Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Memorial Day remembrances & reflections May 25, 2023

A soldier sculpture centers the Northfield Area Veterans Memorial. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2023)

HIS STRONG STANCE, one boot planted in front of the other, ramrod posture all point to his disciplined military training. I am looking at a sculpture of a US soldier, a combat infantryman. As I study him, I gaze into his haunted eyes, eyes that, by my perception, reveal the horrors of war.

Standing strong in service to country, a life-size soldier replica. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2023)

Perhaps it is my own father’s stories of fighting on the front-line during the Korean War that shape my reaction to this soldier replica at the Northfield Area Veterans Memorial. But this could be anyone’s interpretation. That of a daughter, like me, whose father suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after leaving the killing fields of Korea. Or this could be the story of any active duty war veteran, the story of a spouse or child who lost a loved one on the battlefield, the stories of too many.

My dad took this photo of his buddies, including Ray Scheibe, left, in Korea. The photo is dated May 1953. Ray was killed in June. (Copyrighted photo by Elvern Kletscher)

This Memorial Day, I pause to remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice—their lives—to assure my freedom. My dad’s Army buddy and friend Ray was among those. Ray died the day before he was to leave Korea and return to his wife and infant daughter in Nebraska. My father witnessed Ray’s death and it broke a part of him.

Honoring fallen soldiers with a special monument at the Rice County Veterans Memorial in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

These are the personal details we need to remember on Monday, a national day of mourning and remembrance for those who died on the battlefield. Veterans’ memorials and parades and programs all provide ways to honor the brave men and women who died in service to country. But their stories are equally as important. These are, after all, individuals with friends and families, likes and dislikes, histories written long before they were drafted or enlisted and then called to war.

“The Walk of Remembrance” imprinted with veterans’ names and military information edges the Northfield Area Veterans Memorial. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2023)
A paver at the Rice County Veterans Memorial honors Sgt Donald E. Ponto, killed in action in Korea. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)
A full view of the Northfield Area Veterans Memorial. The stones represent each branch of the military. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2023)

Many Minnesota communities have veterans’ memorials. While designs differ, they share the commonalities of a centerpiece sculpture, sometimes a soldier or an eagle or some other strong symbol; pavers with veterans’ names imprinted; American and other flags; and ways to recognize all branches of the military. It is the names, accompanied by the initials KIA, which break my heart. KILLED IN ACTION. I recognize the intense pain and heartbreak experienced by loved ones back home. The grieving families. The Gold Star Mothers, a mother who lost a child in service to country. The fatherless children, like Teri, the infant daughter of my dad’s buddy, Ray. Overwhelming grief imprints upon those stone pavers.

An eagle at Veterans Memorial Park in Morristown. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

This Memorial Day, I encourage you to reflect on the war dead whom we honor on Monday. Walk through a cemetery and pause at the graves marked by small American flags. Attend a Memorial Day program not out of a sense of obligation, but out of gratitude. I feel thankful for a free press. Not every country has such freedom.

My dad carried this memorial service bulletin home to Minnesota from Korea. In the right column is listed the name of his fallen buddy, Raymond W. Scheibe. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

Spend time at a veterans’ memorial beyond a precursory walk through. Appreciate the words, the names, the symbols, the artwork. And, if a soldier sculpture centers the memorial, look into his eyes and remember this biblical quote pulled from the memorial service folder my dad carried home from Korea: Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).

Fitting words engraved in stone at the Northfield Area Veterans Memorial. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2023)

That July 31, 1953, service folder from Sucham-dong Korea lists 28 soldiers who died on the battlefield, among them my dad’s beloved buddy, Raymond W. Scheibe, age 22. It is my dad’s grief and trauma I see when I gaze into the eyes of that soldier sculpture in Northfield. War carries so much death and loss and pain. I vicariously understand that. This Memorial Day I remember, reflect, honor, carry on my heart the heaviness of war.

© Copyright 2023 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


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


Remembering 9/11 in Faribault, Minnesota September 11, 2011

WE CAME. We listened. We prayed. We remembered.

This afternoon my husband and I were among perhaps 100 individuals who gathered outside the county courthouse at the Rice County Veterans Memorial in Faribault to remember September 11, 2001.

A view of the crowd in front of the Rice County Courthouse and veterans memorial.

WW II veteran George DeLay, among those in attendance, waits on the courthouse steps for the program to begin.

As traffic whizzed by on busy Fourth Street, aging veterans stood or sat, their heads bowed in quiet contemplation.

Representatives of local law enforcement and emergency personnel stood attentively.

Six-year-old Dakota, son of Faribault American Legion Post 43 Commander and Desert Storm veteran Kirk Mansfield, perched on his mother Paula’s lap on the courthouse steps clutching an American flag. Too young to have lived through this day, he is learning about 9/11 from his parents, from ceremonies like those held today.

We are all still learning, experiencing and understanding how that attack on our nation 10 years ago has affected us, changed our thinking, our perspectives on life.

“Freedom is our greatest asset and our greatest export,” former Sheriff Richard Cook, who has been active in expanding the veterans’ memorial, said. “Freedom will live and flourish.”

Veteran and chaplain Roger Schuenke led the crowd in prayer: “May the faith of our fathers guide, protect and sustain our people.”

But it was the names read by Kirk Mansfield and American Legion Auxiliary representative Louise Flom that most impacted me, that caused me to pause, to settle onto the lawn of the courthouse with my camera in my lap and to listen, just listen, instead of photographing the scene.

For nearly 10 minutes the pair read the names of 94 Minnesotans who have been killed in action since 9/11:

Chester W. Hosford of Hastings, Corey J. Goodnature of Clarks Grove, Brent W. Koch of Morton, Randy W. Pickering of Bovey, Edward J. Herrgott of Shakopee, Andrew J. Kemple of Cambridge…

Familiar names, like Jesse M. Lhotka of Alexandria (originally from Appleton), David F. Day of  Saint Louis Park (originally from Morris) and Jason G. Timmerman of Cottonwood/Tracy—all National Guard members killed on February 21, 2005, in Iraq, and whose families I interviewed several years ago for a feature published in Minnesota Moments magazine.

I remembered how speaking with Lhotka’s widow had been one of the most emotionally-challenging interviews I’d ever done in my journalism career.

This I thought as Commander Mansfield and Flom read for nearly 10 minutes. Ninety-four men whose families grieve.

This is how I remembered 9/11 today, by honoring those who have given their lives for freedom.

Veterans' names are engraved in pavers edging the Rice County Veterans Memorial, the site of today's ceremony.

Some of the 20-plus veterans who stood in a line flanking the memorial.

Jim Kiekeknapp, who served in Vietnam, played taps.

Dakota with him mom, Paula, watched from the courthouse steps.

WW II veterans Bill Korff and past commander of the local Legion came in his wheelchair.

A veteran's salute.

AND THEN ON THE WAY HOME from the courthouse, I stopped at the Faribault Fire Department to photograph the memorial there honoring the New York City firefighters who died in the Twin towers.

A memorial at the Faribault Fire Department, where a short service was also held this morning.

The Faribault firefighters pay special tribute to the fallen New York firefighters on their memorial sign.

TO BACKTRACK EVEN FURTHER in my day, when my husband and I were at a local nursing home leading a morning church service, I insisted that the eight of us gathered there sing “America, the Beautiful.”

I found verse 3 especially fitting for this day when we as Americans pause in our lives to remember September 11, 2001:

“O beautiful for heroes proved

In liberating strife,

Who more than self their country loved,

And mercy more than life!

America! America! May God thy gold refine

Till all success be nobleness

And every gain divine!”

Six-year-old Dakota and others in attendance perused the veterans' pavers after the ceremony.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Reflecting at a veterans’ memorial November 12, 2010

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Rice County Courthouse, Faribault

I DIDN’T ATTEND any Veterans Day ceremonies yesterday, and perhaps I should have. But several days earlier, I paid my own quiet tribute by walking the grounds of the Rice County courthouse where a veterans’ memorial expansion project is underway. For years a lone Civil War statue has stood there honoring those who served.

Today new sidewalks edged by honorary pavers lead to the memorial plaza which will eventually feature that Civil War statue, a torch, bronze eagle, dove, granite columns, flags, benches and gardens. I expect a place for quiet reflection, a place of honor, a place to cry.

Honorary pavers line sidewalks leading to the center of the Rice County veterans' memorial on the courthouse lawn in Faribault.

Veterans’ memorials often move me to tears because they always, always, bring thoughts of my dad, a Korean War veteran. I remember how, months after his 2003 death, my emotions overcame me while viewing the veterans’ memorial in Winona. With grief still gripping my soul, I simply wept.

Such strong emotions did not pervade my thoughts at the site of the new Rice County Veterans Memorial in Faribault. Yet, words and images triggered memories in a quiet, deeply personal way of honoring those who have served our country.

Three letters, KIA, imprinted upon a paver signify the ultimate sacrifice. Killed in action. I thought of my dad's soldier-buddy, Ray Scheibe, who was blown apart by an incoming shell on the day before he was to leave Korea. My dad never got over this loss and was forever haunted by the horrible image of Ray's death.

Even though I knew the trail of white in the sky came from an airliner, I imagined this to be the smoke of gunfire or of bombs or of shells as I took this image of the Civil War statue in Faribault.

I was coming of age during the Vietnam War. I remember the protests, the anger, the peace signs, all of it...

When I look at the MIA/POW flag, I recall the metal bracelet I wore in high school, the bracelet engraved with the name of a soldier held as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War. Sadly, I don't remember his name or even know if I still have that bracelet tucked away somewhere in a cardboard box.

When I composed this image, the back of the Civil War statue, I thought about how a soldier must sometimes feel so alone, so vulnerable.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling