Schmidt teaches her grandchildren about their ancestors as they place flowers on the graves of loved ones Saturday evening at the Vesta Cemetery.

Set atop a hill, the wind catches the flags marking vets' graves.

I was surprised by the number of veterans buried in the Vesta Cemetery, their graves marked by small flags attached to white crosses. This photo shows only one small portion of the graveyard.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


2 Responses to “The veterans of Vesta”

  1. Bernie Says:

    Your photos speak for themselves. I love the one of the flag, it’s perfect. A lovely photo essay.
    I try to get to the cemetery each time I get home. My mom and her sister are in charge of a basket for their parents’ graves each Memorial Day.
    I can see walking around and seeing all the Veteran’s graves, it would make one wonder many thoughts.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Thank you, Bernie. Seeing all of the American flags in the cemeteries this weekend makes one so thankful to live in a free country and so grateful to the men and women who have fought for freedom.

      My sister Lanae always takes my mom to the cemetery to place flowers on gravesites. Our veteran dad also gets the flag and for our bachelor Uncle Mike, whom we called Mickey Mouse, a stuffed Mickey Mouse is placed on his grave. Thanks, sister, for all you do to honor our loved ones.

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