Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Hope, help & tragedy in Faribault July 22, 2021

I photographed this woman’s shirt at a public event in Northfield. The message refers to struggles with mental illness. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

IF YOU’VE FOLLOWED my writing long enough, you understand my dedication to increasing awareness on two important issues—domestic violence and mental health.

This week, both made headlines in my community. I can’t let this opportunity slide without sharing what’s happened/is happening in Faribault. We need to stay informed, to choose awareness over sticking our heads in the sand. Understanding leads to action and, perhaps, saving lives.

First the really good news for Faribault and the surrounding region (according to the Faribault Daily News): Our local hospital, District One, and Rice County Social Services are collaborating on new adult outpatient mental health services. The hospital, part of Allina Health, will offer a day treatment program and a partial hospitalization program for adults dealing with mental illnesses. Social services will provide referrals.

Photographed at the Northfield Public Library. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

To say I am thrilled is an understatement. This is so needed in Rice County and the surrounding rural areas. Our access to mental health care, especially during or following a crisis, is limited. Waiting time to see a psychiatrist, if that doctor is even accepting new patients, can be up to six weeks. Can you imagine waiting six weeks if you were experiencing a heart attack? You would likely die. Individuals facing mental health issues—from depression to anxiety to bipolar to schizophrenia and more—deserve, and need, immediate access to local care. As do their families.

To get treatment and support locally, rather than traveling to the Twin Cities metro, will ease some of the stress during an already stressful situation. Even with this improvement in services, though, we really need more mental health professionals to alleviate the shortage and meet the area’s needs.

Stress, while a bit of a buzzword, is part of life. And this week my community feels especially stressed by a murder-suicide, which left a 32-year-old woman dead, allegedly shot by her 27-year-old boyfriend, who then killed himself. It’s devastating. Two young people dead in an apparent act of domestic violence.

A mosaic on the exterior of the Faribault Chamber of Commerce & Tourism office honors employee Barb Larson, murdered there on December 23, 2016. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

My heart breaks every time I read of such murder-suicides, or any act of domestic violence. Shortly before Christmas 2016, Barb Larson was shot and killed by her ex-husband, who then took his own life, in a high profile case in Faribault. She worked for the local tourism office. He was a retired police officer. That crime shook Faribault to its core.

Likewise, I expect the murder of Amanda Schroeder on Monday evening is prompting similar angst. And increasing awareness of the ongoing crime of domestic violence. HOPE Center, which advocates for victims of domestic and sexual violence, is already reminding the community that advocates are available to listen, help and support. 24/7.

In both of these situations—domestic abuse/violence and mental health crises—people are here to help. I feel thankful to live in a community that cares. No one ever needs to feel alone, to face life’s challenges and stresses solo.

Warning signs of domestic abuse/violence from a previous community event on the topic. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I know Amanda tried. She called 911. To make that call took strength and courage. Still, she died. If Amanda’s death can save one life, can result in one person safely leaving an abusive partner, then something positive has come from this tragedy.

Where does all of this leave us as individuals? I encourage you to educate yourself on domestic abuse/violence and mental illness. Then take that knowledge and show your care and compassion to those who need it. To those experiencing challenges. And their families. Listen. Support. Encourage. Refer to professionals. Be that person who chooses not to ignore, but rather to be there. To engage. To understand. To uplift. To care.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A look back at the 1918 pandemic in Northfield & similarities to today July 14, 2021

Minnie’s obit, published in the Northfield News. Source: Timeline on NHS website.

FIRST DEATH BY INFLUENZA

Minnie Marko died at her home after a brief illness of pneumonia, according to her obituary published in the November 15, 1918, issue of the Northfield News.

The death of the 21-year-old is just one of many topics in a timeline, “1918-1920 Influenza in Northfield, Minnesota.” Three Carleton College students worked with the Northfield Historical Society to create the timeline in 2020.

Headlines in the November 15, 1918, Northfield News. Source: Timeline on NHS website.

It’s an interesting read, showing the striking similarities between the Spanish flu and the COVID-19 pandemics. Thanks to Northfield writer and photographer Margit Johnson for featuring the research in a recent post on her blog, Elevation99. I recommend you read Margit’s post and then follow the link to the timeline.

I did just that, scanning headlines like these:

IT’S UP TO YOU TO FIGHT THE FLU (10/25/1918)

FOUR STUDENTS AT ST. OLAF DIE DUE TO INFLUENZA (11/21/1918)

NO CHRISTMAS CHURCH SERVICE IN NORTHFIELD (12/22/1918)

COLLEGES RETURN, WITH RESTRICTIONS (1/1919)

BELOVED CARLETON PROFESSOR FRED B. HILL DIES OF INFLUENZA (1/29/1919)

As I read the headlines and the brief summaries that followed, I considered how quickly information, and misinformation, spreads today. I considered how public health officials then, and now, recognized the seriousness of the virus and took efforts to stop the spread of the virus. The State Board of Public Health forbade public funerals and ordered wearing of gauze masks on streets and in public buildings in November 1918. Sound familiar?

Health Rules published in the February 13, 1920, Northfield News. Source: Timeline on NHS website.

But perhaps the timeline entry that struck me most personally was this item in a list of Ten Health Rules published in the February 13, 1920, Northfield News:

10. Do unto others as you wish them to do unto you.

Think about that as it relates to COVID-19. Just like in 1918, our choices today affect more than ourselves. Before COVID numbers dropped in our country due to vaccinations, too many people refused to wear masks (and to wear them properly over mouth AND nose). And now people are refusing vaccination for reasons ranging from political to distrust of the vaccine (and thus of science) to believing the virus won’t make them seriously sick or kill them. It can and it does.

History tells us to expect a resurgence of the virus if such me-centered attitudes and behaviors prevail. As in 1918, the message that bears repeating is this: This is not just about us individually. This is about all of us. About caring for one another. About understanding that our choices affect the health, and thus the lives, of others.

People are still getting sick and dying from COVID-19. That’s especially true in states with low vaccination rates. Missouri, for example, has the most aggressive Delta variant outbreak, according to recent media reports. In Minnesota, Crow Wing and Cass Counties (in the heart of lake and cabin country) are experiencing a noticeable increase in COVID cases. All of this concerns health officials. And it should concern us, too, especially those who are not vaccinated, whether by choice or because they are too young for vaccination. This virus can mutate, as it did into the highly-contagious Delta variant, putting people at an even higher risk of serious illness and death.

The grief of those losing loved ones today is no less than the family of Minnie Marko, 21, who died in 1918 in Northfield. Minnie didn’t have the option of a vaccine. We do.

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FYI: I’d encourage you to read my June 11 post about a 46-year-old Minot, N.D., man who regretted not getting vaccinated. Rob Tersteeg died of COVID. His dying wish was that his journey with this “vicious virus” would convince others to get vaccinated. He made his wife promise to get their kids vaccinated. His family grieves, just like Minnie’s.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Perspective & hope June 26, 2021

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Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

PERSPECTIVE DOESN’T DIMINISH challenges in life. Rather, perspective helps one to assess, to consider, to reshape thoughts.

On Thursday, the word “perspective” edged to the top of my mind upon learning about the collapse of a 12-story residential building in Surfside, Florida. Suddenly what Randy and I experienced this week doesn’t seem all that bad. Minor, really, in comparison to the loss of life and home in Florida.

As I write this, four people are confirmed dead with 159 missing. And then there are the injured and those who are now without a home. It’s a lot of loss. A lot of grief and pain and heartache and stress beyond comprehension.

When I view the rubble of the high-rise, I think of the fallen World Trade Center towers and of the I-35 bridge collapse. The visuals from Florida imprint the immensity of the catastrophe. Media reports, especially interviews with loved ones of the missing, cause an emotional reaction which leaves me in tears, feeling deeply saddened. My heart breaks at the humanity of it all—the deaths of loved ones in such a sudden and awful way.

As six industrial-sized fans and a dehumidifier roar in our basement, I focus on perspective. I see those media reports featuring search and rescue teams, eye witnesses, family members, government officials and others at the site of the Florida tragedy. I also hear the repeated word, “hope.” Hope rises, even when it seems futile.

But, like perspective and resilience, we need hope. Especially now in Florida.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Looking beyond ourselves to the broader community June 24, 2021

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Early in the pandemic, the Rare Pair in Northfield posted this sign on the front door. While social distancing and masking are no longer required in Minnesota, the overall message of LOVE OTHERS can apply to vaccination. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2020.

AS THE BAND PLAYED, as the scent of gyros wafted in the breeze, as the summer day drew to a close in Central Park during Faribault’s Heritage Days celebration, I engaged in a conversation that left me frustrated. The subject: COVID-19 vaccination.

For some 10 minutes, an acquaintance and I discussed the vaccine, specifically his refusal to get vaccinated. I tried to be respectful as I listened to his belief that COVID is no worse than the flu and his assessment that, if he gets the virus, he expects a mild case. He’s around my age, in his 60s. I politely disagreed with his assessment of COVID and stated no one really knows how their body will react to the virus. In our county of Rice 110 people, ranging in age from 24 to 104, have died from COVID.

I shared stories about those, with a connection to Randy and me, who have died of COVID. Those deaths didn’t seem to matter. He acknowledged hearing my concerns, but remained unswayed.

“PARANOID” VS. CAUTIOUS & CARING

When he called his co-workers at a local factory “paranoid” about COVID, I felt myself losing patience. There’s nothing paranoid about concern, about taking precautions, about preventing the spread of a potentially deadly virus. There’s nothing paranoid about caring for your own health and the health of humanity by choosing vaccination.

In hindsight, had I known I would have this conversation, I would have taken a different approach—emphasizing that the decision whether to get vaccinated or not stretches beyond our individual selves to our families, friends, neighbors, and yes, even our co-workers. Even to strangers.

My acquaintance, while seemingly unconcerned about his own health, should feel a sense of responsibility to his community. I wonder how he would feel if he exposed someone to COVID and that person died or suffered long-term health issues. I would struggle with guilt.

I DON’T UNDERSTAND

Not only do I struggle with my acquaintance’s refusal to get vaccinated, but I really struggle with those employed in healthcare settings who are refusing vaccination. At my local hospital, about 37% percent of staff remains unvaccinated, according to a recent story in the Faribault Daily News. They are putting patients at risk by that choice. The same goes for those who work with our elderly and most vulnerable in long-term care centers. Where is the sense of care for others, of respecting science, of maintaining health in a place devoted to health?

GRATITUDE MIXED WITH ONGOING CONCERN

To those of you who have chosen vaccination, thank you. Thank you for protecting yourselves, those you love and the broader community. Because of your choice, we are seeing a significant drop in COVID cases. Vaccines are working. That decline doesn’t apply everywhere, though. In states like Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma, where vaccination rates are especially low, COVID cases are still prevalent, according to media reports. And the highly-contagious Delta variant is quickly spreading, accounting for 20% of new COVID cases in the U.S. This pandemic isn’t over yet and I’m concerned for those who aren’t getting, or can’t yet be, vaccinated. Like my acquaintance. And my young grandchildren. And others I know who refuse to trust and accept that vaccines work.

DESPERATE TO BE VACCINATED

In closing, I want to share one final story. A friend’s son and his family are flying from their home in Brazil to Minnesota to get vaccinated. Vaccination is many months away for them in a country hit especially hard by COVID. Their oldest daughter, who has Downs Syndrome and thus is especially vulnerable to the virus, is their primary concern. Think about that for a moment. We can’t give away vaccines in this country. People are refusing them. And here we have a family of four flying some 5,000 miles to get vaccinated. They trust the science. They want to protect themselves. They understand that COVID-19 can be worse than the flu. They are part of our global family and I feel thankful that they are choosing vaccination.

If you are not yet vaccinated, please get vaccinated. Your decision is about more than you. It’s about all of us. Your family. Your friends. Your neighbors. Your co-workers. Your community. Your world.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Old school journalism & lessons learned June 22, 2021

In journalism school and early in my journalism career, I typed stories on a manual typewriter similar to this. MN Prairie Roots file photo.

IN A WINDOWLESS ROOM of Armstrong Hall on the campus of Mankato State University, I pounded out a fictional obituary on a manual typewriter.

The year was 1976. And I was learning the basics of newspaper reporting. Lesson number one: Always spell a person’s name correctly. Never assume. Ask for the spelling. There is no reporting sin worse than misspelling a name. I remembered that during my first reporting job out of college when I interviewed Dayle. Not Dale.

I learned from two of the best—Robert O. Shipman and Gladys B. Olson. They were old school journalists, determined to teach Woodward and Bernstein-hyped students how to gather facts and report with truth, accuracy and integrity. They taught the basics—how to write a strong lede, how to infuse interest into feature stories, how to get the story right…

But beyond that, they cared. Deeply. They cared about the roles newspapers play in communities. To report hard news. To share human interest stories. To inform. To keep tabs on government and schools and other groups entrusted with public monies and policies. To share and express opinions on the editorial page, considered the heart of a community newspaper. To publish obituaries. And much more.

A section of a feature I wrote about Mike Max, now a sports anchor at WCCO TV. MN Prairie Roots file photo.

All these decades later, I remember those lessons learned from Shipman, Olson and others who taught mass communication classes at what is today known as Minnesota State University, Mankato. I graduated in March 1978 and shortly thereafter started working as a newspaper reporter at a small town weekly, The Gaylord Hub. My career would also take me to full-time reporting jobs in Sleepy Eye, Mankato and Owatonna, and to a short-term assignment in Northfield with freelance work also tossed in the mix.

Through the years, I’ve maintained my passion for writing and grown my passion for photography. Even while raising three children, with minimal time to write. Yet, I’ve had no desire to return to the long and odd hours of working for a newspaper at low pay with the stress and pressure of deadlines and a public that criticizes more than values the free press.

Much has changed since I typed a fictional obit in Armstrong Hall on a manual typewriter. For one, technology. Two: Newspapers charge to publish obits. I still struggle with that change. But I understand given the declines in ad revenue. Three: Attitudes. The easily flung accusation of “fake news” simply angers me as does constant criticism of responsible media. “Don’t kill the messenger,” I advise those who target the media for reporting “only bad news.”

A feature I wrote in 1979 republished in the June 4, 2020, issue of The Gaylord Hub. MN Prairie Roots file photo.

I wonder what Professors Shipman and Olson would teach students today. I expect they’d still focus on the basics. On accuracy and integrity and spelling names correctly.

While writing this post, I wanted to assure I spelled their names right, which led me to search online. It was then that I discovered some interesting facts about Olson, a petite spitfire of a woman. Shortly before she turned four, Gladys and her infant brother were orphaned as a result of the 1918-1919 flu pandemic. Their parents died within 24 hours of each other, among more than 8,000 North Dakotans who died of influenza in 1919. The siblings were raised by their paternal grandparents. I wish I’d known this when Olson taught me how to become a good, decent and fair newspaper reporter.

From the front page of the Faribault Daily News. MN Prairie Roots file photo 2020.

Today, as I read Olson’s 2016 obit, I understand her backstory, what shaped her strength and resilience and kindness. The list of her accomplishments beyond journalism professor emphasizes service to others. She lived to age 101. That she died only four years before the COVID-19 pandemic is not lost on me. I’m thankful she didn’t have to endure another pandemic. I’m also thankful that she, and Robert Shipman, taught me old school journalism style. To write with fairness, integrity and accuracy. And to value the role of newspapers in a democracy.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Insights from a pocket garden June 21, 2021

2nd Street Garden in downtown Faribault. MN Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

WHEN YOU CONSIDER THE WORD pocket, what flashes into view? A side or back pocket in your jeans? A place to tuck your cellphone or keys? A slip of fabric stitched to the front of a shirt? How about a garden? Yes, a garden.

Downtown Faribault features a pocket garden, a mini garden sandwiched in an open space between buildings. I love the concept, the artsy and practical use of a spot that might otherwise exist as unused and unsightly.

In 2018, two sisters and two artists created the 2nd Street Garden next to DuFour’s Cleaners thanks to funding from Faribault Main Street. That downtown-focused group secured a $15,000 grant from the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota and the Bush Foundation for six creative placemaking art projects, including the pocket garden.

With financial support, sisters Dee Bjork and Beth Westerhouse (who has since died) and husband-wife team Ann Meillier and Dave Correll (Brushwork Signs) designed and created the garden. It incorporates metal flowers, real flowers and plants, a bench and floral art.

A bench offers a place to rest and ponder. MN Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

The result is an inviting oasis that feels tranquil and welcoming. And unexpected.

Left behind by a recent visitor to inspire kindness. MN Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

Recently, I revisited the garden and discovered a mini stuffed bear on the park’s bench. An attached tag invited visitors to take a photo and to use #LovePeopleBeKind. The bear, with red heart connected, fits the garden’s theme of Love One Another.

An important message tagged to the bear. MN Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

It’s such a simple concept: Love One Another. But it’s not always easy to do. We say and do things that hurt others. We fail to listen. We blame and criticize and jump to conclusions. And with technology, it’s easier than ever to fire off words in the heat of the moment. Without thinking. Without considering. Without putting our fingers and mouths on pause.

The positive message painted onto a fence panel in the garden. MN Prairie Roots copyrighted and edited photo, August 2019.

I’d like each of us to step into a pocket garden. To sit on a real or imaginary bench, surrounded by natural and artistic beauty, and to contemplate. To think beyond ourselves. To think of ways we can grow more loving and caring. To consider that what we say, write and do matters. In either a positive way or a negative way. We can hurt people. Or we can choose to love one another. We can choose to show, and grace others with, kindness, love, care, empathy and compassion.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thoughts & reflections on Juneteenth June 19, 2021

A chair placed before a Stephen Somerstein photo offers a spot to contemplate. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2015.

IT’S A MEMORABLE IMAGE of an empty chair placed before a photo in the exhibit, “Selma to Montgomery: Marching Along the Voting Rights Trail.” In 2015, I viewed the traveling exhibit that visually highlights the Civil Rights movement and the photography of Stephen Somerstein.

Now, six years later, the contemplative photo I framed and shot with my Canon EOS 20-D in the Flaten Art Museum at St. Olaf College connects to our new federal holiday, Juneteenth. June 19 commemorates the end of slavery—the date in 1865 when Union soldiers informed slaves in Galveston, Texas, that they were free. Two-plus years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation freeing all enslaved persons held in states that had seceded from the Union.

That strong visual of the empty chair before that Somerstein photo sparks within me the desire, the need, to look deep within myself, and then beyond myself. To learn. To begin to understand in some small way what it means to be Black in America. To read the history. To recognize how slavery affected generations of families. How the hurts and wrongs of yesterday remain.

The official declaration of Juneteenth as a federal holiday certainly prompts me to research, reflect and contemplate. But I hope this new national observance initiates community conversations that bring change in a nation reeling from racial issues and injustices. It truly takes each of us at a grassroots personal level to effect change.

Recently, I listened as an elderly white woman spouted angry words about George Floyd, murdered by a Minneapolis police officer in May 2020. She claimed that Floyd was being portrayed as a “saint” when he was “nothing but a criminal.” I felt my blood pressure rising as she continued her rant about all the shootings in Minneapolis and how thankful she was that she didn’t live in the Cities. She missed the point of the protests—over police brutality, over racial injustices, over the needless death of a Black man (yes, one with a criminal record) while in police custody. I walked away. And maybe I shouldn’t have. Maybe I should have stayed and tried to discuss this with her. But I knew my efforts would prove futile. She saw this all as a metro, not a rural, “problem.”

I disagree. We are all human. No matter where we live, we ought to care about how others are treated, whatever their skin tone. Perhaps today, Juneteenth, we can sit quietly for a bit, contemplate and reflect on life in America today. How can we improve this country, starting right in our own neighborhoods and communities? Within ourselves.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Promoting community pride & more in Faribault June 7, 2021

Signage atop the Message Board defines its purpose. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.

GRATITUDE. PRIDE. POSSIBILITIES. Those topics theme a new opportunity for locals and others to voice their thoughts on the positives in my community via a public Message Board.

The portable board is currently stationed along the Second Avenue side of Faribault’s Central Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.

The Faribault Foundation, which aims to promote and enhance the quality of life for the greater Faribault area, recently developed and then crafted a portable public board from wood and fencing and stationed it along Second Avenue NW in Central Park.

Central Park is the backdrop for the Message Board. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.

I love this concept of inviting people to ponder, and then post, their Faribault pride, gratitude and hopes for the future of our southern Minnesota city. Too often we hear the complaints, the negatives. This emphasis on the good qualities and the possibilities is much-needed. And appreciated.

Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.
A container on the side of the board holds the tags and a Sharpie. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.
Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.

So what are people writing on the colorful tags wired onto the fence? On the Saturday afternoon I stopped to photograph the Message Board and then leave my thoughts, I counted 23 comments. Among the positives in Faribault—history, River Bend Nature Center, murals, historic buildings, diversity and more.

The Cathedral of Our Merciful Savior sits right across the street from Central Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.
Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.
Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.

As I aimed my camera, I looked across the street toward the historic Cathedral of Our Merciful Savior. In the other direction, I noted the historic Bandshell, where our community gathers on Thursday summer evenings for free concerts in the park. On the side and back of that bandshell are two historic-themed murals. Although I didn’t grow up here, I appreciate Faribault’s rich history and the beautiful old buildings that grace our downtown and other parts of the city.

An iris blooms in a Central Park garden. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.
A lovely garden bordered by hosta. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.

Then I meandered through the park, admiring the flowerbeds tended by Faribault Gardeners Reaching Out With Service (GROWS). That reminded me just how much I appreciate the natural beauty of Faribault. And also how grateful I am to the Faribault Farmers’ Market vendors who set up here on Wednesdays and Saturdays during the growing season.

Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.

Just as many of those vendors grow produce to feed the body, so this new Message Board can grow positivity to feed the spirit. I hope my community embraces this Faribault Foundation project. When we shift our focus to that which is good, to hopes and dreams and gratitude, then the possibilities for this place we call (or called) home are endless.

Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.

FYI: The Message Board will be moved to different locations throughout Faribault for greater accessibility and exposure.

TELL ME: Have you seen a similar project? Nearby Northfield has a Gratitude Tree at the public library. I recently featured that in a post.

© 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

 

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