Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Wrapped in Old Glory June 3, 2021

Near the end of the Memorial Day Program at Faribault’s Central Park, veterans prepare for retiring of the colors. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

PRECISE. DISCIPLINED. PATRIOTIC.

Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

Whenever I’ve witnessed anything military-related, those words fit. Service men and women, from my observations, are well-trained in proper protocol, team work and respect. Once instilled, those strengths remain, even decades after active military duty.

Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

There’s something comforting about the military rituals of Memorial Day. The gun salute by the Honor Guard. The playing of Taps. The advancement and retirement of the colors by the Color Guard. All happened during Faribault’s Memorial Day observance.

Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

But even the best practiced traditions sometimes go awry. I saw that happen late Monday morning as a member of the Color Guard removed the Minnesota state and American flags from their place of honor in front of the Central Park Bandshell.

Tangled flags… Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

The wind caught the flags, wrapping the veteran in red-white-and-blue. I marveled at his discipline. I would have fought with the fabric, attempting to untangle myself. But he didn’t. He simply walked with the American flag covering his face and torso.

Perhaps there’s a lesson to be learned from that scene. The veteran’s actions exhibited trust and an adherence to his military training. He continued as called to duty. Focused. Determined.

Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

When he completed his mission and turned toward the crowd, I observed a broad smile. Old Glory draped across his left forearm. A touching reminder of freedom.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Faribault: The realities of war revealed in stories June 2, 2021

A member of the color guard at the Memorial Day program in Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

EVERY MEMORIAL DAY, my emotions rise, sometimes spilling into tears. This year, 2021, proved no exception.

Folks gather for the Memorial Day program in Central Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.
WW II vet and Army Air Corps pilot Joseph Skodje, 100, served as grand marshal of Faribault’s Memorial Day parade. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.
The Rev. Greg Ciesluk opens with prayer. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

As I listened to speakers during a Memorial Day program at Faribault’s Central Park, a sense of loss, of sorrow, of grief descended on me. It is the personal stories that always get me.

Awaiting the playing of Taps to honor the war dead in, an always mournful sound. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

When Honored Combat Veteran Donald F. Langer spoke of losing his soldier-buddy John, I thought of my dad losing his soldier-friend Ray during the Korean War. Decades removed from Vietnam and John’s death, Langer’s grief still runs deep. I could hear it in his words.

Members of the honor guard ready to fire their rifles. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

I heard, too, of the challenges he faced while on R & R. He didn’t fit into civilization, Langer said, so he returned early to the jungle rather than continue his respite separated from his fellow soldiers. And when he exited war via a flight out of Saigon, Langer carried with him the trauma of war.

Everyone who served has stories… Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

These are the stories we need to hear. To personalize war. To make it about more than patriotism and fighting for freedom and serving country. Behind every platitude are individuals who loved and were loved. Who were forever changed.

The honor guard waits and listens to speakers. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

Emcee Gordy Kosfeld shared a poignant story pulled from Guidepost magazine about a young soldier killed in Italy. Uncle Bud, who loved his dog, Jiggs. And Maria. In his riveting radio storytelling voice (KDHL), Kosfeld had the audience listening with attentiveness.

He served… Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

While I listened, my thoughts drifted to my dad, recipient of the Purple Heart. He made it out of Korea alive, but not without trauma.

Patriotism in attire and hand on heart. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

Bud was killed in action. John, too. And Dad’s buddy, Ray. So when the honor guard fired their guns and the bugler played Taps and the women laid wreaths representing our nation’s wars and the pastor prayed and we sang patriotic songs and the color guard retired the colors, I thought of the sacrifices made by so many. They are the reason we gather on Memorial Day. To remember. To honor. To consider the ultimate sacrifice of dying for country.

Please check back for one more post from Memorial Day in Faribault. A light-hearted moment that eased the grief I was feeling.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A grassroots Memorial Day observance at a 150-year-old rural Minnesota cemetery May 25, 2017

The Cannon City Cemetery fence decorated for Memorial Day. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

IN A RURAL CEMETERY in unincorporated Cannon City some five miles northeast of Faribault, a chain link fence separates gravestones from fields.

 

A snippet of those gathered for a past Memorial Day program, including Jean Pederson, left, who recited “In Flanders Fields,” and others who led the program. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Here the wind blows strong among spruce and cedar trees branching over gravestones. For a century and a half now, mourners have come to this place of solitude and grace to bury, grieve and remember loved ones. The cemetery was founded 150 years ago, an occasion which will be noted during the 2 p.m. Memorial Day program here on May 29.

 

Song sheets are distributed to those in attendance and then collected at the end of the program. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I first discovered this place and this annual May tribute, in 2011. Nearly every year since, I’ve returned to sing “The Star Spangled Banner,” “America, the Beautiful” and other patriotic songs; to listen to the reading of “In Flanders Fields,” “The Gettysburg Address” and more; to appreciate the mournful playing of taps; to gaze toward the flag whipping atop the flag pole; and to walk among tombstones.

 

This shows a portion of those gathered during a past Memorial Day program. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I have no personal connection to this cemetery. But I am drawn here by the rural-ness of this setting, by the simplicity of the ceremony, by a desire to honor the war dead at a truly grassroots Americana Memorial Day observance among people rooted deep into this land. It doesn’t get much more basic than this informal and unpretentious gathering in lawn chairs, song sheets passed around with Don Chester strumming a rhythm on his guitar.

 

Memorial Day long ago in Cannon City.

 

The former Cannon City School, now the town hall.

 

A vintage newspaper clipping about Memorial Day in Cannon City.

 

Fifty veterans—including one from the War of 1812 and 20 from the Civil War—are buried here. Their names are read each Memorial Day. It was Civil War veteran Elijah Walrod who first suggested a Decoration Day (now Memorial Day) program to Cannon City School teacher Chloe Gagstetter Polson. She honored his request some 100 years ago when school children marched with floral wreaths from the schoolhouse to the nearby cemetery. That tradition, which included a picnic following the ceremony, continued until the school closed in 1970 to become part of the Faribault School District. The Cannon City Cemetery Board carried on thereafter.

 

Veterans graves are marked with flags on a previous Memorial Day. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

This year the Cannon City Cemetery Friends will note the cemetery’s 150th anniversary by distributing flowers and flags to attendees for placement on veterans’ graves.  Typically those American flags are placed in advance of the commemoration. There will be no “Death March” from the old schoolhouse, now the town hall, to the cemetery. Rather, everyone will meet at the cemetery gates. And after the program, organizers will serve ice cream cones.

 

In 1973, the Cannon City Cardinals 4-H Club participated in the program.

 

The low-key anniversary observance seems fitting in a place where children dart among gravestones, birds trill and folks greet each other with the familiarity of growing up here. They know and value this place.

 

The program opens with singing of “The Star Spangled Banner.” Steve Bonde is on the bugle. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Tradition, says Cemetery Board Secretary Mel Sanborn, brings locals and natives back each Memorial Day “to honor veterans and loved ones buried here.” Sanborn has three aunts and uncles buried here and his own plot purchased already.

 

Bob sings as Don and Judy Chester lead the group in song. Bob attended Cannon City School and participated in Memorial Day programs here as a student. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Most who come here on Memorial Day share links of blood and/or roots. Not me. But I still feel at home here, comfortable in this rural cemetery where, on this day in late May, I am simply an American remembering those who died in service to our country.

 

FYI: The Cannon City Memorial Day program begins at 2 p.m. Bring your own lawn chair. The cemetery is located off Rice County Road 20. Look for the cemetery sign and follow the gravel road to the cemetery.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Vintage photos are courtesy of Mel and Mary Sanborn.

 

Observing Memorial Day at a rural Minnesota cemetery May 27, 2014

Folks begin arriving for the 2 p.m. Memorial Day program at the Cannon City Cemetery.

Folks begin arriving for the 2 p.m. Memorial Day program at the Cannon City Cemetery.

NEARLY 100 YEARS AGO, students paraded with lilac wreaths from their country school a short distance to the Cannon City Cemetery to honor the war dead.

The cemetery fence decorated for Memorial Day.

The cemetery fence decorated for Memorial Day.

Song sheets are distributed to those in attendance and then collected at the end of the program.

Song sheets are distributed to those in attendance and then collected at the end of the program.

Cannon City resident Bob Lewis, a veteran, arrives for the service. Later Bob will share info about the Rice County Drum and Bugle Corps.

Cannon City resident Bob Lewis, a veteran, arrives for the service. Later Bob, a former bugler, will share info about the Rice County Drum and Bugle Corps.

Today there is no “Death March” music, only patriotic songs. There is no school picnic like that after the long ago Memorial Day parade to this rural Rice County, Minnesota, cemetery on the edge of Cannon City some five miles northeast of Faribault.

Off to pick dandelions among tombstones.

Off to pick dandelions among tombstones.

But the children still come, some attentive to the ceremony led by Mel Sanborn, others darting, this Memorial Day, among tombstones to gather bouquets of dandelions. Later, they will toss dandelions into a flower bed ringing the American flag and carry other clutches home. It is a sweet moment to witness.

The program opens with singing of "The Star Spangled Banner." Steve Bonde is on the bugle.

The program opens with singing of “The Star Spangled Banner.” Steve Bonde is on the bugle.

Musicians' song sheets.

Musicians’ song sheets.

Jean Pederson listens after reciting "In Flanders Fields."

Jean Pederson listens after reciting “In Flanders Fields.”

I am here, an observer and a participant in this grassroots patriotic ceremony which, year after year, remains mostly the same—singing of “The Star Spangled Banner,” “America the Beautiful,” “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee;” names of the war dead buried here read; recitation of “In Flanders Fields” and “The Pledge of Allegiance;” and reading of “The Gettysburg Address; and the bugler sounding “Taps.”

Kathleen Kanne reads Walt Whitman's poem, "Reconciliation."

Kathleen Kanne reads Walt Whitman’s poem, “Reconciliation.”

This year, the presentation of Walt Whitman’s “Reconciliation,” the reading of a patriotic-themed newspaper clipping, singing of “Fightin’ Side of Me,” a brief history given of Rice County’s Drum and Bugle Corps and the bugling of “Revelry” are added to the semi formal ceremony.

A soldier's grave, flagged for Memorial Day.

A soldier’s grave, flagged for Memorial Day.

Musician Don Chester leads the musical selections along with his wife, Judy.

Musician Don Chester leads the musical selections along with his wife, Judy.

Between the tombstones, below the flag...

Between the tombstones, below the flag…

Steve Bonde ends the program by playing "Revelry."

Steve Bonde ends the program by playing “Revelry.”

This all presented on the grassy space between aged tombstones in the shadow of the American flag audibly flapping in the breeze. The comparison is not lost on me as Jean Pederson tells of poppies gently swaying in the wind of Flanders Fields.

FYI: To read previous posts on Memorial Day observances at the Cannon City Cemetery, click here and then click here.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling