Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

When war becomes personal… September 13, 2016

Rows and rows of names fill the panels comprise the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall.

Rows and rows of names fill the panels comprising the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall.

WHEN WAR SEEMS IMPERSONAL, like simply a list of stats and battles, we need only read the names and hear the stories.

I remember the few stories my father shared of his time on the front lines during the Korean War. He watched his buddy blown apart by a mortar the day before Ray was to return home. Ray’s death haunted my dad. And it still haunts me, a generation removed.

Thousands came to view the temporary wall in Faribault.

Thousands came to view the temporary wall in Faribault.

The Military Mobile Museum brought equipment to the fairgrounds.

The Military Mobile Museum brought equipment to the fairgrounds.

A field of crosses honors Minnesota soldiers who have died in wars since 9/11.

A field of crosses honors Minnesota soldiers who have died in wars since 9/11.

That war story lingered as I visited the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wallviewed military equipment, chatted with veterans and walked between rows of crosses Labor Day weekend at the Rice County Fairgrounds in Faribault.

Posted near the Traveling Wall.

Posted near the Traveling Wall.

Chemical agent paper spotted inside a military vehicle.

Chemical agent paper spotted inside a military vehicle.

Even this military truck was named by soldiers.

Even this military truck was named by soldiers.

The visuals before me reflected the reality of war. When I looked closer, I discovered how soldiers, even in the thick of the Vietnam War, personalized gear and equipment. War became as personal as chemical agent paper, bullet holes in a boat, an eight of Spades playing card and the nickname “Gator” on a helmet.

Gulls and flags and names...

Gulls and flags and names…

Nothing is more personal than a name. Nearly 60,000 names are inscribed upon the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall.

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This cross in the Vietnam KIA Field of Honor memorializes Gordon Gunhus, a native of Rice County where I’ve lived for 34 years.

Visitors peruse the crosses honoring the most recent war dead from Minnesota.

Visitors peruse the crosses honoring the most recent war dead from Minnesota.

A white rose

A white rose and label mark the memorial cross for Glenn Dusbabek of Waterville, about 15 miles west of Faribault.

More names were printed upon labels and posted upon crosses at the fairgrounds, some nameplates accompanied by photos of dead soldiers.

Brent Koch is from Morgan, in my home county of Redwood.

Brent Koch is from Morgan, in my home county of Redwood.

I remembered some of those soldiers from media reports. They were sons and daughters. Buddies. Classmates. Husbands, fathers, brothers, uncles.

A close-up of a tank on display reveals the harsh words of war.

A close-up of a tank on display reveals the harsh words of war.

A collage of photos personalizes the Vietnam War.

A collage of photos personalizes the Vietnam War.

Inside a tent reserved for remembering those missing in action and those who were prisoners of war, a member of the Shattuck-St. Mary's School Crack Squad stands at rigid attention.

Inside a tent reserved for remembering those missing in action and those who were prisoners of war, a member of the Shattuck-St. Mary’s School Crack Squad stands at rigid attention.

War is difficult and horrible. There is no denying that. Men and women die. Families grieve. And soldiers live with the aftermath of their war experiences, physically and/or mentally wounded. We can make it easier for them by remembering, by honoring, by thanking and by caring for them.

An overview of the Traveling Wall (background) and the military equipment displayed recently at the Rice County Fairgrounds.

An overview of the Traveling Wall (background) and military equipment displayed recently at the Rice County Fairgrounds.

I don’t recall ever thanking my dad for his service in Korea, for the great personal sacrifices he made. I wish I had. He’s been dead for 13 ½ years now, his war stories and trauma mostly buried with him. If only I had understood in 2003 what I understand today—that he suffered greatly and that I should have listened with more compassion and understanding.

FYI: This concludes my series of posts focused on the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall exhibit in my Minnesota community.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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