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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In memory of Cpl. Ray W. Scheibe May 26, 2017

 

 

Ray Scheibe is pictured (to the left) in this May 1953 photo taken by my dad, Elvern Kletscher.

 

WHO WILL YOU REMEMBER on Memorial Day?

I will think of my dad’s Army buddy, Cpl. Ray W. Scheibe, killed by an exploding mortar on June 2, 1953, the day before he was to return home from war to his wife and new baby girl in Nebraska.

 

A story about Cpl. Ray W. Scheibe, published in the July 23, 1953, issue of The Wolbach Messenger.

 

I will think of this man who served his country on the battlefields of Korea.

 

 

 

I will think of this man who died a horrible death in a region where the threat of war still exists.

I will think of Ray’s daughter, Teri, whom I searched for and found seven years ago in southwestern Iowa but have yet to meet.

I will think of the grief and pain of so many whose loved ones never returned home from war. These are heavy, deep thoughts laced with patriotism and gratitude and conflict.

 

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 came back to Minnesota, walking, living, breathing, yet suffering. Teri’s dad returned to Nebraska. Dead. On Monday, I will remember him and the ultimate sacrifice he made for country.

 

FYI: Please click here to read my 2010 story about Ray Scheibe and my efforts to find his daughter. 

© Copyright 2017 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

 

When war becomes personal… September 13, 2016

Rows and rows of names fill the panels comprise the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall.

Rows and rows of names fill the panels comprising the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall.

WHEN WAR SEEMS IMPERSONAL, like simply a list of stats and battles, we need only read the names and hear the stories.

I remember the few stories my father shared of his time on the front lines during the Korean War. He watched his buddy blown apart by a mortar the day before Ray was to return home. Ray’s death haunted my dad. And it still haunts me, a generation removed.

Thousands came to view the temporary wall in Faribault.

Thousands came to view the temporary wall in Faribault.

The Military Mobile Museum brought equipment to the fairgrounds.

The Military Mobile Museum brought equipment to the fairgrounds.

A field of crosses honors Minnesota soldiers who have died in wars since 9/11.

A field of crosses honors Minnesota soldiers who have died in wars since 9/11.

That war story lingered as I visited the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wallviewed military equipment, chatted with veterans and walked between rows of crosses Labor Day weekend at the Rice County Fairgrounds in Faribault.

Posted near the Traveling Wall.

Posted near the Traveling Wall.

Chemical agent paper spotted inside a military vehicle.

Chemical agent paper spotted inside a military vehicle.

Even this military truck was named by soldiers.

Even this military truck was named by soldiers.

The visuals before me reflected the reality of war. When I looked closer, I discovered how soldiers, even in the thick of the Vietnam War, personalized gear and equipment. War became as personal as chemical agent paper, bullet holes in a boat, an eight of Spades playing card and the nickname “Gator” on a helmet.

Gulls and flags and names...

Gulls and flags and names…

Nothing is more personal than a name. Nearly 60,000 names are inscribed upon the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall.

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This cross in the Vietnam KIA Field of Honor memorializes Gordon Gunhus, a native of Rice County where I’ve lived for 34 years.

Visitors peruse the crosses honoring the most recent war dead from Minnesota.

Visitors peruse the crosses honoring the most recent war dead from Minnesota.

A white rose

A white rose and label mark the memorial cross for Glenn Dusbabek of Waterville, about 15 miles west of Faribault.

More names were printed upon labels and posted upon crosses at the fairgrounds, some nameplates accompanied by photos of dead soldiers.

Brent Koch is from Morgan, in my home county of Redwood.

Brent Koch is from Morgan, in my home county of Redwood.

I remembered some of those soldiers from media reports. They were sons and daughters. Buddies. Classmates. Husbands, fathers, brothers, uncles.

A close-up of a tank on display reveals the harsh words of war.

A close-up of a tank on display reveals the harsh words of war.

A collage of photos personalizes the Vietnam War.

A collage of photos personalizes the Vietnam War.

Inside a tent reserved for remembering those missing in action and those who were prisoners of war, a member of the Shattuck-St. Mary's School Crack Squad stands at rigid attention.

Inside a tent reserved for remembering those missing in action and those who were prisoners of war, a member of the Shattuck-St. Mary’s School Crack Squad stands at rigid attention.

War is difficult and horrible. There is no denying that. Men and women die. Families grieve. And soldiers live with the aftermath of their war experiences, physically and/or mentally wounded. We can make it easier for them by remembering, by honoring, by thanking and by caring for them.

An overview of the Traveling Wall (background) and the military equipment displayed recently at the Rice County Fairgrounds.

An overview of the Traveling Wall (background) and military equipment displayed recently at the Rice County Fairgrounds.

I don’t recall ever thanking my dad for his service in Korea, for the great personal sacrifices he made. I wish I had. He’s been dead for 13 ½ years now, his war stories and trauma mostly buried with him. If only I had understood in 2003 what I understand today—that he suffered greatly and that I should have listened with more compassion and understanding.

FYI: This concludes my series of posts focused on the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall exhibit in my Minnesota community.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In honor of our veterans November 11, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:00 AM
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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

 

Viewing North Korea’s threats from a personal perspective April 5, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:31 AM
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HAVE YOU CONSIDERED North Korea and the recent missile threats lobbed against the U.S.?

I have.

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

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

For me it’s personal. Personal because some 60 years ago my father, dead 10 years now, fought as an infantryman in the Korean War. On February 26, 1953, he was struck by shrapnel at Heart Break Ridge. In May 2000, he was awarded a Purple Heart for those wounds. I don’t need to explain Heart Break Ridge. The name tells the story.

Today I reflect on his horrible experiences there and wonder whether that war was worth all the death, all the physical and psychological damage inflicted upon those who fought? Like my dad.

I suppose you could wonder this about any war. Was the war worth the lives lost, the lives changed?

The answer to that question cannot be tidied into a succinct statement, for the response would vary depending on your perspective—perhaps as a soldier, a parent who lost a son or daughter, the daughter who watched her father struggle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

War is never neat and tidy, but rather complicated.

Did the Korean War halt the spread of Communism? Yes, in the south.

This photo, pulled from the shoebox which holds my dad's military photos, is simply labeled "front line." That would be "front line" as in Korea, where my soldier father fought.

This photo, pulled from the shoebox which holds my dad’s military photos, is simply labeled “front line.” That would be “front line” as in Korea, where my soldier father fought.

Yet, despite the signing of a truce, a definite uneasiness has existed between the two Koreas, separated by a 155-mile long, 2.5-mile wide fortified Demilitarized Zone, for 60 years.

Now North Korea’s new leader, Kim Jong-un, has thrown the region into even more uncertainty by his actions and threatened actions. I won’t expound, only note that when I heard mention of North Korean missiles on standby to possibly strike U.S. targets in  Hawaii, Washington, Los Angeles and Austin (Texas), I listened. Anytime a specific place in the U.S. is named, the entire situation becomes much more personal.

I suppose that is part of the strategy, to heighten anxieties. With so much information out there, whom do we believe? Is North Korea capable? Is it not?

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.

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.

What would my Dad, who termed Korea “a hell hole,” say about all of this?

What would Teri Rae say about all of this? She was only six weeks old when her dad died. My father witnessed Ray’s death on the battlefield. (Click here to read about Ray.) He never forgot. I’ve never forgotten either the heart-wrenching and horrific story of the Nebraska soldier who never returned home to his wife or his first-born.

These are my thoughts as I consider the unsettling situation unfolding in Korea.

What are your thoughts?

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Veterans’ Day: Grief in a shoebox November 11, 2012

IT IS BUT A SINGLE SLIP of paper, creased and yellowing with age. Yet, it is so much more. The words typed thereon, 59 years ago, hold heartache and honor and memories of my soldier father and his buddy.

My father shipped home from Korea into the welcoming arms of family.

Cpl. Ray W. Scheibe shipped home from Korea in a box, to a grieving family.

The third section of the memorial service bulletin my soldier dad carried home from Korea.

It’s all there, on that piece of paper, a memorial service bulletin dated July 31, 1953, Sucham-dong, Korea. My father folded that paper into quarters, carried it across the ocean and across the country and back home to southwestern Minnesota and then tucked his grief inside a shoebox.

A story about Cpl. Ray W. Scheibe, published in the July 23, 1953, issue of  his hometown newspaper, The Wolbach Messenger, Wolbach, Nebraska.

Cpl. Ray William Scheibe lost his life in Korea June 2, 1953, when he was hit by a round of mortar fire, according to information received from a buddy. He was a member of an infantry unit and was on patrol duty at the time of his death.—from The Wolbach Messenger, Thursday, July 23, 1953.

Sgt. Elvern Kletscher, my father, witnessed the horrific death of Ray, who was due to ship out the next day. Back in tiny Wolbach, Nebraska, Ray’s wife, Marilyn, and their 3-month-old daughter, Terri Rae, waited.

The memorial service bulletin lists the names of those soldiers who died, including Ray Scheibe.

Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13—scripture quoted in the memorial service folder dated July 31, 1953, Sucham-dong, Korea.

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. My father did not receive his Purple Heart until 2000.

This Veterans’ Day let us remember, always, those who have served and are serving.

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

The cover of the 1953 memorial service folder from Korea.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling