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

 

Patriotic tradition continues with Memorial Day parade in Faribault June 1, 2021

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A vet rides on the Moose Lodge float during the Memorial Day parade. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

TO CELEBRATE MEMORIAL DAY in Faribault means coming together as a community. First during a ceremony at the Rice County courthouse, then the 10 a.m. parade through the heart of downtown followed by a program at Central Park.

Lining up for the parade near Buckham Library. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.
An honored veteran. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.
The Color Guard marches along Central Avenue past the many historic buildings which grace our downtown. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

This represents Americana. Tradition. A public way to honor those who died in service to our country.

Faribault Fire & Rescue is always part of the parade. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.
Parade participant. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.
City Council members always ride atop the fire truck. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

It’s a day when politics are set aside and the focus shifts to patriotism and gratitude. We are simply Americans, thankful for freedom.

The Faribault Moose Lodge float. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.
This vintage wagon advertises Minne Roadtrips to the Faribault/Northfield/Owatonna area. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.
The Scouts always walk in the parade. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

As has been our tradition for decades, Randy and I unfolded our lawn chairs along Central Avenue to watch the parade pass by. Little changes. Veterans and flags and fire trucks and Scouts and vintage vehicles and horses define the 15-minute parade. Absent this year were high school bands and the Shattuck-St. Mary’s Crack Squad.

A particularly patriotic truck. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

But we were happy simply to have a parade, canceled last May (and rightly so) due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

American Heritage Girls distributed flags. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.
I love this vintage John Deere tractor, representative of this agricultural region. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.
Flags adorn a vintage pick-up truck. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

On this Memorial Day 2021, American flags stretched in the morning breeze. Parade participants waved. And kids waved mini flags distributed by Scouts and American Heritage Girls. Veterans clutched flags. And flags adorned vehicles. It was all about the red-white-and-blue.

Crowds line Central Avenue to watch the parade. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.
Horses always end the parade. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.
Folks lingered after the parade. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

While this parade rates as short and simple, I none-the-less cherish it. I cherish the tradition. I cherish the opportunity to come together as a community. And I cherish the opportunity to remember and honor those Americans who died while serving our country. Our America.

Please check back for photos from the Memorial Day program at Central Park.

© 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

 

Memorial Day 2020, adapted, from southern Minnesota May 26, 2020

A star marks a veteran’s grave in the Cannon City Cemetery, rural Faribault.

 

THE RADIO PLAYED in the background as I washed dishes Memorial Day morning. I listened to honored veterans speak of the war dead and freedom and why the American flag is folded 13 times. I listened to the local Legion leader read the names of all county veterans who died in the past year. Well over one hundred. And I heard, too, the honking of horns as attendees at my community’s annual Memorial Day program in Central Park “applauded.”

 

This flag pole sits just inside the entrance to the Cannon City Cemetery.

 

COVID-19 changed so many traditions this year—including here in Faribault. There was no parade, no ceremony at the Rice County Veterans’ Memorial, no lunch at the Legion. Only the traditional program continued in the park, but with attendees sheltered inside their vehicles. Others, like me, listened at home to the live broadcast on KDHL radio.

 

U.S. Army Cpl. Elvern Kletscher, my father, in the trenches in Korea, Minnesota Prairie Roots photo 1952.

 

And, as I listened, I thought of my dad, an infantryman in the Korean War. I thought, too, of his buddy Ray, killed by a mortar. Dad saw his friend die. Dad, who died 17 years ago, carried that grief and the horrors of war with him. He suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, undiagnosed until decades after he left Korea.

 

Flags decorate veterans’ graves in Cannon City.

 

I continued washing dishes while the radio played. But when taps sounded, I stopped. To cry. Thinking of my dad. Missing him. The playing of taps often moves me into a place of grief for all the lives lost in war.

 

A past Memorial Day gathering at the Cannon City Cemetery. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Later, Randy and I drove to the Cannon City Cemetery where, on a typical Memorial Day, we would attend a program under the cedar trees. We’ve grown to love this grassroots gathering of rural folks who honor the war dead with music and poetry and inspirational readings. But, because of COVID-19, that event was canceled, too.

 

Rhody Yule’s grave marker.

 

The tombstone of a Civil War soldier buried in the Cannon City Cemetery.

 

And so we roamed among the tombstones, pausing at the flag-marked graves of soldiers, including that of our friend Rhody.

 

I love this serene scene of a bird on a simple woven fence edging the cemetery.

 

Birds chirped.

 

One tombstone features a barn on one side, a tractor on the other.

 

Such beauty in this rural cemetery, from setting to nature’s details.

 

Inside and outside cemetery boundaries, the rural-ness of this place prevails in art. Natural and man-made. I delighted in that.

 

A dove on an aged tombstone brings thoughts of peace.

 

A single white rose, signifying everlasting love, lies on the bench marker for Kevin Kanne. Beautiful.

 

Tombstone art that drew my eye and reminded me of Psalm 23.

 

And the wind, which typically whips on this hillside cemetery, remained still, as if it also understood the need for calm, for reflection, for peace in the storm of COVID-19.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Memorial Day 2020 observances, abbreviated May 22, 2020

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

 

NEARLY EVERY MEMORIAL DAY, Randy and I honor our war dead in the same fashion. We head downtown Faribault to the parade and then go to Central Park to watch the Memorial Day program. Little changes from year to year with American flags waving, men and women in uniform marching, Scouts handing out flags, patriotic music playing, speeches given, wreaths hung by members of the American Legion Auxiliary…

 

The Rice County, Minnesota, Veterans’ Memorial in Faribault, located on the courthouse lawn.

 

There’s comfort in the familiarity of tradition.

 

Memorial pavers surround the monument, like this one honoring a fallen soldier.

 

KIA, Sgt Donald E. Ponto.

 

Another loss…

 

But this year, because of COVID-19, there will be no parade, no ceremony at the Rice County Veterans’ Memorial and no crowd gathered at Central Park. This saddens me. I always look forward to these public ways in which we show respect and gratitude for those who lost their lives in service to country. But I understand. These are unprecedented times and we need to keep each other safe. The Central Park program will go on, but without audience members gathered on lawn chairs. Rather, the ceremony will be broadcast at 10 am over local radio station KDHL, 920 AM.

 

An overview of the Rice County Veterans’ Memorial.

 

Eagle and dove details.

 

Stone slabs honor branches of the military.

 

My attendance at Memorial Day events traces back to my childhood in rural southwestern Minnesota. My dad, a veteran of the Korean War and a recipient of the Purple Heart, was active in the local American Legion. Every Memorial Day our family attended—and often participated in—the program at the Vesta Community Hall. Several times I read the poem, “In Flanders Fields.” I also sold poppies. Afterward, we piled into the Chevy for the short drive north of town to the cemetery and the gun salute and mournful playing of taps. From early on, the importance of Memorial Day imprinted upon me.

 

A Civil War monument is part of the Veterans’ Memorial.

 

I carried that tradition in raising my three children. Each Memorial Day we attended the parade along Central Avenue in Faribault. And sometimes the program in the park. Some day I hope to take my grandchildren downtown to watch flag-carrying veterans, high school bands and Cub Scouts honoring those who died in service to our country. But not this year. Not during a global pandemic.

 

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

 

THIS POST IS DEDICATED to the memory of Cpl. Ray W. Scheibe. Ray, 22, was killed by an exploding mortar on June 2, 1953, in Korea, the day before he was to return home to Nebraska, to his wife and baby daughter. He was my dad’s Army buddy.

 

Honoring fallen soldiers with a special monument at the Rice County Veterans’ Memorial.

 

Blessed be Ray’s memory. And blessed be the memories of all those who have given their lives for this country.

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Memorial Day reflections May 24, 2019

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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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

 

Memorial Day in Faribault, a photo essay May 28, 2018

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:18 PM
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A veteran salutes during the Memorial Day Program at Faribault’s Central Park.

 

MEMORIAL DAY IN FARIBAULT, like in so many other American towns, honors veterans through patriotic tradition.

 

Steve Bonde plays patriotic tunes on a downtown Faribault street corner before the start of the Memorial Day parade.

 

Parade goers listen to Bonde as they await the start of the parade.

 

A barber cuts hair in his barbershop across the street, parade-goers reflected in his shop window.

 

A parade follows Central Avenue through our historic downtown, ending in nearby Central Park.

 

 

 

Grand Marshall Vicki McDowell with her husband, Honorary Grand Marshall Myles McDowell.

 

Each year I expect the same—the police cars and fire trucks, the Color Guard and honored veterans,

 

 

 

 

 

the bands and Scouts,

 

 

 

the kids and candy and politicians,

 

 

 

 

 

the vintage cars and the horses.

 

 

 

 

A restored vintage Tilt-A-Whirl provides a parade viewing spot in the heart of downtown. The Tilt-A-Whirl was invented in Faribault and, up until several years ago, was still made here.

 

Only the faces change, and sometimes not even those.

 

A volunteer hands out programs at Central Park.

 

Printed on the back of the program and read by master of ceremonies Gordy Kosfeld.

 

After the parade, folks gather at Central Park for the Memorial Day program, this year the 149th.

 

A table setting at American Legion Post 43 honors the POW-MIAs.

 

Afterwards, some—mostly vets and their families—go to the Legion for a luncheon and additional remembrances.

 

The luncheon serving line set against a backdrop of photos of local Legion Post 43 commanders.

 

There’s a certain comfort in embracing this day with time-honored traditions. Traditions remind me year after year after year that we still live in a free nation. Each Memorial Day I can set my lawn chair curbside along Central Avenue. I can take photos without retribution. I can stand for my flag and applaud and smile. On this day, I am grateful.

© 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.

#

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

 

Honoring the war dead in Cannon City May 30, 2017

Folks begin arriving for the 2 p.m. Memorial Day program at the Cannon City Cemetery. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

VEHICLES LINED the narrow gravel driveway, angled into the grassy ditch on one side and edging the roadway on the other.

Randy pulled our lawn chairs from the van and I tucked a fleece throw under my left arm, umbrella in hand as we headed toward the crowd gathering at the Cannon City Cemetery gate. Clouds the color of bruises threatened rain on this 60-some-degree Memorial Day afternoon in rural southeastern Minnesota.

 

An art appropriate cannon marks a Civil War Veteran’s tombstone in the Cannon City Cemetery. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

But weather would not keep us from this annual commemoration honoring the war dead—a tradition begun some 100 years prior in this wind-swept rural cemetery bordered by fields and pasture. On this Monday, those here would also mark the sesquicentennial of this burial place where a year ago cows moved to the fenceline to watch my friend Lois bury her husband next to his parents and grandparents.

 

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

 

Randy and I have no family connection to this cemetery. But we have come here each Memorial Day for about the past five because we appreciate the grassroots simplicity of this event. Clustered under spruce and cedar among gravestones, attendees circle their lawn chairs to sing and to listen to patriotic and other readings and to the mournful playing of taps.

 

A bronze star marks a veteran’s grave. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

As I sat there, snugged under fleece and wishing I’d worn a stocking cap, I considered that my temporary discomfort was nothing compared to war. I remembered the stories my Korean War veteran father, an infantryman on the frontlines, shared of bone-chilling cold. Yes, my ears hurt. But in a short time, I would be back inside my warm home.

I am an observer. To my right, I watched a teenage boy grip a military star, American flag and white carnation with his left hand, bugle in his other hand, as the fierce wind threatened to yank all three away. Earlier, some attendees distributed flowers, provided by the Cemetery Association, to soldiers’ graves. That flower-laying tradition began 100 years ago with students from the nearby Cannon City School marching with floral wreaths to the cemetery.

 

Song sheets are distributed to those in attendance. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

This memorial service is so much about tradition—from recitation of The Pledge of Allegiance to singing of The Battle Hymn of the Republic to reading names of the 52 veterans buried here to recitation of In Flanders Fields.

 

Poppies have long been associated with honoring and remembering veterans. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

As Jean Pederson recited the haunting poem of poppies blowing between crosses in a field in Belgium, long-time Cannon City resident Bob Lewis slipped a pot of poppies onto the grass next to Jean’s motorized scooter. He’d dug them from a patch in his yard. That symbolic gesture by this veteran nearly moved me to tears as I watched 10 orange poppies wend in the wind to words of war.

Near Jean, I noticed the word LOVE sparkling along the pant leg of a teenage girl. Love and war. War and love. We love our freedom enough to fight for it.

 

A message on a retro tray I own. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Yet, we always strive for peace, a message conveyed in a reading by two women: “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with you.” Their words rose and fell with the wind, carried away—to the fields, the countryside, beyond, under a bruised sky.

 

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
I apologize for the lack of current photos accompanying this story. I fell and broke my right shoulder recently so am unable to use my camera. I hope my words provide the visuals for you to see snippets of what I observed in Cannon City on Memorial Day.