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

 

Near Faribault: Roberds Lake memorials honor veterans July 23, 2013

This boat was among two arriving for the 2 p.m. memorial dedication ceremony.

A boat arrives for the 2 p.m. memorial dedication ceremony at Roberds Lake.

THEY COME BY LAND and by lake Sunday afternoon to Geri Larson’s place along Roberds Lake near Faribault for the latest unveiling of a private veterans’ memorial, the third along the shoreline.

A portion of the crowd gathered for the ceremony. Attendees also lined a mulch-lined path along the steep side of the river bank to the read in this photo.

A portion of the crowd gathered for the ceremony. Attendees also line a mulch-lined path along the steep side of the lake bank. Jim Williams, who has two vets’ memorials on his property next door, starts the program.

Nearly half of the estimated 75 attendees are veterans, gathered here on Geri’s parcel of property between steep hillside and water, under the shade of trees, including a sturdy oak, to honor and remember.

Flags from the four branches of the military fly next to Geri Larson's cabin.

Flags from the four branches of the military fly next to Geri Larson’s cabin.

In a formal ceremony, while American and military flags waft in the breeze, folks listen to guest speakers and observe the protocols of a patriotic program—advancement of the colors by the Color Guard, a gun salute, playing of “Taps” and singing of the National Anthem.

Veterans arrive with flags and guns to start the dedication program.

Veterans arrive with flags and guns to start the dedication program.

Lloyd Grandprey waits to play taps.

Lloyd Grandprey waits to play “Taps.”

Emmee Grisim steps up to the podium to sing "The Star Spangled Banner."

Emmee Grisim, of Lake City and the niece of Jim Williams, steps up to the podium to sing “The Star Spangled Banner” as the program gets underway.

The occasional drone of a motor, in air and by water, breaks the rhythm of the program. “I told you the Air Force was coming,” retired National Guard Lt. Col. Roger Williams jokes as he notes a plane overhead, pausing in his talk focused on remembering and honoring, as far back as his family’s involvement in the Civil War to the more recent war in Iraq.

Hands on guns.

Hands on guns.

Occasional laughter erupts. But the tone of the 45-minute ceremony remains primarily serious, aimed at remembering, honoring and thanking those who served.

Geri Larson prepares to slice the cake, served along with sandwiches and beverages, after the dedication ceremony.

Before the ceremony, Geri Larson slices the patriotic themed cake which will be served along with sandwiches and beverages after dedication of the new vets’ memorial on her land.

That marks Geri Larson’s purpose in erecting the newest Roberds Lake veterans’ memorial, right next door to the two memorials on the property of Jim Williams, brother of Roger. Larson says the “Window in Time” piece honors the fallen and all veterans, including three of her brothers who served in the military.

Faribault American Legion Post 43 Commander Kirk Mansfield speaks before the unveiling.

Faribault American Legion Post 43 Commander Kirk Mansfield speaks before the unveiling.

Larson and Jim Williams’ neighbor, Faribault American Legion Post 43 Commander and Gulf War veteran Kirk Mansfield, was instrumental in establishing the Roberds Lake veterans’ memorials. He worked with others on the designs and then crafted “Window in Time” and “American Joe,” with his father, Dick, creating the POW/MIA memorial.

The "Window in Time" memorial shows a current day Marine praying before a grave/memorial. The young man depicted in the 4x8-foot steel sculpture is carrying a heavy burden, Kirk Mansfield notes, with the burden on his back representing a simple thank you. The tipped helmet also symbolizes thanks. The weapons are representative of those from WW II and the Korean War. The piece carries a theme of honoring and respecting elders. Mansfield was joined by many volunteers in working on the project.

The “Window in Time” memorial shows a current day Marine praying before a grave/memorial. The young man depicted in the 4-foot x 8-foot steel sculpture is carrying a heavy burden, Kirk Mansfield notes, with the burden on his back representing a simple thank you. The tipped helmet also symbolizes thanks. The weapons are representative of those from WW II and the Korean War. The piece carries a theme of honoring and respecting elders. Mansfield was joined by many volunteers in working on the project. It was installed on Saturday, dedicated on Sunday.

Mansfield tells the group gathered on Sunday that the newest memorial represents “a time for remembrance, solace and peace.”

He reflects on the numbers of Americans who have died in service to their country—some 1,500 since the “American Joe” memorial next door was dedicated in 2009 to 400,000-plus lives lost during WW II.

“The price of America’s freedom,” Mansfield notes, “is buried in the ground.”

BONUS PHOTOS:

Veterans participate in the program.

Veterans who participated in the program.

Friends greet friends before the dedication begins.

Friends greet friends before the dedication begins.

Geri Larson with her friend, George LaRoche, who installed the poles for the military flags on her property.

Geri Larson with her friend, George LaRoche, who installed the poles for the military flags on her property.

The POW/MIA memorial on Jim Williams' lakeshore.

The POW/MIA memorial created by Dick Mansfield and placed on Jim Williams’ lake shore.

The "American Joe" memorial was crafted by metal artist Kirk Mansfield, who "sits at a computer all day" in his professional career,

The “American Joe” memorial crafted by metal artist Kirk Mansfield, who “sits at a computer all day” at his paying job. The memorial was dedicated in 2009. The soldier represented in the art is from the 1970s, Jim Williams says. His brother, Gary, served during that time, in Vietnam.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling