Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Focusing on the true meaning of Memorial Day May 28, 2022

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. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

THIS HOLIDAY WEEKEND, as you fire up the grill, perhaps gather with family and friends or head Up North to the lake cabin, please pause to remember the reason for Memorial Day.

Helmet on rifle in boots is the universal symbol honoring fallen soldiers, this one at the Rice County Veterans’ Memorial in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2020)

It’s not about the unofficial start of summer or a day off work or whatever. Rather, Memorial Day is a day for honoring those military men and women who died in service to their country. It is a day to reflect on that sacrifice of life, to honor, mourn, remember.

Printed on the back of a Memorial Day program folder in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

As the daughter of a Korean War veteran who served as an infantryman with the US Army on the frontlines in Korea and decades later received the Purple Heart, I grew up understanding the significance of Memorial Day. I attended the annual Memorial Day program in my hometown of Vesta, publicly read the poem, “In Flander’s Fields,” multiple times, went to the cemetery afterwards, listened to the haunting playing of taps.

A story about my dad’s Army buddy, Cpl. Ray W. Scheibe, killed in action and published in the July 23, 1953, issue of The Wolbach Messenger. Dad witnessed Ray’s death and was forever haunted by that awful memory. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

My heart holds those Memorial Day memories which prompt me, to this day, to attend a local event honoring fallen soldiers.

A veteran plays taps at the conclusion of the 2016 Memorial Day program in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2016)

Yet it is not the pageantry of a parade, the flying of flags, the singing of patriotic songs, the delivery of speeches or even a poppy pinned to a lapel that moves me the most. Rather, it is the singular playing of taps. Mournful and heartwrenching in a way that grips my soul with grief. For those who died in service. For those left behind.

A paver at the Rice County Veterans’ Memorial notes the tragic death of Sgt. Donald E. Ponto, killed in action. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2020)

Memorial Day is, to me, a profoundly powerful day. It brings not only emotions of sorrow, but also of gratitude.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A letter to Dad on Veterans Day November 11, 2021

U.S. Army Cpl. Elvern Kletscher, my father, in the trenches in Korea. (From my father’s photo collection)

DEAR DAD,

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry I didn’t take the time to ask. And then to listen.

I’m sorry I didn’t recognize earlier that you were suffering.

I’m sorry I was too busy with my own life and family to realize that I could have, should have, tried to understand.

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 while killing a sniper. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2011)

Nearly 19 years have passed now since your burial, since that brutally cold early April day when I wrapped my arm around Mom in the wind-swept hilltop Vesta Cemetery. I felt her body shivering, shaking with grief as she accepted a folded American flag.

Moments like that imprint upon me as I remember you—husband, father, grandfather, son, brother…and veteran.

You were buried with military honors. The firing of guns. The mournful playing of taps. An in-ground military marker notes your final rank as a sergeant in the US Army. Awarded the Purple Heart, albeit 47 years after you were wounded on Heartbreak Ridge in Korea.

My father, Elvern Kletscher, left, with two of his soldier buddies in Korea. (From my father’s photo collection)

Today, on Veterans Day, I think of you. Honor you. And consider how fighting as a boots-on-the-ground combat soldier in the mountains of Korea forever changed you.

I recall the few stories you shared through the decades. You watched as a mortar killed your friend Ray, who was scheduled to leave Korea the next day. He left behind a wife and infant daughter. Dad, your grief led me to search for that “baby” two years after your death. I found Teri living in Iowa and with only minimal knowledge of her birth father. I have yet to meet her, but want to some day.

Some day. Days and weeks and months and years pass and then some day is too late. Now I hold a shoebox brimming with curled black-and-white photos and other items from your time in the Army. Your Selective Service System registration certificate. A well-worn mini black book of prayers, hymns and devotions from the Ladies Aid in Vesta. Faith and prayer carried you through many a hellish day and night in Korea.

On the back of this photo, my dad simply penned “a letter from home.” I appreciate this photo of my dad taken by an unknown buddy in Korea. (From my father’s photo collection)

In a letter to your parents, a copy tucked into a folder labeled “Korea” in my office file cabinet, you termed the war-torn Asian country a “hell hole.” Likewise, an over-sized embroidered decal declares “RETURNED FROM HELL.”

I have no doubt that war was hell for you. “Shoot or be shot,” I remember you saying. You spoke, too, of bitter cold, of hunger, of orphans begging for food across barbed wire fences. Of horrible war-time atrocities that I can’t bear to write here.

My dad carried this memorial service bulletin home from Korea. In the right column is listed the name of his fallen buddy, Raymond W. Scheibe. (From my father’s collection)

And then when you arrived home—bringing with you a folded memorial service bulletin from Sucham-dong, Korea, dated July 31, 1953, and including your buddy Ray’s name—the horror and grief you experienced remained. But few, if any, acknowledged your struggles back then. You were expected to resume life as usual, returning to rural Minnesota to farm the land, to milk cows, to marry and raise a family. Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was not yet recognized.

I’m sorry, Dad. Sorry about the neighbor who laughed as you dove to the ground when a rifle fired during pheasant hunting.

I’m sorry, Dad, for the fear you felt when guns fired during a small town parade.

I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you like I should have been.

Near the end of your life, you found empathy and care in your veterans’ support group. That comforts me. Those men understood what you’d experienced. For that I am grateful. They provided the emotional support I failed to give you. I’m sorry, Dad. So sorry.

With love,

Audrey

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Honoring Ray Scheibe & others who gave their all May 31, 2021

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

SIXTY-EIGHT YEARS AGO on June 2, 1953, a 22-year-old soldier died on the battlefields of Korea. Blown apart by a mortar just the day before he was scheduled to leave, to return home to Wollbach, Nebraska. To his wife and six-week-old daughter.

This May 1953 photo, taken by my dad, shows Ray Scheibe on the left.

He was Cpl Ray W. Scheibe, my dad’s Army buddy. Fellow soldier. Comrade.

My dad, Elvern Kletscher, witnessed Ray’s horrible death. Something he never forgot. The visual he carried with him from Korea back home to southwestern Minnesota. The trauma. The pain. The loss never left him. How could it? He and Ray were like brothers, linked by a bond unlike any other in the commonality of survival, of facing death, of shoot or be shot.

Today I honor Ray and all those brave men and women who died in service to our country. They left behind grieving friends and families and communities. Eventually, I would find and connect with Ray’s daughter, Terri. (Read that story by clicking here.) We have yet to meet in person, but continue to exchange annual holiday letters.

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 hold close the memory my dad shared about Ray’s death. Dad seldom talked about Korea. I wish I’d asked more about his time there. It’s too late; he died in 2003. But I have a shoe box full of photos and memorabilia, including the memorial service bulletin Dad carried home from Korea. The one that lists Ray’s name among those soldiers who died in service to their country. The ones who gave the ultimate sacrifice—their lives.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Honoring our veterans, including my dad November 11, 2020

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

Vesta—Pfc Elvern Kletscher, son of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Kletscher, was wounded in action on Heart Break Ridge in Korea on February 24th. He was engaged in mortar firing at the time. A burst of enemy schrapnel (sic) struck him in the face. He spent a few days in the hospital and was released, but has not returned to active duty. Elvern entered service on February 15, 1952 and has been on front line duty in Korea since November 7th.

The above short article about my father published in a rural Minnesota newspaper in the early winter of 1953. I can only imagine how my grandparents received the news about their son, wounded in action in Korea.

On the back of this photo from my father’s collection, my dad simply penned “a letter from home.” I appreciate this photo of my dad taken by an unknown buddy in Korea.

In a letter written to them just days after his February 26, not February 24, war injury, my dad mentioned nothing about the incident. Rather, he wrote of snow, called Korea a “hell hole” and advised his family not to worry. But how could they not worry, realizing that their son was in the thick of battle as a frontline infantryman with the US Army? According to an earlier newspaper article, he was training with the 24th infantry, the first American division to fight in Korea, from Pusan to the Yalu River in 19 months of combat.

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

My dad shared only a few stories about his time in Korea. He talked about the events leading up to his shrapnel wound. Ordered to take out a sniper who, for days, had been picking off fellow platoon soldiers, Dad hunkered inside a trench. A bullet struck his trench. Dad studied the angle of the bullet, angled his rifle up and shot. He heard a “ka-pook,” understanding that he had hit his intended target.

Two days later, when 12 men were sent to retrieve the sniper’s body, Dad stood guard to assure the enemy was not circling behind. Suddenly, 10 small mortars lobbed toward them, one landing near him. Had it gone off, my father would have died. Instead, shrapnel struck his face. “I knew the blood was running,” he said in a 2000 interview with a Minnesota TV station at the time he was awarded a long overdue Purple Heart. He was shaking and scared, but couldn’t leave his post.

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.

Eventually, my dad would make it safely back to rural Minnesota, resume his life as a farmer, marry my mom and raise a family of six children. But he was a changed man, scarred by war, dealing with PTSD (unknown back then) and other issues resulting from his time on the frontline in Korea.

The Rice County, Minnesota, Veterans’ Memorial in Faribault stands in front of the courthouse. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Today, Veterans Day, I honor my father (who died in 2003) and all others who have served and continue to serve our country, whether they have been in direct combat, served in support capacities or otherwise. I appreciate their efforts to secure our democracy, our freedom.

TELL ME: Who would you like to honor today? Or, if you’ve served, please share your thoughts on this important day.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Memorial Day reflections May 24, 2019

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A veteran salutes during the Memorial Day Program at Faribault’s Central Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

IN THE BUSYNESS of this holiday weekend, please take time to remember the real reason for Memorial Day. It is about honoring the men and women who died in service to our country.

I direct you to a blog post I wrote for Warner Press and which published earlier this week. Click here.

 

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.

 

Read about my dad’s war memories in a shoebox and how he kept the faith on the battlefields of Korea. Read, too, about his buddy Ray, who died there.

Pause. Reflect. Honor. That is the essence of Memorial Day. Not the start of summer.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflecting on Veterans Day November 11, 2018

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

 

IT’S EASY ENOUGH to write words of praise on Veterans Day. Those are words we expect. And they should be spoken, written.

But there are other words which also need exposure. Like sacrifice, pain, guilt, suffering. I saw all of those in my dad, who fought on the front lines in the Korean War. Kill or be killed. He shared little of his experiences, but just enough that I understood the horror he saw, the horror he endured, the pain he would carry with him throughout his life. Peace eluded him. I felt helpless to help him. And I don’t know that I could have, never experiencing war as he did. Eventually he joined a veterans’ support group decades after the war, when post traumatic stress disorder was finally recognized. It helped him to talk to those who understood.

Please take time today to reflect. Reflect on those who served and who still serve.

Be thankful for those who are working hard to keep America safe. Freedom is never a guarantee and today, more than ever, I am fully cognizant of that.

To my many family members and friends who have served in the U.S. military, to my readers who have done likewise, thank you for your service. Because of you, I have the freedom to write this post, to continue to write, to live in a nation where I can go to the polls and vote.

Thank you, veterans, for the personal sacrifices you made for your country. Today I honor you.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The personal connection of war, decades after my dad left Korea May 26, 2018

The cover of a July 31, 1953, memorial service folder from Sucham-dong, Korea.

 

WAR IS MORE THAN THE FLASH of a news story, a list of statistics, a row of flags marking graves.

 

Photo by Sonny Nealon, Ray’s best friend in high school, Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

War is personal. War is a flag-draped coffin, a name upon a tombstone, grief for a loved one.

 

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

 

I expect nearly every one of you could share a story of a family member who served in the Armed Forces, perhaps even gave his/her life for country.

This Memorial Day—between the travel and fun of the weekend—please reflect on the true meaning of this holiday. Remember those who died on battlefields or along roads or in trenches during too many wars.

 

Page two of the 1953 memorial service bulletin from Korea.

 

I need look no farther than a brown shoebox. It holds the memorabilia of war, of my father’s time as an infantryman on the front lines during the Korean War. Among the photos and other items is a memorial service bulletin dated July 31, 1953, Sucham-dong, Korea. It lists the names of 28 men from the 2nd Battalion, 65th Infantry Regiment who died in service to country.

 

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

 

Among those names, my dad’s Army buddy, Raymond W. Scheibe. Ray died the day before he was to return home to his wife and infant daughter. My heart breaks when I think of that, of my dad witnessing his friend’s death and then Ray’s family getting the awful news back in Nebraska. A young wife left a widow. A daughter never knowing her father. Grieving parents.

 

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

 

War is personal. To think that my dad saved this memorial service bulletin shows me the depths of his grief. He could have tossed the piece of paper after the service—after the singing of patriotic songs and reading of Scripture and prayer and roll call and a moment of silence. But he didn’t. He folded the now yellowed paper into quarters and carried it with him, across the ocean, across the country, back home to Minnesota.

 

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. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Through that action, my father, dead 15 years now, honored his soldier-friend. He assured that the next generation, me, would remember. War is personal. War is a worn slip of paper saved for 65 years.

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FYI: Many opportunities exist in the Faribault area to honor our veterans on Memorial Day. Here’s a partial list:

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Watching the 2018 Winter Olympics from the perspective of a Minnesota soldier’s daughter February 13, 2018

My dad, Elvern Kletscher, at Camp McNair in Korea, photo dated February 14 (1953).

 

WATCHING THE WINTER OLYMPICS the past several days, I’ve felt a closeness to my deceased father. He walked this soil, this mountainous land so different from the flat, open farm land of his southwestern Minnesota home.

 

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.

 

He landed here in 1952 with a ship full of other U.S. Army soldiers, gun in hand. A young man sent here by his government to fight on foreign land in a region that still is without solid peace. He fought on the front lines. Kill or be killed. Buddies dying. Explosions and hungry Korean orphans begging for food across barbed wire and him eating bark from trees and cold that felt even colder than the coldest of Minnesota winters.

 

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.

 

When I see the blowing snow and rugged mountain ranges during Olympics coverage, I think of my foot solider infantryman father, ranging through and over those Korean mountains. Scared. Yet doing what he must to survive. Kill or be killed.

 

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

 

I think of him on Heartbreak Ridge, picking off a sniper who had taken many of his buddies. And I think of the fiery shrapnel piercing his skin and the Purple Heart he would claim decades later, when he was an old man. Because a fire had destroyed his military records. Because he had tucked most of his war memories away. Because no one cared about what happened on a Korean mountaintop in 1953.

 

On the back of this photo, my dad simply wrote “a letter from home.” I appreciate this photo of my dad taken by an unknown buddy in Korea.

 

I regret that I didn’t understand him and the inner turmoil he carried with him from Korea back home to Minnesota. I regret that I didn’t ask more about his war experiences, that I didn’t recognize the trauma he suffered as a result. I regret that healing never fully came, although he found understanding and solace in the company of other veterans with similar shared experiences late in life.

All of this I consider when I view the Olympic athletes in their designer clothing, medals around their necks, applause of crowds, praise of many.

All of this I consider when I see the sister of the North Korean dictator seated behind our Vice President.

All of this I consider when I view those Korean mountains flashing across my TV screen.

 

Dad penciled on the back of this 1953 photo from Korea: “Sgt Smith & me from the States to Korea.”

 

I think of my dad as I retrieve a shoebox full of his black-and-white Korean War era photos. I sit on the sofa filing through those curled images while Olympic athletes ski and skate and propel themselves down an icy tunnel. On the back of one photo, I read my dad’s cursive notation: me in Korea May, 53.

Sixty-five years have passed since he left Korea. I wish I could sit with him now, ask him about his time in Korea, about the stories behind those photos. Perhaps he would talk, perhaps not.

 

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

 

I wonder, would he turn off the television or would he watch the Olympians perform? Could he handle seeing the backdrop of those rugged mountains where too many of his buddies died? Would he flash back to the horrors of war?

 

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.

 

The reality is that I can’t ask him. He died in 2003. But I can write. I can use my words to tell his story, to apologize for my lack of understanding, to honor him. And this I do as Olympians cross country ski, stop, sprawl stomach down, then fire their rifles in this land, this Korea. This land where my soldier father from Minnesota shot his weapon, too. Kill or be killed.

© Copyright 2018 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

 

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