Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Wrapped in Old Glory June 3, 2021

Near the end of the Memorial Day Program at Faribault’s Central Park, veterans prepare for retiring of the colors. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

PRECISE. DISCIPLINED. PATRIOTIC.

Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

Whenever I’ve witnessed anything military-related, those words fit. Service men and women, from my observations, are well-trained in proper protocol, team work and respect. Once instilled, those strengths remain, even decades after active military duty.

Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

There’s something comforting about the military rituals of Memorial Day. The gun salute by the Honor Guard. The playing of Taps. The advancement and retirement of the colors by the Color Guard. All happened during Faribault’s Memorial Day observance.

Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

But even the best practiced traditions sometimes go awry. I saw that happen late Monday morning as a member of the Color Guard removed the Minnesota state and American flags from their place of honor in front of the Central Park Bandshell.

Tangled flags… Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

The wind caught the flags, wrapping the veteran in red-white-and-blue. I marveled at his discipline. I would have fought with the fabric, attempting to untangle myself. But he didn’t. He simply walked with the American flag covering his face and torso.

Perhaps there’s a lesson to be learned from that scene. The veteran’s actions exhibited trust and an adherence to his military training. He continued as called to duty. Focused. Determined.

Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

When he completed his mission and turned toward the crowd, I observed a broad smile. Old Glory draped across his left forearm. A touching reminder of freedom.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Happy birthday, America July 4, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:00 AM
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THROUGH THE YEARS, I have photographed numerous patriotic scenes and American flags.

Today, in celebration of the birthday of the United States of America, I bring you American patriotism from…

 

Copy of Garage, Stars & Stripes 1

 

 

the Stars & Stripes Garage in Heidelberg, Minnesota;

 

Flags, Decorah house

 

an historic home in Decorah, Iowa,

 

Flags, Montgomery, Minnesota, edit 1

 

the Main Street of Montgomery, Minnesota,

 

American flag edited

 

and Anywhere, USA.

Happy Fourth, dear readers! Enjoy this holiday and thank God for the freedoms that come with being an American.

© Copyright 2014 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.

EARTH MEETS SKY HERE.

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

 

A WW II flag of honor reminds me of freedom’s price on Independence Day July 4, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:38 PM
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Four flags, including an American flag that flew in Iraq, stand in the narthex of Trinity Lutheran Church, Faribault, Minnesota.

FOUR FLAGS STAND in a circle in the Trinity Lutheran Church narthex—two American flags, the other two unrecognizable to me.

So I inquire on this Sunday morning, this Fourth of July, this day we celebrate our nation’s birthday, this day of independence.

The one flag, with the big blue star in the center and the smaller white stars along the sides belongs to Kathy, who manages the church office. She knows nothing about its background, only that she purchased and proudly flies this red-white-and-blue at her home along with an American flag.

But the other flag, oh, the large star-studded flag, draws the attention of many. “What is this flag?” we ask each other as we unfold the fabric to reveal a sea of stars on white fabric bordered by red.

The women of Trinity Lutheran Church stitched this WW II honor flag.

And no one knows, until Dave arrives and uncovers the mystery. It is, he says, a flag recognizing those congregational men and women who served our country during WW II. The blue stars denote all who served. The six gold stars hand-stitched atop six blue stars honor those who never came home.

Six gold stars represent the six Trinity members who gave the ultimate sacrifice, their lives, during WW II.

I stand there awed, really, that so many individuals from this German Lutheran church in a mid-sized Minnesota community answered the call to duty during a single war. My friend Lee and I count: 162 blue stars and six double stars of gold upon blue.

The blue stars number 162, one for every Trinity member serving in WW II.

Six young men gave their lives for their country. The thought of such grief within a single congregational family overwhelms me.

I feel now as if I am viewing a sacred cloth. I wonder how many tears fell upon this flag as the ladies of the congregation stitched these stars.

I lift the flag, gently flip the fabric to the back side and examine the even machine-stitching on the blue stars. And then I examine the long, uneven stitches on the gold stars, sewn in place by hand.

Hand-stitching on the backs of two gold stars honoring those who died. The outer row is machine-stitching, holding the blue stars in place.

Dave tells us the flag stood at the front of the church, as did similar flags at churches through-out our community of Faribault. Roger steps up, says he remembers a smaller flag in the church he attended during WW II.

And if Dave’s memory serves him right, this flag remained on display until the end of the war.

Today I am glad, even though also saddened, that this flag of honor has been taken out of storage and put on display. For this one morning, on this Independence Day, those of us gathered here freely to worship have been reminded again that freedom does not come without a price.

A view of three of the flags, looking into the sanctuary, centered by a cross.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling