Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Thank you, veterans November 11, 2019

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

 

I AWAKENED EARLY this morning writing this post in my head, before I fell back into a fitful sleep. Words flowed earlier. Now, though, I’ve forgotten the precise phrasing. But the essence of my thoughts remains. Thank you, veterans.

 

Howard Homeier, a WW II veteran from Kenyon, Minnesota, in his cherished 1950s pick-up truck. When I photographed him in 2009, he’d just participated in a ceremony honoring veterans. He was a member of the Kenyon Color Guard. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2009.

 

Thank you for all you sacrificed to serve, to protect our freedom and that of other nations and peoples. Thank you for placing country before self. Thank you for your bravery and fortitude, for your resilience and strength, for your ability to forge on in the most difficult of circumstances.

Thank you for setting aside your personal and family lives, for all those days and nights apart from those you love. That could not have been easy. Separation never is.

Thank you to your families for enduring this separation, for supporting you, for recognizing the importance of your work.

 

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

 

Those two words—thank you—don’t seem nearly enough. But I write them with sincerity and a depth of understanding founded in the experiences of my Korean War veteran father. I saw the toll war took on him, decades after he left Korea. He fought there in the rugged mountains of that nation, rifle in hand, firing at the enemy, hugging the earth of foxholes, taking out a sniper who killed too many of his brothers. War is hard.

And so thank you seems insufficient. But it is what I offer to you today. From my heart.

 

A veteran salutes during the Memorial Day Program at Faribault’s Central Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2018.

 

ADDITIONALLY, I want to share that the above photo I took of a veteran at the 2018 Memorial Day program at Central Park in Faribault, recently won third place in the People category of National Mutual Benefit’s 2019 Photo Contest. National Mutual is a fraternal life insurance society based in Madison, Wisconsin and through which my parents purchased a policy for me as a baby.

I am honored to have this image chosen for recognition and publication. It is just one more way for me to say, “Thank you, veterans.”

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Faribault renames its airport in honor of WASP, Elizabeth Wall Strohfus March 4, 2017

Elizabeth Wall Strohfus, circa 1943, at Avenger Field. (Photo from family archives.)

Elizabeth Wall Strohfus, circa 1943, at Avenger Field. (Photo from family archives.)

ELIZABETH WALL STROHFUS traveled the country for nearly 30 years sharing her story of flying fighters and bombers for the U.S. military during World War II.

She served as a parade grand marshal, participated in panel discussions, talked at schools, visited museums, gave countless interviews. But not until now has she been permanently honored and recognized in her hometown of Faribault. This week the City Council approved a resolution renaming the municipal airport as The Faribault Municipal Airport—Liz Wall Strohfus Field. That resolution will be forwarded to the Federal Aviation Administration for final approval.

What an honor for a woman who faced many challenges (simply for being a woman) before and after becoming a Women’s Airforce Service Pilot. She will be the first WASP to have an airport named after her.

That’s quite an accomplishment for Strohfus, who convinced a local banker to lend her $100 to join The Sky Club at the Faribault airport. The then 22-year-old used her bike as collateral and subsequently proved to the “women don’t fly” banker that he was wrong. She could fly. And fly she did, training at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas, with the first class of WASPs to earn their wings. Strohfus went on to train infantry gunners for battle, teach instrument flying to male cadets and ferry B-17 and AT-6 warbirds around the country.

But when the war ended, the WASPS received no recognition for their service to country. Eventually Strohfus, after retiring as an air traffic controller in the late 1980s, began efforts to correct that. She traveled the country sharing WASP stories in her signature down-to-earth storytelling style. She successfully lobbied for the WASPs to be recognized as active military duty and for burial honors at Arlington National Cemetery. This strong and determined pilot also received the Congressional Medal of Honor.

A book about Elizabeth Strohfus written by her son Patrick Roberts. He accompanied her on speaking engagements around the country.

A book about Elizabeth Strohfus written by her son Patrick Roberts. He accompanied her on speaking engagements around the country.

Yet, despite all the accolades, all the efforts, Liz Stohfus valued one thing above all. “Her favorite thing to do was to encourage kids,” son Art Roberts revealed at the City Council meeting. His mother repeated that in the many interviews she gave, telling youth that, “The sky is not the limit.” They could, like her, do anything.

Elizabeth “Betty” Strohfus Wall died on March 6, 2016, at the age of 96. Although she did not live long enough to see her hometown airport named after her, her legacy will live on in Faribault. In addition to new signage naming Liz Wall Strohfus Field, renowned local woodcarver Ivan Whillock is creating a woodcarving to be placed inside the airport. And Roberts will be donating items belonging to his mother.

It’s a wonderful thing my community, led by the American Association of University Women—Faribault Branch, is doing in honor of Strohfus. She embodies a strong American woman who always believed she could fly.

FYI: To view an interview with Liz Strohfus, check out Faribault Community Television and its 1855—Faribault History documentary series produced by local high school students Logan Ledman and Samuel Temple. This is top-quality professional. Click here.

Of additional interest is this story from the Experimental Aircraft Association in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Click here.

Click here to read a story about how Strohfus and other WASPs were honored at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay, via a theatrical production.

Learn more about that play, “Censored on Final Approach” by Phylis Ravel, by clicking here. Perhaps a Faribault-based theatre company or the History Theatre in St. Paul could consider performing that play.

Finally, click here to learn more about the National WASP WWII Museum in Sweetwater, Texas. What an honor this would be to Strohfus’ memory to bring the museum’s traveling exhibit, “The WASP: Untold Story, a Photographic Exhibit,” to Faribault.

© 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

 

Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall rolling into Faribault August 29, 2016

AS A TEENAGER OF THE EARLY 1970s, the Vietnam War proved part of my life in the fringe sort of way war does when you’re an emerging adult.

Along with my too short hot pants ensemble and my shiny go-go boots, I sported a POW bracelet, the shiny medal banding my wrist with the name of an American soldier held captive by the Viet Cong. I wish I remembered his name or even what happened to that bracelet. It may be stashed away in a cardboard box in a closet. To even write that seems dishonorable. How could I not give more respect to a prisoner of war who deserved my gratitude?

This week I will have a local opportunity to honor those who died in the Vietnam War, the war from which veterans arrived home without a nation’s welcome. Protests prevailed. I remember.

traveling wall logo

 

Thankfully attitudes have changed. This Wednesday, the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall rolls into Faribault for a six-day stay at the Rice County Fairgrounds. I am grateful to the individuals, businesses and organizations—like the Faribault Elks, multiple American Legion Posts, the local VFW Post and the Marine Corps League—that worked hard to bring this 80 percent scale version of the wall here to southeastern Minnesota.

Stock image courtesy of the Traveling Wall Faribualt 2016.

Stock image courtesy of the Traveling Wall Faribualt 2016.

Perhaps my POW’s name is imprinted on that wall, among the 58,282 Americans who died in this war. I will search for one name, that of Benjamin Franklin Danielson whose fighter jet was shot down over Laos in 1969. I remember the media coverage when this Minnesota soldier’s remains were returned to his native Kenyon in 2007, several years after bone fragments were found to match his DNA. I expect many individuals will be looking for names of loved ones or classmates or others on this 360-foot long by eight foot high replica wall.

Stock image courtesy of Traveling Wall Faribault 2016.

Stock image courtesy of Traveling Wall Faribault 2016.

But before the temporary memorial goes up on the north side of Faribault, it will arrive in my community of 23,000 Wednesday afternoon under escort by law enforcement, fire department personnel, bikers and others in private vehicles. Organizers emphasize that this is not a parade but rather a solemn procession. Those living aside the route from Owatonna along County Road 45 to Medford and then into Faribault are encouraged to line the roadway with American flags and to show their support.

Between two military uniforms, I shot this view of a 48-star American flag.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I live along the processional route. Those who know me personally and would like to join me in my front yard are welcome to do so. Dress in patriotic attire and bring American flags and patriotic items plus a lawn chair. I expect the entourage to pass my home around 3:20 – 3:30 p.m.

At 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, the traveling wall debuts with a grand opening ceremony. The memorial remains open 24/7 until the closing ceremony at 1 p.m. on Labor Day. What a great opportunity this will be for us, as a community, as a county, as Minnesotans, as Americans, to honor those like Benjamin Danielson and my unidentified POW. Decades after I clamped that POW bracelet around my wrist, I understand the significance of this opportunity.

FYI: Many related events are planned in conjunction with the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall exhibit in Faribault. Click here to learn details. And click here to learn about the original memorial wall in Washington, DC.

© 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

 

Near Faribault: Roberds Lake memorials honor veterans July 23, 2013

This boat was among two arriving for the 2 p.m. memorial dedication ceremony.

A boat arrives for the 2 p.m. memorial dedication ceremony at Roberds Lake.

THEY COME BY LAND and by lake Sunday afternoon to Geri Larson’s place along Roberds Lake near Faribault for the latest unveiling of a private veterans’ memorial, the third along the shoreline.

A portion of the crowd gathered for the ceremony. Attendees also lined a mulch-lined path along the steep side of the river bank to the read in this photo.

A portion of the crowd gathered for the ceremony. Attendees also line a mulch-lined path along the steep side of the lake bank. Jim Williams, who has two vets’ memorials on his property next door, starts the program.

Nearly half of the estimated 75 attendees are veterans, gathered here on Geri’s parcel of property between steep hillside and water, under the shade of trees, including a sturdy oak, to honor and remember.

Flags from the four branches of the military fly next to Geri Larson's cabin.

Flags from the four branches of the military fly next to Geri Larson’s cabin.

In a formal ceremony, while American and military flags waft in the breeze, folks listen to guest speakers and observe the protocols of a patriotic program—advancement of the colors by the Color Guard, a gun salute, playing of “Taps” and singing of the National Anthem.

Veterans arrive with flags and guns to start the dedication program.

Veterans arrive with flags and guns to start the dedication program.

Lloyd Grandprey waits to play taps.

Lloyd Grandprey waits to play “Taps.”

Emmee Grisim steps up to the podium to sing "The Star Spangled Banner."

Emmee Grisim, of Lake City and the niece of Jim Williams, steps up to the podium to sing “The Star Spangled Banner” as the program gets underway.

The occasional drone of a motor, in air and by water, breaks the rhythm of the program. “I told you the Air Force was coming,” retired National Guard Lt. Col. Roger Williams jokes as he notes a plane overhead, pausing in his talk focused on remembering and honoring, as far back as his family’s involvement in the Civil War to the more recent war in Iraq.

Hands on guns.

Hands on guns.

Occasional laughter erupts. But the tone of the 45-minute ceremony remains primarily serious, aimed at remembering, honoring and thanking those who served.

Geri Larson prepares to slice the cake, served along with sandwiches and beverages, after the dedication ceremony.

Before the ceremony, Geri Larson slices the patriotic themed cake which will be served along with sandwiches and beverages after dedication of the new vets’ memorial on her land.

That marks Geri Larson’s purpose in erecting the newest Roberds Lake veterans’ memorial, right next door to the two memorials on the property of Jim Williams, brother of Roger. Larson says the “Window in Time” piece honors the fallen and all veterans, including three of her brothers who served in the military.

Faribault American Legion Post 43 Commander Kirk Mansfield speaks before the unveiling.

Faribault American Legion Post 43 Commander Kirk Mansfield speaks before the unveiling.

Larson and Jim Williams’ neighbor, Faribault American Legion Post 43 Commander and Gulf War veteran Kirk Mansfield, was instrumental in establishing the Roberds Lake veterans’ memorials. He worked with others on the designs and then crafted “Window in Time” and “American Joe,” with his father, Dick, creating the POW/MIA memorial.

The "Window in Time" memorial shows a current day Marine praying before a grave/memorial. The young man depicted in the 4x8-foot steel sculpture is carrying a heavy burden, Kirk Mansfield notes, with the burden on his back representing a simple thank you. The tipped helmet also symbolizes thanks. The weapons are representative of those from WW II and the Korean War. The piece carries a theme of honoring and respecting elders. Mansfield was joined by many volunteers in working on the project.

The “Window in Time” memorial shows a current day Marine praying before a grave/memorial. The young man depicted in the 4-foot x 8-foot steel sculpture is carrying a heavy burden, Kirk Mansfield notes, with the burden on his back representing a simple thank you. The tipped helmet also symbolizes thanks. The weapons are representative of those from WW II and the Korean War. The piece carries a theme of honoring and respecting elders. Mansfield was joined by many volunteers in working on the project. It was installed on Saturday, dedicated on Sunday.

Mansfield tells the group gathered on Sunday that the newest memorial represents “a time for remembrance, solace and peace.”

He reflects on the numbers of Americans who have died in service to their country—some 1,500 since the “American Joe” memorial next door was dedicated in 2009 to 400,000-plus lives lost during WW II.

“The price of America’s freedom,” Mansfield notes, “is buried in the ground.”

BONUS PHOTOS:

Veterans participate in the program.

Veterans who participated in the program.

Friends greet friends before the dedication begins.

Friends greet friends before the dedication begins.

Geri Larson with her friend, George LaRoche, who installed the poles for the military flags on her property.

Geri Larson with her friend, George LaRoche, who installed the poles for the military flags on her property.

The POW/MIA memorial on Jim Williams' lakeshore.

The POW/MIA memorial created by Dick Mansfield and placed on Jim Williams’ lake shore.

The "American Joe" memorial was crafted by metal artist Kirk Mansfield, who "sits at a computer all day" in his professional career,

The “American Joe” memorial crafted by metal artist Kirk Mansfield, who “sits at a computer all day” at his paying job. The memorial was dedicated in 2009. The soldier represented in the art is from the 1970s, Jim Williams says. His brother, Gary, served during that time, in Vietnam.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Faribault American Legion honors the fallen July 22, 2013

Folks begin to gather at the FrontLine Honors Ceremony at Faribault American Legion Post 43. This Sunday marked the largest attendance since the event began following 9/11.

Folks begin to gather at the FrontLine Honors Ceremony at Faribault American Legion Post 43. This Sunday marked the largest attendance since the event began following 9/11.

OUTSIDE FARIBAULT AMERICAN Legion Post 43, shortly before 1 p.m. Sunday, the crowd began to gather.

Many Vietnam veterans attended the ceremony.

Many Vietnam veterans attended the ceremony.

Veterans. Their wives. Relatives of veterans. Those who care about those who’ve served. Patriotic Americans.

The Color Guard awaits the start of the ceremony as does Carter Quinlan, who later will receive an American flag honoring the Quinlan family.

The Color Guard awaits the start of the ceremony as does Carter Quinlan, who later will receive an American flag honoring the Quinlan family.

On the third Sunday of every month, every Sunday since September 11, 2001, the Legion has hosted a FrontLine Honors Ceremony honoring those service members who have died in the past 30 days while serving their country.

Carter Quinlan salutes in respect during the ceremony.

Carter Quinlan salutes in respect during the ceremony.

This month the list of deceased included 14 Americans—Sonny, Benjamin, Errol, Tracy, Hilda, Justin, Corey, Javier, Justin, Ember, Robert, William, Jared, Jesse.

Someone’s son. Someone’s daughter.

Hometown men and women from places like Waynesfield, Ohio; Kennewick, Washington; and Gentry, Arkansas.

Some dead due to hostile rocket fire and other attacks, others for non-hostile reasons.

American Legion Post Commander Kirk Mansfield led the ceremony and read the names of the deceased.

American Legion Post Commander Kirk Mansfield leads the ceremony and reads the names of the deceased.

On the informational sheet distributed to those in attendance, a line typed across the bottom summarizes well the purpose of the gathering:

These 14 Americans have sacrificed their lives for you and your country. Never forget.

Young Carter hugs the American flag, which he accepted in honor of his military family.

Young Carter hugs the American flag, which he accepted in honor of his military family.

I expect many in attendance will also remember the presentation of the Legion’s American flag to 4 ½-year-old Carter Quinlan. Each month the Legion’s U.S. flag is retired and gifted to a local military family, on this Sunday the Quinlans of Faribault. Carter, who stood as solemn and respectful as any adult in attendance, accepted the folded flag on behalf of his father, Derek; grandfather, Mark; and uncle, Travis. (Click here to read a previous post on this presentation.)

A new flag was then hoisted to fly for another month outside the Legion, where, on the third Sunday of August, at 1 p.m., folks will gather again for another FrontLine Honors Ceremony.

BONUS FLAG PRESENTATION PHOTOS:

Mark Quinlan, who served with the U.S. Navy and Air Force, lowers the flag to be presented to his grandson, Carter.

Mark Quinlan, who served with the U.S. Navy and Air Force, lowers the flag to be presented to his grandson, Carter.

The respectful process begins of properly folding the U.S. flag.

The respectful process begins of properly folding the U.S. flag.

The flag folding continues...

The flag folding continues…

Carter accepts the flag for his military family.

Carter accepts the flag for his military family.

Another shot of the crowd near the end of the service.

Another shot of the crowd near the end of the service.

FYI: Watch for a forthcoming post about the dedication of a veterans’ memorial on private property along Roberds Lake, rural Faribault.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling