Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Honoring the war dead in Cannon City May 30, 2017

Folks begin arriving for the 2 p.m. Memorial Day program at the Cannon City Cemetery. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


VEHICLES LINED the narrow gravel driveway, angled into the grassy ditch on one side and edging the roadway on the other.

Randy pulled our lawn chairs from the van and I tucked a fleece throw under my left arm, umbrella in hand as we headed toward the crowd gathering at the Cannon City Cemetery gate. Clouds the color of bruises threatened rain on this 60-some-degree Memorial Day afternoon in rural southeastern Minnesota.


An art appropriate cannon marks a Civil War Veteran’s tombstone in the Cannon City Cemetery. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


But weather would not keep us from this annual commemoration honoring the war dead—a tradition begun some 100 years prior in this wind-swept rural cemetery bordered by fields and pasture. On this Monday, those here would also mark the sesquicentennial of this burial place where a year ago cows moved to the fenceline to watch my friend Lois bury her husband next to his parents and grandparents.


The program opens with singing of “The Star Spangled Banner.” Steve Bonde is on the bugle. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


Randy and I have no family connection to this cemetery. But we have come here each Memorial Day for about the past five because we appreciate the grassroots simplicity of this event. Clustered under spruce and cedar among gravestones, attendees circle their lawn chairs to sing and to listen to patriotic and other readings and to the mournful playing of taps.


A bronze star marks a veteran’s grave. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


As I sat there, snugged under fleece and wishing I’d worn a stocking cap, I considered that my temporary discomfort was nothing compared to war. I remembered the stories my Korean War veteran father, an infantryman on the frontlines, shared of bone-chilling cold. Yes, my ears hurt. But in a short time, I would be back inside my warm home.

I am an observer. To my right, I watched a teenage boy grip a military star, American flag and white carnation with his left hand, bugle in his other hand, as the fierce wind threatened to yank all three away. Earlier, some attendees distributed flowers, provided by the Cemetery Association, to soldiers’ graves. That flower-laying tradition began 100 years ago with students from the nearby Cannon City School marching with floral wreaths to the cemetery.


Song sheets are distributed to those in attendance. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


This memorial service is so much about tradition—from recitation of The Pledge of Allegiance to singing of The Battle Hymn of the Republic to reading names of the 52 veterans buried here to recitation of In Flanders Fields.


Poppies have long been associated with honoring and remembering veterans. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


As Jean Pederson recited the haunting poem of poppies blowing between crosses in a field in Belgium, long-time Cannon City resident Bob Lewis slipped a pot of poppies onto the grass next to Jean’s motorized scooter. He’d dug them from a patch in his yard. That symbolic gesture by this veteran nearly moved me to tears as I watched 10 orange poppies wend in the wind to words of war.

Near Jean, I noticed the word LOVE sparkling along the pant leg of a teenage girl. Love and war. War and love. We love our freedom enough to fight for it.


A message on a retro tray I own. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


Yet, we always strive for peace, a message conveyed in a reading by two women: “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with you.” Their words rose and fell with the wind, carried away—to the fields, the countryside, beyond, under a bruised sky.


© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
I apologize for the lack of current photos accompanying this story. I fell and broke my right shoulder recently so am unable to use my camera. I hope my words provide the visuals for you to see snippets of what I observed in Cannon City on Memorial Day.


24 Responses to “Honoring the war dead in Cannon City”

  1. Rachel Eggleston Says:

    I just love reading your blog and kind of envy your life in Minnesota. Take good care of yourself. I pray the healing with be complete and recovery peaceful.
    Blessings, Rachel

  2. Bernadette Thomasy Says:

    Your words took me there. Inspiring and such an important tradition in Cannon City.

  3. Missy's Crafty Mess Says:

    Beautiful photos. Sorry to hear of your injury. Wishing you a speedy recovery!!!

  4. Don Says:

    Rural areas help keep these kind of traditions alive! I for one wish that the larger metropolitan areas would do these kind of remembrances. Seems the populations in these areas get so involved in their BBQ’s, picnics and holiday activities that the reason for the holiday is completely forgotten! So sad………………………………………

  5. Almost Iowa Says:

    Yesterday, we attended a mass held in our local rural cemetery. We had a great turnout and poised for a group picture afterwards. All together a brisk and beautiful day.

    Hope the weather wasn’t too hard on your shoulder.

  6. treadlemusic Says:

    Our local observance was most solemn and brought tears to all ages…..as it should be. Your words, once again, work as an artist’s brush with paint to canvas creating mind pictures as vivid as a camera can produce!
    Injured!!!! My Dear!!! We must not have such!! I am in total sympathy—and empathy (as I have done much shoulder damage to my body as results of more than one motorcycle mishaps). Prayers are forthcoming for your mending moments. Sending gentle hugs……………

  7. Jackie Says:

    I think it’s great how you and Randy have this tradition….it doesn’t really matter where we go….its about the remembering and giving honor to those who died for our freedom! I think I would like this little country cemetery!

  8. Thank you for the special Memorial Day post. I’m sorry to hear about your fall and injuring your shoulder. We must be very careful as we get older when we start falling that is when the Care Centers start eyeballing us as candidates to become new customers.

  9. “Clouds the color of bruises…” an interesting and imaginative comparison…to say the least. Nice work Audrey.

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