Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Raising awareness of PTSD, moral injury & suicide & how we can help March 31, 2017

The veterans of Shieldsville and elsewhere are honored in this “Never Forgotten” memorial. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I WISH I’D KNOWN then what I know now.

How often have you thought that following an epiphany moment? That came for me Wednesday evening during a community meeting and film screening at the Faribault American Legion Post 43 on post traumatic stress disorder and the related topic of suicide.

 

This photo from my dad’s collection is tagged as “Kim, Rowe, Allen & me, May 1953 Machine Gun Crew.” That’s my father on the right.

 

I walked away from the gathering with a new perspective and regrets that I hadn’t thoroughly understood the mental anguish suffered by my Korean War veteran father. He fought on the front line as an infantryman—kill or be killed. As a result, he dealt with life-long issues that greatly affected his life and thus his family, too. He died 14 years ago on April 3.

 

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

 

Now, just days before the anniversary of his death, I gained insight beyond his PTSD diagnosis. I learned of the term “moral injury.” In a separate clip shown before airing of the feature film “Almost Sunrise,” a soldier explained how the realities of war can inflict wounds upon the soul. As I listened, the concept made total sense to me. Here was my dad, armed with a rifle and other weapons, forced to shoot the enemy or die. To take the life of another human countered everything he held to be morally right. I can only imagine how that tore him apart. It would anyone.

 

My dad carried home a July 31, 1953, memorial service bulletin from Sucham-dong, Korea. In the right column is listed the name of his fallen buddy, Raymond W. Scheibe.

 

I recall his few stories of being so near the enemy that he could see the whites of their eyes. “Shoot or be shot,” he told me. I observed, too, the lingering pain he felt in watching his buddy Ray blown apart the day before the Nebraska solider was to leave Korea. I remember Dad’s stories also of Korean children begging for food across a barbed wire fence.

 

My dad’s military marker in the Vesta City Cemetery.

 

Dad was wounded in Korea, struck by shrapnel on Heartbreak Ridge. He earned a Purple Heart, awarded some 50 years after he left the battlefield. While his physical injuries healed, the wounds to his heart, to his soul, remained. He suffered from life-long moral injury, as I see it now.

 

The number 23 represents the 22 veterans and one active duty military individual who commit suicide daily. The goal is to bring that number to zero. Graphics credit: Operation 23 to Zero.

 

I am grateful to the local Legion and Faribault Elks Lodge, specifically to Kirk Mansfield, a strong local advocate for veterans and head of Operation 23 to Zero in southern Minnesota, for organizing Wednesday’s community event. Operation 23 strives to help veterans and to create awareness of PTSD, suicide and more.

 

Promo graphics credit of “Almost Sunrise.”

 

Showing of “Almost Sunrise,” a film that followed two Iraqi War veterans on a 2,700 trek from Milwaukee to Los Angeles, also gave me insights into the personal demons soldiers face upon returning home from the battlefield. It is a touching film that left me crying. The Wisconsin soldiers, as they walked across the country and in follow-up therapy, found personal and relationship healing. They found the strength within to forgive themselves. Only they—not their families—could lead them to that point of healing.

While Wednesday’s event focused on veterans, the information shared can apply to anyone who has suffered from PTSD, whether from domestic abuse or other trauma, Mansfield noted.

In a separate clip from the film, a speaker offered these tips for helping individuals dealing with mental health challenges:

  • Show empathy by listening.
  • Remind the individual that he/she has a purpose in life.
  • Offer to be a mentor.
  • Reiterate how important they are to you. Tell them they matter.

That’s great advice.

 

I photographed this pillow last September when the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall came to Faribult. The veteran volunteering in the MIA-POW tent told me his wife sewed this pillow from an over-sized t-shirt. As the message conveys, we all need to be here for one another.

 

Mansfield challenged those in attendance to take what they’d just learned and help others. So I am, with this story. I have the ability to use the written word to create awareness. When we are educated and aware, then we can begin to help our family members, our friends, our co-workers, our acquaintances via listening, supporting, encouraging and reminding them just how much they mean to us. That is powerful.

 

FYI: To read a story I wrote about my dad, “Faith & Hope in a Land of Heartbreak,” published in the book, God Answers Prayers, Military Edition (page 12), click here.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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14 Responses to “Raising awareness of PTSD, moral injury & suicide & how we can help”

  1. Beth Ann Says:

    We can never really know exactly how another person feels and experiences things but events like this help educate us on how to respond and react, emphathize and offer comfort when we can. I am sure you did all of these things with your dad in your own way when you could. What a great event and one that I hope was well attended. It is not an easy subject but then we are called to go beyond the easy, aren’t we?

  2. It’s unfortunate that there are so many things in life that a person can’t understand unless you’ve walked in the same pair of shoes. You’ve inspired me to cast on a new donation hat . It’s one small thing I can do to help those who have served.

  3. -P Says:

    Thank you for continuing to spread this message.

  4. We are members and support the Veterans at our local American Legion and plan to join the VFW too (has been under a major renovation). The coolest piece of history I have learned living in this community is that it is a Purple Heart City with a Purple Heart Park. I come from a military family and have members that fought in wars and for our freedom, so a huge supporter of veterans and very proud to be American and have the freedoms I have. Happy Weekend – Enjoy 🙂

  5. Valerie Says:

    Thanks for the interesting post. Although it was sad, I read the story you wrote about your dad. I’m glad you were able to write about him and share his story.
    My dad was a medic in WWII. I never had the chance to talk to him about it…he died when I was twenty years old, of an aneurysm. We don’t have much information on his experience.

  6. Jackie Says:

    Just read the story you wrote about your dad. Your dad sounded like an amazing man Audrey, I can tell in your words how very proud you were of him. I’m sorry there are wars but so thankful for those who serve to keep us safe. I’m glad your dad got the Purple Heart, and that you got to witness this honor!

  7. Littlesundog Says:

    What a special post, and wonderful story about your dad. He sounded like an amazing person. My family never had anyone to serve in the military, which I find odd. But I grew up appreciating veterans and their families. I still look in on my friend Hillard, who has no family nearby. I love hearing him recount his days in the Air Force, and also his part in the RAF in Europe. His eyes always light up when I ask about those days. It doesn’t matter that I’ve heard some of those stories a dozen times already. 🙂


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