Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Watching the 2018 Winter Olympics from the perspective of a Minnesota soldier’s daughter February 13, 2018

My dad, Elvern Kletscher, at Camp McNair in Korea, photo dated February 14 (1953).

 

WATCHING THE WINTER OLYMPICS the past several days, I’ve felt a closeness to my deceased father. He walked this soil, this mountainous land so different from the flat, open farm land of his southwestern Minnesota home.

 

This photo from my dad’s collection is tagged as “Kim, Rowe, Allen & me, May 1953 Machine Gun Crew.” That’s my father on the right.

 

He landed here in 1952 with a ship full of other U.S. Army soldiers, gun in hand. A young man sent here by his government to fight on foreign land in a region that still is without solid peace. He fought on the front lines. Kill or be killed. Buddies dying. Explosions and hungry Korean orphans begging for food across barbed wire and him eating bark from trees and cold that felt even colder than the coldest of Minnesota winters.

 

This photo, pulled from the shoebox which holds my dad’s military photos, is simply labeled “front line.” That would be “front line” as in Korea, where my soldier father fought.

 

When I see the blowing snow and rugged mountain ranges during Olympics coverage, I think of my foot solider infantryman father, ranging through and over those Korean mountains. Scared. Yet doing what he must to survive. Kill or be killed.

 

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

 

I think of him on Heartbreak Ridge, picking off a sniper who had taken many of his buddies. And I think of the fiery shrapnel piercing his skin and the Purple Heart he would claim decades later, when he was an old man. Because a fire had destroyed his military records. Because he had tucked most of his war memories away. Because no one cared about what happened on a Korean mountaintop in 1953.

 

On the back of this photo, my dad simply wrote “a letter from home.” I appreciate this photo of my dad taken by an unknown buddy in Korea.

 

I regret that I didn’t understand him and the inner turmoil he carried with him from Korea back home to Minnesota. I regret that I didn’t ask more about his war experiences, that I didn’t recognize the trauma he suffered as a result. I regret that healing never fully came, although he found understanding and solace in the company of other veterans with similar shared experiences late in life.

All of this I consider when I view the Olympic athletes in their designer clothing, medals around their necks, applause of crowds, praise of many.

All of this I consider when I see the sister of the North Korean dictator seated behind our Vice President.

All of this I consider when I view those Korean mountains flashing across my TV screen.

 

Dad penciled on the back of this 1953 photo from Korea: “Sgt Smith & me from the States to Korea.”

 

I think of my dad as I retrieve a shoebox full of his black-and-white Korean War era photos. I sit on the sofa filing through those curled images while Olympic athletes ski and skate and propel themselves down an icy tunnel. On the back of one photo, I read my dad’s cursive notation: me in Korea May, 53.

Sixty-five years have passed since he left Korea. I wish I could sit with him now, ask him about his time in Korea, about the stories behind those photos. Perhaps he would talk, perhaps not.

 

U.S. Army Cpl. Elvern Kletscher, my father, in the trenches in Korea.

 

I wonder, would he turn off the television or would he watch the Olympians perform? Could he handle seeing the backdrop of those rugged mountains where too many of his buddies died? Would he flash back to the horrors of war?

 

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.

 

The reality is that I can’t ask him. He died in 2003. But I can write. I can use my words to tell his story, to apologize for my lack of understanding, to honor him. And this I do as Olympians cross country ski, stop, sprawl stomach down, then fire their rifles in this land, this Korea. This land where my soldier father from Minnesota shot his weapon, too. Kill or be killed.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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When yet another vehicle strikes another child heading to school October 18, 2017

A teen was struck on busy Second Avenue (pictured here intersecting with Minnesota State Highway 60), several blocks north of this Faribault intersection. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2015.

 

IF YOU’VE EVER EXPERIENCED trauma, you understand how a news story can trigger difficult memories.

Tuesday morning a vehicle struck a 13-year-old girl as she crossed a busy Faribault street on the way to her bus stop. Conscious, but incoherent, she was airlifted to a Twin Cities trauma center with unknown injuries.

Now the 54-year-old male driver of the 1998 Lincoln Navigator that hit the girl faces possible charges. According to news reports, he drove his vehicle around the right side of vehicles stopped for the teen at the Second Avenue crosswalk.

When I heard the news, my mind flashed back to May 12, 2006, the date a car hit my then 12-year-old son as he crossed a busy Faribault street on the way to his bus stop.

The similarities end in the commonality of Faribault Middle School students struck on busy streets around 7:30 a.m. while going to bus stops.

My son suffered only minor injuries of a broken bone in his hand, a possible rib fracture and a bump on his head after bouncing off the windshield of a blue 4-door car, possibly a Chevy Cavalier or Corsica. That driver left the scene and has never been found despite police follow-ups on many leads and a $1,000 reward offer (now expired).

In the years since that May morning when fear gripped my heart, I’ve sometimes wondered about that motorist. How could he/she drive away from my boy, just leave him lying on the side of the road? Police suspect, and I agree, that the driver had something to hide, a reason to continue on.

 

 

I still keep a file of email exchanges with police, newspaper clippings, medical bills, insurance documents, the accident report, the reward flier and even handwritten get well cards crafted by children to my son. This incident is part of my family’s history now, part of our story.

I changed on that May morning 11 years ago. I lost some faith in the goodness of people. For awhile I was angry, driven to find the man or woman who failed to stop. I couldn’t understand the lack of compassion and still can’t. But my resolve to find the individual lessened as the years passed, replaced by an acknowledgment that I likely will never have answers.

Still, on days like Tuesday when I hear of another child struck on her way to school, the memories rise, strong and painful.

 

FYI: Click here to read an award-winning poem I wrote about the hit-and-run involving my son.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Don’t tell me you’re “fine” when you’re not & other insights March 5, 2017

 

HOW ARE YOU? I’ve never liked that question, even realizing the underlying kindness that laces those three trite words.

The standard answer of “I’m fine” is expected. The truth most often is not.

 

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Now Minneapolis writer Nora McInerny Purmort—who has faced her share of “I’m not fine” days—tackles the “How are you?” question in a podcast series from American Public Media. Terrible, (Thanks for Asking) is a must-listen series in which Nora seeks only honest responses to “How are you?”

I’ve listened to one podcast thus far. “Unbroken” features an interview with sexual assault survivor Sarah Super. It’s an incredible, horrible, powerful and, yes, sometimes graphic, story. But so worth your time for the insights revealed. Sarah is one strong woman. And we can learn so much from her about the importance of speaking up, of being heard and more.

Both she and Nora address the issue of silence. And, yes, I picked that from the interview because silence is all too pervasive. I’m talking the hard, uncomfortable silence that those who have suffered trauma, those who are dealing with health issues, those who are facing unimaginable difficulties and challenges hear. Yes, hear. Silence truly can be deafening.

Sarah cites the reason many friends and loved ones remained silent following her assault: “I didn’t know what to say or do.”

Puh-lease.

“Your silence,” Sarah says, “feels like apathy.” The definition of apathy is lack of interest, enthusiasm or concern. Lack of. Imagine how that feels to your loved one who is hurting. Lack of.

Nora reiterates Sarah’s thoughts: “Silence hurts when you are on the other end of something awful.”

In an interview with National Public Radio about her podcast series, Nora repeats, “The worst thing—and it doesn’t matter if you’re dealing with death, or if you’re dealing with all of these other things that we’ve talked to people about—silence is the worst thing you can hear from people.”

She gets it. Within six weeks, this young woman lost her father to cancer, miscarried and then lost her husband to brain cancer. Since then, Nora has authored the book It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying Is Cool, Too). And now the enlightening podcasts have followed.

What can we learn from all of this? My take-away is this: First, we need to speak up, to end the silence, to really care when we ask someone, “How are you?” And then we need to listen, really listen. That means setting aside our stories, our comments, our whatever, and truly focusing on what the other person is telling us. It’s about them. Not us.

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CHECK BACK TOMORROW for a way that Minnesota is breaking the silence on an issue that affects all of us, directly or indirectly.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling