Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

BibleSticks and battle prayers May 28, 2011

A tattered prayer book carried by my father to Korea, where he fought on the front lines during the Korean Conflict. Touching these pages, I feel the faith of my soldier father.

LAST SUNDAY AFTER SERVICES at my church, Trinity Lutheran in Faribault, we watched a brief video about BibleSticks.

Never heard of them? I hadn’t either, until viewing that clip.

“The Military BibleStick is a digital audio player that is pre-loaded with a dramatized recording of the entire New Testament,” according to the Faith Comes by Hearing website. The organization, dedicated to getting the Word of God into the world, “offers 557 Audio Scripture recordings in 553 languages reaching more than 5 billion people in more than 185 countries.”

Part of that outreach includes the U.S. military. Demand is great for the 3 ½-inch long, less than one inch thick, camouflaged, battery-operated BibleSticks, I learned via the video. For whatever reason, the BibleSticks must be processed through military chaplains.

With a $25 donation, we could give a slip-in-the-pocket, portable New Testament to military men and women.

Although I personally don’t know of anyone who has used a BibleStick, I do understand the importance of access to Scripture, especially for our soldiers.

Flashback to February 1952, when my father, Elvern Kletscher of Vesta, was drafted. Less than a year later, he found himself in the mountains of Korea, a U.S. military infantryman fighting on the frontline during the Korean Conflict.

My father, Elvern Kletscher, preparing to leave his Vesta farm home in April 1952, six weeks after he was drafted.

On February 26, 1953, he was struck in the neck by shrapnel at Heartbreak Ridge. Later, he would be awarded the Korean Service Medal with 3 Bronze Service Stars, the National Defense Service Medal, the United Nations Service Medal, the Combat Infantry Badge and the Purple Heart.

During those combat days, when my dad feared for his life, when he was forced to shoot the enemy or die, he relied on his deep faith in God.

My Dad's worn copy of God Our Refuge.

And he carried with him a 3-inch by 4 ½-inch black book, God Our Refuge. A gift from the St. John’s Lutheran Ladies’ Aid of Vesta, the book includes gospel readings, devotions, meditations, prayers, hymns and more.

Within the pages of that volume, my dad found solace, hope and comfort in the face of constant death.

Now eight years after his death, I cradle the tiny book in my palm, brush my fingers against the brittle, black leather covers, open the curled pages that are loosening from the binding. I think of my father, how he carried this book in his pocket, how he flipped and read the 144 pages, how he prayed while trapped inside the cold earth of a foxhole, while engaging in battle, while lying inside his tent at night.

The inscription reads: To Elvern Kletscher with best wishes from the Lutheran Ladies' Aid at Vesta, Minn.

As I turn to page 117 of my dad’s tattered copy of God Our Refuge, I feel forever connected to him, my fingers touching the paper he touched, reading the words he read 58 years ago as a young soldier in battle:

“In Thine arms I rest me;

Foes who would molest me

Cannot reach me here.

Though the earth be shaking,

Every heart be quaking,

Jesus calms my fear.

Lightnings flash and thunders crash;

Yet, though sin and hell assail me,

Jesus will not fail me.”

HAVE YOU OR SOMEONE you know used a BibleStick? If so, I’d like to hear about your experience with this audio version of Scripture and what it meant to you.

My grandparents, Ida and Henry Kletscher, posing with some of their children, flank my father, Elvern Kletscher, who is about to leave for military service in 1952. My uncle Merlin is the youngest, standing in the front row wearing the bib overalls.

BEHIND EVERY PICTURE, there is a story, including stories about the images of my father and his family, above.

My uncle, Merlin Kletscher, found these two photos in the winter of 2010 while researching for a family reunion. They were tucked inside a worn copy of The Lutheran Hymnal, copyright 1941, published by Concordia Publishing House. That hymnbook belonged to my grandfather, whose name, Henry Kletscher, was inked in gold on the cover. He had taped the edges and binding of the much-used songbook.

The two photos were sandwiched between song 409, “Let Us Ever Walk with Jesus,” and song 410, “Jesus Lead Thou On.”

The latter was one of my Grandpa Henry’s favorite hymns, Uncle Merlin recalls.

“I have not found any other photos or negatives which leads me to think that these pictures were very dear to him,” my uncle says.

Now those photos are also very dear to me. When Merlin handed copies to me last summer, I teared up. Little did my father know then what horrors awaited him on the battlefields of Korea, how his life and death experiences would forever change him.

And my heart ached for my Grandma Ida, standing there beside her soldier son. I wish I had asked her how she felt, how they all felt. Now I have only these photos to show me the close love of a family sending their boy off to war.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

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Honoring the memory of my dad April 4, 2011

Elvern Kletscher's 1950s military photo

HIS OBITUARY READS IN PART: From 1952-1953, he served in the U.S. Army during the Korean Conflict. He served on the front lines, receiving the Purple Heart after being wounded…He enjoyed his weekly visits with his veterans support group. He enjoyed bird watching, making horseradish and tomato juice with his family.

Elvern Kletscher passed away Thursday, April 3, 2003, at the Sunwood Good Samaritan Center in Redwood Falls, Minnesota at the age of 72 years and 29 days.

Yesterday, on the eight-year anniversary of my father’s death, I failed to remember. How could I? How could I forget the day he died, the day I lost my dad? How could I?

It breaks my heart that I would forget. This failure to remember the date of his death seems like a dishonor to the father I loved. He was a man who worked hard tending the earth, who loved his family and God. He was a soldier who served his country and, because of his time on the killing fields of Korea, suffered from a lifetime of demons that at times robbed me of my father.

But in the end, in his last days, I came to terms with the issues that sometimes made life with him difficult and challenging. I saw only the goodness as I stood at his bedside in the Veterans Administration Hospital where he lay dying of cancer and congestive heart failure.

As I held his hand, stroked his thick white hair, held a straw to his lips, I tried to be brave, to cheer him, to comfort him.

But when I couldn’t keep my emotions in check any more, I fled his room, stood outside his hospital room and wept.

Once I pulled myself back together, I returned to his bedside, listened to him tell me he was going to a better place, that he wanted all of us to take care of Mom. And then I cried, right there, holding nothing back because I couldn’t no matter how hard I tried.

Two days later, after being transported back to his home county, into a nursing home, my dad died.

And on April 7 we buried him, deep in the soil, in the hillside cemetery that overlooks his beloved prairie, the place where, except for his time in the military, he lived his entire life.

On that gloomy April day of biting cold wind, I held my mom close, my arm wrapped around her shoulders as she shivered uncontrollably. Together with my siblings we huddled inside a tent, next to the coffin.

As the guns fired in a military salute, as taps sounded their mournful wail, as my mom accepted a carefully folded American flag, I wept.

Today I weep, too, as I remember the father I loved.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Remembering my soldier-father and Elizabeth Taylor March 24, 2011

WHEN I HEARD the news on Wednesday of Elizabeth Taylor’s death, I didn’t think of the Hollywood star or the two-time Oscar winner, the stunning beauty with the violet eyes or the woman who married eight times, or even the starlet who struggled with addiction and was a crusader in the fight against AIDS.

Rather, I thought of my dad.

He was smitten with Liz.

He never met the Hollywood actress. But he had seen her on a United Service Organizations stage while serving during the Korean Conflict. That was enough for my Minnesota farmer turned-soldier dad to fall for her. Hard. I don’t recall him ever, in his life-time, talking about another actress. He had eyes only for Elizabeth.

His wasn’t an obsession. Nothing like that. It’s just that he seldom talked about his time on the front lines as a foot solider during the Korean War. He told us about the orphans begging for food across barbed wire fences, the sniper (he eventually killed) picking off members of his platoon, watching his buddy blown up the day before he was to return home to the States, the cold and lack of food, the digging into foxholes for protection…and then Elizabeth Taylor, dear, dear Liz.

I expect that the movie star offered a welcome and pleasant diversion for soldiers who faced death on a daily basis.

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

If my dad was still alive—he died eight years ago at the age of 72—I would ask him about the woman who enamored him with her beauty when she stepped onto Korean soil to entertain the troops. I don’t know details about her USO appearance. I wish I had cared enough to ask him.

I tried to find more information online, but Taylor’s USO tours don’t exactly pop up all over the Internet. She once received the USO Woman of the Year Award and won a USO Merit Award. Otherwise I didn’t find much out there.

And that is dismaying to me. Her time entertaining our servicemen, soldiers like my dad, seems as notable as her roles in Cleopatra or Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.

For me, Elizabeth Taylor will always be more than just another actress. She will be a reminder of my father, of the young Minnesota soldier who was struck by shrapnel at Heartbreak Ridge in Korea and was awarded the Purple Heart 47 years later. It is his memories of Liz that define her to me, not her beauty, not her accolades, not her anything except the temporary escape she gave my soldier-father nearly 60 years ago from the battlefields of Korea, from the horrors of war.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thoughts on the latest conflict in Korea November 23, 2010

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WHEN I HEARD this morning of the North Korean attack on South Korea over contested waters, I thought instantly of my dad. He fought on the front lines during the Korean War and was wounded at Heartbreak Ridge.

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

He, like so many other Americans, gave of themselves in Korea and, still, 60 years later, the conflict between the north and the south remains. Were the Americans’ efforts six decades ago worth the personal losses given nothing was ever truly resolved?

I know what my dad sacrificed for his country. He gave up a certain sense of inner peace. He was forever haunted by the horrors of war. That affected many facets of his life and impacted his family too. Me. My mom. My siblings. Life was sometimes a struggle for him.

But my dad was lucky. He survived. He did not die, like his buddy Ray, who was blown apart the day before he was to leave Korea. My father saw his friend die. You never forget something like that. I heard the horrible, wrenching story many times.

All of these thoughts passed through my mind today. I miss my dad, who died in 2003. I wonder how different he may have been had he never been called upon to defend South Korea, to kill North Koreans, to see his friends die upon the mountains of Korea.

I wonder. And, yes, today, with the news of the escalating tension, my heart breaks.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Remembering my dad, a Korean War veteran November 11, 2010

 

 

Elvern Kletscher, my dad

 

I’VE JUST PULLED TWO FILES from a cabinet in my office. One’s labeled “Elvern K. (obit, death certificate).” The other is simply labeled “KOREA.”

Then I turn toward a chest of drawers, also in my office, and remove a shoebox from the bottom drawer. It’s tagged “Elvern Kletscher’s Korean pix, etc. Important stuff.” I’ve underlined “Important stuff” twice.

The contents of that shoebox connect to the contents of the files. All encompass my dad’s time serving with the U.S. Army during the Korean Conflict.

 

 

Some of the items from my dad's time in the military, stored in a shoebox.

 

Sifting through the files and shoebox brings me to tears as I remember my dad, who fought on the front lines, was wounded on February 26, 1953, at Heartbreak Ridge and received a Purple Heart medal 47 years later. He died in 2003.

My father talked very little of his time in Korea. So other than generalities and a few shared stories, only his black-and-white photos and letters offer me a glimpse of the young man who was drafted and sent into combat.

In letters written to his family, my dad vents his frustrations and concerns. I’ll share snippets of a letter from Korea dated March 4, 1953, his 22nd birthday, and written days after he was wounded.

Dear Mother, Dad & all

Guess you’s have been snowbound for awhile. “Huh” Just got your letter today. Well I’m 22 now. Birthday is past by a couple hours. Sure isn’t much of a birthday. But guess I can’t expect much over here.

Then he proceeds to blast the draft board and politicians after learning that his younger brother, Harold, may be called to duty. I can’t quote everything he wrote, but let me tell you, my father is fuming. He writes, in part:

Do they know what this is like over here? Hell no. Why the heck don’t some of them come over here and look this over. They’d probably come to their senses…

In the third page of his letter, my father-soldier continues:

I didn’t get your package yet, but they will be here soon mail is awful poor in coming through. Nobody is getting any mail. I’ve got 17 points now I think. They pile up fast. Sure wish I had the 36 of them though. I still think I’ll leave Korea in August. So it isn’t too long anymore. I sure hope I get out 3 months prior to my discharge. That’s almost all we talk about in the day time is how many points each other has got and when we think we will leave this hell hole.

Those are two strong words: hell hole.

But the few war stories that my father shared were nothing short of hellish. He told of digging foxholes and praying that God would save him from death, of a buddy blown up before his eyes, of a sniper picking off members of his platoon until my dad picked off the sniper, of being pinned down for days in trenches under constant enemy shelling…

 

 

My dad brought this 7-inch by 9-inch cloth "RETURNED FROM HELL" patch home with him after serving for nearly a year in Korea.

 

Through the attacks, the combat, the deaths of buddies, all through his year in Korea, my dad held strong to his faith. He wrote:

Sure was good to go to church. I had communion. I always try and make every church service they got over here. Once a week the chaplain comes up here on the hill. It’s always good to go. Always makes a guy know he isn’t alone.

In concluding his 3 ½-page letter, my father tells his parents:

I’m feeling fine and don’t worry about me. I’ll write again. Love Vern

Not once in his 87-line letter does my dad mention that just nine days earlier he was struck on the right side of his neck by shrapnel from a mortar round.

 

 

Elvern Kletscher, left, with two of his buddies in Korea.

 

TODAY, VETERANS DAY, please take time to honor a veteran, remembering all they have sacrificed for their country.

In conclusion, I wish to quote a few lines from a news release issued by former Second District Congressman David Minge on May 12, 2000, the year my dad received his Purple Heart for those wounds suffered on Heartbreak Ridge in Korea.

These two men are a prime example of sacrifice and service to our nation. For fifty years, Norman Kalk and Elvern Kletscher knew the truth that they had earned these medals. I am gratified that we could finally recognize their contributions and acknowledge the debt we can never repay.

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A STORY WHICH I WROTE about my Dad’s service in Korea was published in 2005 in the book God Answers Prayers Military Edition, True Stories from People Who Serve and Those Who Love Them, edited by Allison Bottke. To read that story, “Faith and Hope in a Land of Heartbreak,” click onto the Harvest House Publishers website.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling