Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Reflecting on 9/11, then & now September 12, 2019

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In remembrance of 9/11, photographed last September 11 in Hastings, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2018.

 

YESTERDAY BROUGHT TIME for reflection. Reflection upon the events of September 11, 2001, a day which forever changed us as Americans.

 

I reconstructed a tower using the same blocks my then young son and his friend used on September 11, 2001, to duplicate what they saw on television. These are also the same toy airplanes they flew into the tower. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.

 

The terrorist attacks on our country made us feel vulnerable, unsafe and realizing, perhaps for the first time that, just because we live in America, we don’t live in a bubble of protection from those who would harm us.

 

Photographed along Interstate 90 east of La Crosse, Wisconsin. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2011.

 

Yet, in the midst of that tragedy, that sorrow, that new reality, there emerged a solidarity. We felt united as a country, a people.

 

On the campus of Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, a plaque honors an alumnus who died in the World Trade Center attack. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2019.

 

Eighteen years later I no longer see that unity. I see rather a fractured country. That saddens me. The discord. The political upheaval. Even the overt hatred toward certain peoples.

 

Faribault, Minnesota, firefighters pay special tribute to the fallen New York firefighters on this memorial sign. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.

 

Yet, when I look closely, I see the care and compassion extended by many Americans toward those who need our care and compassion. We have always been a giving nation. I hear the voices of those who speak for those whose voices have been mostly silenced by rhetoric and oppression and policies. We are still individuals with voices that matter.

 

My then 8-year-old son drew this picture of a plane aimed for the twin towers a year after 9/11 for a school religion assignment. He was a third grader in a Christian school at the time and needed to think of a time when it was hard to trust God. To this day, this drawing by my boy illustrates to me how deeply 9/11 impacted even the youngest among us. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

That ability to express ourselves—whether through the written or spoken word, in music, in art, in acts of kindness—remains. Strong. We have the power individually to make a difference in our communities, to start small, to rise above that which threatens to erode.

THOUGHTS?

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Grieving with the people of Paris November 17, 2015

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Eiffel Tower

 

DURING MY WEEKLY SUNDAY evening phone call to my mother, who lives in southwestern Minnesota, we talked about the terrorist attacks in Paris. Mom shared how she could not stop watching media coverage of the tragedy.

And then she asked about my eldest, confused as to when my daughter and her husband had been in Paris. Six months ago, I assured her. Not recently, as she thought.

I, too, had been thinking about the May trip and how thankful I was that my loved ones were safely back home in Minnesota. But then I thought of the mom in California who will never welcome her daughter home. And I considered all the other families grieving the deaths of loved ones. How could I possibly relate or understand?

But I can. As human beings we can understand grief. I need only view the still photos of the tragedy in Paris and the aftermath to feel the grief. As I click through image after image after image, my grief rises and spills into tears. These photos tell a story and record history in a way that no words ever can. All too often the media is criticized for focusing on the negative. But it is their job to cover events, good and bad.

This sculptor of Alexander Faribault trading with a Dakota trading partner stands in Faribault's Heritage Park near the Straight River and site of Faribault's trading post. Faribault artist Ivan Whillock created this sculpture which sits atop a fountain known as the Bea Duncan Memorial Fountain.

This sculptor of Alexander Faribault trading with a Dakota trading partner stands in Faribault’s Heritage Park near the Straight River and site of Faribault’s trading post. Faribault artist Ivan Whillock created this sculpture which sits atop a fountain known as the Bea Duncan Memorial Fountain. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I’ve never been to France. I have no personal connection to the country. But I live in a Minnesota community with a French name—Faribault—founded by the son of a French-Canadian fur trader. French names like LeMieux, Archambault, LaCanne, Chappius, De Grood, Decoux and La Roche are common here. Whether these families are still connected to folks in the Old Country, I don’t know.

But we are all connected—no matter where we live—by the commonality of humanity and by grief, the most basic of human emotions. Today, and in the days since the most recent attacks in Paris and elsewhere, we are a world grieving.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Remembering 9/11 from a mom’s perspective September 11, 2013

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I reconstructed a tower using the same blocks my son and his friend used on September 11, 2001, to duplicate what they saw on television. These are also the same airplanes they flew into the tower.

I reconstructed a tower using the same blocks my son and his friend used on September 11, 2001, to duplicate what they saw on television. These are also the same airplanes they flew into the tower. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

THEY REPEATED THE ACTION: Build the towers. Fly the planes. Smash the towers. Build. Fly. Smash.

A dozen years ago today my then seven-year-old son, Caleb, not feeling well and home from school, played with his friend Sam.

I have never forgotten that scene unfolding on my living room floor. Two boys imitating what they saw on television. Me, shocked, unable to turn off the TV and shield them from the horrors of an attack on America.

What do you remember, from a personal perspective, of that day 12 years ago when so many innocent people lost their lives in the terrorist attacks on our country? What were you thinking? How did you feel?

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflecting on 9/11, eleven years later September 11, 2012

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My then 8-year-old son drew this picture of a plane aimed for the twin towers a year after 9/11 for a school religion assignment. He was a third grader in a Christian school at the time and needed to think of a time when it was hard to trust God by drawing a photo illustrating that time. To this day, this drawing by my boy illustrates to me how deeply 9/11 impacted even the youngest among us.

IF I WAS IN MY HOMETOWN today I would visit the cemetery just outside of Vesta, to the north along the gravel road and atop the lone hill which rises ever so slightly in a sea of ripening corn and soybean fields.

I’d walk the rows until I found the gravestones of the Kletschers, mostly clumped together, close still even in death.

I’d pause at the tombstones of my paternal great grandparents and grandparents, my father and then, finally, my Uncle Mike, the bachelor uncle who was like a second father to me and my five siblings. He lived the next farm over, farmed with our father and joined us for everyday meals and holidays. His inherent curiosity is a trait I possess.

Uncle Mike died on September 5, 2011, and was buried just days before 9/11.

Today thousands will visit graves of those who lost their lives on that horrific day 11 years ago when our nation was attacked by terrorists.

My uncle had never, as far as I know, been to New York or Washington D.C. or Pennsylvania, never traveled much. He stuck close to the prairie, close to the farm, close to the land he cherished with the depth of love only a farmer can possess.

I miss him and grieve his death with a depth of grief that comes only from loving someone deeply.

Today, on this the 11th anniversary of 9/11, countless family and friends and co-workers and others will grieve with a depth that comes from loving deeply. They may grieve privately or at public ceremonies marking the date nearly 3,000 innocent individuals lost their lives.

Some will travel to that field in Stonycreek Township in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, where the passengers of Flight 93 fought back against those who would terrorize this nation.

It is the one place I can most relate to in the whole horribleness of this American tragedy because my roots reach deep into the land. Flight 93 crashed in a field near Shanksville, a rural community of 250 in the Laurel Mountains of western Pennsylvania with a population 100 less than my Minnesota hometown.

None of this diminishes the significant impact made upon me by the terrorist-directed planes slamming into the twin towers or the destruction wreaked upon the Pentagon in urban settings.

But big cities—even though I’ve been to New York once in my life many decades ago while in college—are unfamiliar terrain, skyscrapers as foreign to me as a silo to a city-dweller.

A lone plane crashing into a field, plowing into the earth, that I understand.

© Copyright 2012 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

 

Remembering: Boys, blocks & 9/11 September 9, 2011

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THROUGHOUT THIS WEEK I’ve contemplated the post I would write about 9/11. And not once have I deviated from my initial idea.

So yesterday I headed to the basement and started digging through totes in search of building blocks and toy airplanes. I found the blocks, but not the planes. Those I discovered later while rummaging through my son’s upstairs bedroom closet.

Ten years ago, on September 11, 2001, my boy was only seven years old. He was home from school that day, not feeling well, when my husband phoned with news of the first plane crashing into the first tower.

I switched on the television. Typically I don’t have the TV on during the day and would not have known about the terrorist attacks until much later.

From that moment on, I could not take my eyes off the screen even though I worried about exposing my son and a younger boy in my care that day to the news coverage. How would they react? And did they truly understand the gravity of what was unfolding in our country?

I attempted to explain the situation, to tell the boys this was “real” and not some television show. They continued playing with whatever toys they had out at the time—I can’t recall.

But clearly they were listening and watching, for soon the two pulled a box of wooden building blocks from the toy box. Then they pulled out the toy airplanes.

I watched as my 7-year-old and his friend constructed teetering towers, then smashed those miniature planes into the towers. Blocks tumbled across the living room carpet.

I reconstructed a tower using the same blocks my son and his friend used on September 11, 2001, to duplicate what they saw on television. These are also the same airplanes they flew into the towers.

They repeated the action: Build the towers. Fly the planes. Smash the towers. Build. Fly. Smash.

I could have cried over the loss of innocence—mine and theirs.

WHAT ARE YOUR PERSONAL memories of September 11, 2001? Please submit a comment and share your story.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thoughts upon the death of Osama bin Laden May 2, 2011

AS I CLIPPED freshly-washed laundry onto the clothesline with 35-degree temperatures nipping my fingers under a heavy sky this morning, I contemplated what I would write here about Osama bin Laden. I could not not write something.

But what could I, an average American in a mid-sized Minnesota community, write about the death of this al-Qaida leader, this terrorist, this murderer, this most-wanted fugitive, one of the most-hated men in the world?

What profound words could I pull together that would express my gratitude to the U.S. intelligence community and military?

What could I say to those who lost loved ones in the bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998, in the attack on the USS Cole in 2000, during the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks?

I could write nothing that hasn’t been spoken, written or thought.

And then I remembered a photo I took about a week ago of a billboard while traveling along Interstate 90 east of La Crosse, Wisconsin. I have no idea who posted the patriotic message.

But today, for me, this image summarizes how I feel as an American, as my country, the United States of America, stands, united and free.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling