Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Memorial Day 2020, adapted, from southern Minnesota May 26, 2020

A star marks a veteran’s grave in the Cannon City Cemetery, rural Faribault.


THE RADIO PLAYED in the background as I washed dishes Memorial Day morning. I listened to honored veterans speak of the war dead and freedom and why the American flag is folded 13 times. I listened to the local Legion leader read the names of all county veterans who died in the past year. Well over one hundred. And I heard, too, the honking of horns as attendees at my community’s annual Memorial Day program in Central Park “applauded.”


This flag pole sits just inside the entrance to the Cannon City Cemetery.


COVID-19 changed so many traditions this year—including here in Faribault. There was no parade, no ceremony at the Rice County Veterans’ Memorial, no lunch at the Legion. Only the traditional program continued in the park, but with attendees sheltered inside their vehicles. Others, like me, listened at home to the live broadcast on KDHL radio.


U.S. Army Cpl. Elvern Kletscher, my father, in the trenches in Korea, Minnesota Prairie Roots photo 1952.


And, as I listened, I thought of my dad, an infantryman in the Korean War. I thought, too, of his buddy Ray, killed by a mortar. Dad saw his friend die. Dad, who died 17 years ago, carried that grief and the horrors of war with him. He suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, undiagnosed until decades after he left Korea.


Flags decorate veterans’ graves in Cannon City.


I continued washing dishes while the radio played. But when taps sounded, I stopped. To cry. Thinking of my dad. Missing him. The playing of taps often moves me into a place of grief for all the lives lost in war.


A past Memorial Day gathering at the Cannon City Cemetery. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


Later, Randy and I drove to the Cannon City Cemetery where, on a typical Memorial Day, we would attend a program under the cedar trees. We’ve grown to love this grassroots gathering of rural folks who honor the war dead with music and poetry and inspirational readings. But, because of COVID-19, that event was canceled, too.


Rhody Yule’s grave marker.


The tombstone of a Civil War soldier buried in the Cannon City Cemetery.


And so we roamed among the tombstones, pausing at the flag-marked graves of soldiers, including that of our friend Rhody.


I love this serene scene of a bird on a simple woven fence edging the cemetery.


Birds chirped.


One tombstone features a barn on one side, a tractor on the other.


Such beauty in this rural cemetery, from setting to nature’s details.


Inside and outside cemetery boundaries, the rural-ness of this place prevails in art. Natural and man-made. I delighted in that.


A dove on an aged tombstone brings thoughts of peace.


A single white rose, signifying everlasting love, lies on the bench marker for Kevin Kanne. Beautiful.


Tombstone art that drew my eye and reminded me of Psalm 23.


And the wind, which typically whips on this hillside cemetery, remained still, as if it also understood the need for calm, for reflection, for peace in the storm of COVID-19.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


18 Responses to “Memorial Day 2020, adapted, from southern Minnesota”

  1. JanBeek Says:

    Yes, this year the way Memorial Day was recognized and celebrated throughout the USA was very different from days past. I was happy to read that you managed to find a meaningful way to honor your dad and other veterans on this special day. Your pictures are lovely and your words touched my heart. Thank you for sharing. ❤

  2. It makes me sad to know the grief and the horrors that your dad and other war heroes suffered. (They are all heroes to me)! I can’t image…. I’m just so grateful for their sacrifice. What a Brave man your dad was.

  3. Philip Holum Says:

    I appreciate your post. It was very meaningful, and I hope that I can measure up to my dad who served in the S. Pacific in WW2. He was so quiet about the war, and only relayed the happy moments. It was a difficult Memorial Day, and I will be having my own this week when I go to plant flowers on my folks’ graves this week. Thanks!

  4. I am glad you we’re able to “remember” in a special way. It has definitely been different this year, that is for sure.

  5. valeriebollinger Says:

    It sounds like you had a very nice Memorial Day celebration in spite of the pandemic.
    I love the bird sitting on the wire fence. As always, nice job Audrey!

  6. Such a sweet and touch piece, Audrey. Thank you for sharing.

  7. Sandra Van Erp Says:

    I agree with the other posters, you rescued this Memorial Day in a meaningful way. Korean War is the first “war” I remember, partly because we got our first tv that made everything so much more real. My life has been touched by PTSD, it’s an unspeakable condition from an unspeakable experience and I believe, why before we all became the verbal generations, veterans just got on with their lives. There is no real way to honor the sacrifices, just try and help cope, and cope ourselves. Loved your pictures. Next year we can hope for parade pictures, always loved Faribault’s parades.

  8. Beautiful reflection on a day made as such.

    Thank you for honoring your fathers service and the sacrifice of his combat buddy who never was able to enjoy all that your father had after he came home.

    May the future generations never forget those sacrifices.

    • To follow up on my dad’s buddy Ray…with the help of a brother-in-law, I tracked down Ray’s daughter. We’ve talked and exchange letters, but still have not met. She was grateful for photos and stories I could share about her dad.

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