Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The importance of Veterans Day to me as a writer & veteran’s daughter November 10, 2017

U.S. Army Cpl. Elvern Kletscher, my father, in the trenches in Korea.

 

WHEN I CONSIDER Veterans Day, I think beyond a general blanket of gratitude for those who have served, and are serving, our country. I see a face. I see my soldier father, an infantryman on the battlefields of Korea and recipient of the Purple Heart.

 

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.

 

My dad, Elvern Kletscher, died in 2003. But his memory remains strong in my heart as do the few stories he shared of his time fighting for his country. He witnessed unspeakable, violent deaths. And, yes, he killed the enemy, often telling his family, “It was shoot or be shot.” I cannot imagine shooting someone so near you can see the whites of their eyes.

 

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

 

Atop Heartbreak Ridge, Dad picked off a sniper who for days had been killing off American soldiers. He suffered a shrapnel wound there.

But his wounds ran much deeper than the physical. His wounds stretched into a lifetime of battling post traumatic stress disorder, long unrecognized. He told stories of diving to the earth when a neighbor fired at a pheasant, the sound of gunfire triggering all those horrible war memories. The neighbor laughed. Likewise, guns shot at a small town parade sent him ducking for cover.

 

My dad’s military marker in the Vesta City Cemetery. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I can only imagine the demons my father fought. You cannot walk away from war-time death and violence unchanged. Only much later in life, as the decades passed and awareness of PTSD grew, did my dad find some comfort in talking to other vets with similar experiences.

 

Soldiers receive The Lord’s Supper in Korea, May 1953. Photo by my soldier father, Elvern Kletscher.

 

Dad’s strong faith also pulled him through his emotional turmoil, during and after war.

Now, as I look back, I wish I had been more understanding, more grateful. But I can’t change that. Rather, I can choose to honor my dad by writing, an expression of the freedom he fought to preserve.

 

I wrote a story (“Faith and Hope in a Land of Heartbreak”) about my dad’s war experiences in this book, published in 2005 by Harvest House Publishers.

 

As a writer, I hold dear the value of my freedom to write. No one censors my writing or tells me what to write. I treasure that. I cringe at the current overriding criticism of the press in this country, the constant allegations of “fake news.” I worry about this negative shift in thought, the efforts to suppress and discredit the media. My dad fought to keep us free. And that freedom includes a free press.

 

 

That struck me Thursday evening as I gathered with 13 Faribault area writers at a Local Authors Fair at Buckham Memorial Library. Here we were, inside this building packed with books and magazines and newspapers and more, showcasing our writing. No one stopped us at the door to check if our writing met government standards. No one stopped us from selling our books. No one stopped us from engaging in free conversation with each other and with attendees.

I am grateful to those who assured, and are assuring, that I will always have the ability to write without censorship in a country that still remains free.

 

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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A fitting quote as we heal from the baseball field shootings June 15, 2017

This plaque marks a baseball player sculpture at Memorial Park in Dundas, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2014.

 

THREE YEARS AGO I photographed a plaque at Memorial Park Baseball Field in Dundas. It marks a woodcarving of a Dundas Dukes baseball player.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

 

Today, the day after the shooting of House Republican leader Steve Scalise, four others and a gunman on a baseball field near our nation’s capitol, these words by John Thorn seem especially fitting. Thorn is the official historian for major league baseball.

 

My great niece Kiera painted this stone, which sits on my office desk as a constant reminder to hold onto hope. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Now, more than ever, as attacks and tragedies like this continue in the U.S. and throughout the world, we need our spirits replenished, our hope restored, our losses repaired, our journeys blessed.

 

Batter up for the Faribault Lakers. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

 

We must continue to play ball. Violence can change us. But it cannot steal away the freedom we hold dear.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

 

Vote November 8, 2016

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The Voting Rights Act of 1965 helped African Americans exercise their right to vote under the 15th Amendment to the Constitution. Stephen Somerstein photographed Bobby Simmons, a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committe. Simmons was wearing zinc oxide to prevent sunburn and wrote VOTE onto his forehead. This photo shows a section of Somerstein’s portrait of Simmons showcased in an April 2015 exhibit, “Selma to Montgomery: Marching Along the Voting Rights Trail,” at St. Olaf College in Northfield. I photographed the photo with permission. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

DO YOU REMEMBER a time when elections were focused primarily on the issues? Minimal or no name-calling? When candidates acted like anyone mattered outside of themselves. When candidates treated each other with decency.

Yeah, I know. It’s difficult to remember that in a year dominated by such campaign negativity. On all levels, not just national.

I’ve read signs and bumper stickers and words I can’t repeat. Likewise with TV ads I’ve heard.

No matter where you stand, what you think, how frustrated you are, remember this. You have a voice. Use your voice today. Vote.

There was a time when not everyone in this country could vote. On Election Day 1920 women voted for the first time after the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was passed, giving them that right. And now a woman is on the ballot for President of the United States.

No matter which candidates you support today, remember, you are free to vote. And that is something for which you can be especially thankful. You have that democratic right. Use it. Vote.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

American pride on Memorial Day weekend May 25, 2015

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Downtown Waseca, Minnesota, on Memorial Day weekend.

Downtown Waseca, Minnesota, on Memorial Day weekend.

MEMORIAL DAY BRINGS a focused gratefulness for freedom. And nothing is more visually representative of freedom in the U.S. than the American flag.

Another scene from downtown Waseca, on the other side of the street.

Another scene from downtown Waseca, on the other side of the street.

This weekend those flags are flying seemingly everywhere. On front porches, from flag poles and from lamp posts.

Driving eastbound on U.S. Highway 14 between Nicollet and Mankato.

Driving eastbound on U.S. Highway 14 between Nicollet and Mankato.

I feel my national pride swell at the sight of flags flying in communities like Elysian, Waseca and Morristown. On a Saturday trip from Faribault to Belview and back, I noticed the red-white-and-blue adorning homes, businesses, pick-up trucks and even silos. Just outside of Morristown, a couple grilled on their deck, an American flag waving in the wind just inches away.

A business in downtown Belview, Minnesota.

A business in downtown Belview, Minnesota.

I am thankful to live in this country. And grateful to those men and women who died for freedom. Because of them, I am free to express myself through writing and photography. Free.

The American flag on a bag of  Crystal Sugar.

The American flag on a bag of Crystal Sugar.

On Sunday, as I diced rhubarb in my kitchen, I pulled a bag of sugar from the cupboard. And there, at the top of the bag, was printed an American flag. I paused in that moment, remembering the words I’d sung hours earlier at Trinity Lutheran Church, where I am free to worship:

God bless America, Land that I love,
Stand beside her, and guide her
Through the night with a light from above…

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
“God Bless America” by Irving Berlin

 

In honor of our veterans November 11, 2014

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“A CELEBRATION TO HONOR America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.”

That, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, is the purpose of Veterans Day.

Veterans participate in the program.

Veterans participated in a special program dedicating a private veterans’ memorial in rural Rice County. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Today, pause to remember and/or thank a veteran for upholding those values. Perhaps it is your spouse who is deserving of your gratitude or your neighbor or co-worker, brother or sister…

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

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

We all know veterans. My father fought as a front-line infantryman in the Korean War. My brother-in-law, Neil, just returned from deployment to Afghanistan. Many more family members have served, too.

It is easy to take our freedom for granted when living in the United States of America. Freedom. To speak, write, come and go…

Last week I read the obituary of U.S. Army veteran and Faribault resident Paul Gray, 84, who served in Korea. I was surprised to read that Gray had been held as a Prisoner of War for 33 months. I’d never before considered the capture of Americans during that conflict. Gray’s POW experience, the obit stated, “was a tremendous influence in providing the inner strength he carried with him throughout his life.”

I can only image the strength it would take to endure nearly three years in captivity.

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.

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, and others who died in service to their country. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Then I wondered how many other Americans were taken prisoner. According to the National Park Service website, more than 7,100 Americans were captured and held during the Korean War. Of those, more than 2,700 were known to have died.

An article on the subject states in part:

Life as a POW meant many forced marches in subfreezing weather, solitary confinement, brutal punishments and attempts at political “re-education.” Here prisoners received their first systematic dose of indoctrination techniques by their captors. This was a relatively new phenomena and resulted in the Code of Conduct that now guides all American servicemen in regards to their capture.

An additional 8,000 plus American soldiers were reported as missing in action in Korea. That’s 8,000 too many.

More tributes on the exterior of the Happy Hour Bar.

Tributes to veterans are posted throughout Montgomery, Minnesota, including these on the exterior of the Happy Hour Bar. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Thank a veteran today and remember their families, who also have sacrificed for freedom.

FYI: Click here to read about Montgomery, Minnesota’s way of honoring veterans.

Click here to read how Minnesota teen Heather Weller honors veterans.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Remembering the true meaning of Memorial Day May 24, 2014

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MEMORIAL DAY MEANS, for many, a time of transitioning into summer activities. Picnics. Opening of the lake cabin. Thoughts of family vacations. A trek around the lake or dropping a fishing line into the water.

But for me, Memorial Day has always been about poppies and parades, ceremonies and cemeteries, American flags and American soldiers, my thoughts focused on those who’ve served our country. Like my Dad. Like his buddy, Ray, who died on a Korean battlefield the day before he was slated to return to his wife and infant daughter in Nebraska.

The Color Guard leads the 2013 Memorial Day parade in Faribault, Minnesota.

The Color Guard leads the 2013 Memorial Day parade in Faribault, Minnesota.

Today my thoughts are on my brother-in-law, Neil, currently deployed to Afghanistan. He’s serving in a medical facility, a somewhat safe place, if any place can truly be safe in a war zone.

Boy Scouts march down Faribault's Central Avenue, giving away small American flags, during Monday's Memorial Day parade.

Boy Scouts march down Faribault’s Central Avenue, giving away small American flags, during the 2011 Memorial Day parade.

This Memorial Day weekend, please take time to attend a parade or a ceremony.

About 30 people gather at the Cannon City Cemetery for an afternoon Memorial Day observance.

About 30 people gather at the Cannon City Cemetery for an afternoon Memorial Day observance in 2011.

Visit a cemetery. Note the veterans’ graves. Pay homage. Remember the sacrifices.

All eyes are on the flag.

A flag flies high at Cannon City Cemetery. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

Then, when you’re firing up the grill, sipping a cold one, enjoying a wonderful day in a country where you are free, thank God, and those soldiers, for freedom.

BONUS:

FOR TIPS ON TEACHING your kids about Memorial Day, click here.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Symbols of freedom at Fargo’s Lindenwood Park July 4, 2012

IF YOU VISIT the Fargo-Moorhead Sertoma Club website, you will read this:

Sertoma stands for the high and noble service to mankind through communication of thoughts, ideas and concepts to accelerate human progress in health, education, freedom and democracy.

Here a volunteer removes flags posted along Roger Maris Drive in Lindenwood Park on Flag Day.

Then, if you visit Fargo’s largest park, Lindenwood Park, around the Fourth of July or on Labor Day, September 11, Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day or Flag Day, you’ll see evidence of that mission. Some 75 American flags line Roger Maris Drive as part of the Sertoma Flag Service project.

I saw the impressive display of flags when I was in Lindenwood on June 14, Flag Day.

Volunteer Bruce Hanson gathers the flags, which typically are posted for several days on holidays and memorable historic occasions.

There I chatted briefly with Sertoman Bruce Hanson as he carried carefully rolled flags from the park grounds and placed them into a Sertoma trailer. The project, he says, has been ongoing in the city for a long time (since 1973, according to the website) and was moved to Lindenwood several years ago. Prior to that, the flags were scattered at businesses throughout Fargo and West Fargo. Grouping all the flags in one place makes more of an impact.

Businesses are still involved, Hanson says, via flag placement sponsorships. Proceeds from the flag project go back to the community.

The Sertoma Freedom Bridge over the Red River, linking Fargo and Moorhead.

I didn’t ask Hanson about the other Sertoma project I noticed in the park, the Sertoma Freedom Bridge, a foot-bridge which links Lindenwood Park on the North Dakota side of the Red River with Gooseberry Mound Park on the Moorhead side.

I photographed my shadow and that of my 18-year-old son on this popular biking and walking bridge.

The bridge closes July 9 for reconstruction and reopens October 1. I did a brief online search and learned that this bridge has been battered more than a few times by the raging floodwaters of the Red River. That was difficult to imagine given the docile nature of the narrow and muddy Red on the June evening I visited Lindenwood Park.

But I was assured by a man and his granddaughter that the river most assuredly spills from its banks and floods the lower park areas.

I’d really like to know more about the history of this pedestrian and bike bridge. When was it built? And why is it pegged “Freedom Bridge?”

You’ll also find this symbol of freedom in Lindenwood Park. This memorial honors the 81 men who lost their lives on the WW II American submarine, the USS Rabalo. Four survived but died as Japanese prisoners of war after the submarine hit a minefield and sunk while passing through the Balabac Strait. The submarine was assigned to North Dakota for establishment of a monument.

The Lindenwood Park monument to baseball player Roger Maris, who was born in Hibbing, Minnesota, but grew up in Fargo. This New York Yankees’ outfielder set a new major baseball league record in 1961 with 61 homeruns. That broke Babe Ruth’s record of 60. Maris was also a Most Valuable Player in the American League several times and played in seven World Series. Fargo is home to the Roger Maris Museum at the West Acres Shopping Center.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling