Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by 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.

from

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

 

Emotions evoked, photos taken at the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall September 7, 2016

vietnam-wall-80-helmet

This helmet was among several displayed inside a tent where I met a Vietnam War veteran Saturday afternoon in Faribault.

WE STAND INSIDE AN ARMY GREEN military tent viewing hand grenades, playing cards, helmets and an array of items I am certain trigger difficult memories for the man beside me. He is a veteran of the Vietnam War.

vietnam-wall-79-manual

A graphic reveals hiding places to soldiers.

A close-up of names on the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall.

A close-up of names on the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall.

Even the soldiers' playing cards were military themed.

Military themed cards provided a diversion for soldiers during the Vietnam War.

I thank him for his service and ask about his time in Nam. He helped process soldiers’ bodies to be shipped home to loved ones. He says no more. But his pain is evident, confirmed by the man beside him. His brother remembers how his soldier sibling arrived home, clearly suffering. Today he’s OK, the aging veteran assures. That comforts me.

The veteran volunteering in the MIA-POW tent told me his wife sewed a pillow from this over-sized t-shirt.

The veteran volunteering in the MIA-POW tent told me his wife sewed a pillow from this over-sized t-shirt. It delivers a powerful message.

Inside a nearby tent, I stand beside another man, tall with a shock of thick white hair. He, too, served in Vietnam and I thank him. He is guarding displays that honor prisoners of war and those missing in action. This vet doesn’t share specifics either. But when I ask if the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall displayed across the way at the Rice County Fairgrounds and related events help, he says, yes. That comforts me as I hug him and exit the tent with How Great Thou Art coursing through loudspeakers.

Grief in a note and mums left at the wall in honor of Rich Lozinski, Class of 1958, Minneota, Minnesota.

Grief in a note and mums left at the traveling wall.

I pause, remove my eyeglasses, wipe tears from my eyes.

A Vietnam veteran views the traveling wall on Saturday afternoon.

A Vietnam War veteran views the traveling wall on Saturday afternoon.

If visiting the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall and related items recently showcased in Faribault impacts me this much, how much more were veterans and their loved ones affected?

The traveling wall drew thousands to Faribault during a several day showing at the Rice County Fairgrounds.

The traveling wall drew thousands to Faribault during a recent several day showing at the Rice County Fairgrounds.

Twice I toured the temporary memorial site in Faribault. Observing. Touching the raised letters of names on the wall. Photographing. Listening. And, in my mind, remembering the turbulence of the Vietnam War and the protests that accompanied it and how these veterans suffered in war and back home in the U.S.

I lifted my camera and pointed the lens down at a panel filled with names of soldiers.

I lifted my camera and pointed the lens down at a panel filled with names of soldiers.

Nothing brings war home quite like a 360-foot long replica memorial wall or speaking to a veteran.

Visitors left bouquets to honor fallen soldiers.

Visitors left bouquets to honor fallen soldiers.

Ceremonial feathers and a peace pipe honor Blair Two Crow.

Ceremonial feathers and a peace pipe honor Blair Two Crow of Shannon County, South Dakota. Read his story by clicking here.

Looking down at Blair Two Crow's memorial placed next to the traveling wall.

Looking down at Blair Two Crow’s memorial placed next to the traveling wall.

A framed letter of commendation with a soldier's notes was left at the wall.

A framed letter of commendation with a soldier’s note was left at the wall. The letter was written to David M. Linders and signed by the lieutenant commander of the U.S. Navy.

More flowers left at the wall.

More flowers left at the wall.

Beer, cigarettes and a lighter to remember a soldier.

Beer, cigarettes and a lighter to remember a soldier.

I witnessed a reverence at the wall, a personal connection to the names inscribed thereon. Flowers, a peace pipe, a letter, cans of Busch Light, two cigarettes and a red lighter—all honored soldiers.

A woman does rubbings of names on the wall.

A woman does rubbings of names on the wall.

These men and women were loved.

Multiple wreaths featured words of remembrance.

Multiple wreaths featured words of remembrance.

The ultimate honorary salute to a fallen soldier.

The ultimate honorary salute to a fallen soldier.

Thousands remembered as they visited the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall in Faribault.

Thousands remembered as they visited the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall in Faribault.

And they are remembered.

FYI: Check back for more photos from the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall and related items showcased during a recent 6-day event in Faribault.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Faribault: Visiting the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall September 4, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:51 PM
Tags: , , , , , , ,
Traveling Vietnam wall, #37 vet viewing wall

A Vietnam veteran, who was also serving as a guard for the traveling wall, studies the names thereon.

I DIDN’T EXPECT IT. But the tears came as I spoke with Vietnam veterans while touring the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall on Saturday in Faribault.

This photo in particular, among many on display, struck me.

This photo in particular, among many on display, struck me because of the soldier’s eyes and because of the words on his helmet.

It’s emotional—seeing the pain in eyes, hearing the pain in words, feeling the pain in silence.

An overview of the scene at the Rice County Fairgrounds Saturday afternoon with the wall in the background.

An overview of the scene at the Rice County Fairgrounds Saturday afternoon with the wall in the background.

If you live near this southeastern Minnesota city and have not yet viewed the wall, consider finding time between now and early Monday afternoon to visit the Rice County Fairgrounds.

The words and all those soldiers' names personalize the Vietnam War on the wall.

The words and all those soldiers’ names personalize the Vietnam War on the wall.

If you’re like me, this will prove a powerful, cathartic experience. Healing, for me, came in thanking several Vietnam veterans decades after they should have been thanked and welcomed home.

FYI: Click here to learn more about the wall’s presence in Faribault. And check back to see more photos from my two visits to the wall.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A preview of the Traveling Vietnam Memorial opening today in Faribault September 1, 2016

These electronic signs are stationed by the Rice County Highway Department building along Minnesota State Highway 3 across from the fairgrounds. They welcomed Vietnam veterans during Wednesday's processional.

These electronic signs are stationed by the Rice County Highway Department building along Minnesota State Highway 3 across from the fairgrounds. They welcomed Vietnam veterans during Wednesday’s processional into Faribault from Owatonna.

IN THE STILL OF THE EVENING, as the sun drenched the last day of August in golden light, a handful of volunteers wrapped up a long day. For a year they’d been planning for this date—the arrival of the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall in Faribault. Late Wednesday afternoon, the pick-up truck and trailer carrying memorial wall panels drove into this southeastern Minnesota city with an honorary escort of bikes, cars, military vehicles and more.

The back of the trailer carrying the wall.

The back of the trailer carrying the wall.

And now, as dusk descended, that trailer rested on a grassy expanse at the Rice County Fairgrounds. Thursday morning volunteers began erecting the 360-foot long by 8-foot high replica wall which officially opens this evening for public viewing at a 6:30 p.m ceremony. There’s a soft opening this afternoon. The wall will remain open 24/7 through the closing ceremony at 1 p.m. on Labor Day.

Signs await posting.

Signs await posting.

But before the crowds arrive—up to 20,000 are expected throughout the wall’s duration in Faribault—I got a preview of what visitors can expect. And what I saw touched me deeply. I can only imagine how the wall, still boxed in the trailer during my pre-unveiling perusal, will impact me.

A close-up of an image on the back of the wall trailer.

A close-up of an image on the back of the wall trailer reveals the number who served.

I could see the emotion in Douglas, a life-long Faribault resident and Vietnam vet I met Wednesday evening while at the fairgrounds. I thanked him for his service. He grew quiet when I mentioned the horrors of war he experienced. But his mood shifted when I talked to him about the earlier processional into town. He appreciated the long overdue public show of respect and welcome home.

Peter Van Sluis, along with his wife, Virginia, and veteran Kirk Mansfield, led efforts to bring the wall to Faribault.

Peter Van Sluis, along with his wife, Virginia, and veteran Kirk Mansfield, led efforts to bring the wall to Faribault.

Inside the information center tent, key organizer Peter Van Sluis bent over his laptop working on last-minute details. We chatted for awhile, Van Sluis pointing me toward the temporary lounge for veterans who likely will need a place to gather their thoughts, to grieve, to cope, to lean on one another.

Signage welcomes veterans only to the veterans' lounge.

Signage welcomes veterans to the veterans’ only lounge.

Locals brought in their personal furniture to furnish the lounge.

Locals brought in their personal furniture to furnish the lounge.

Inside I discovered couches and easy chairs circled into comfy coves, like a family living room. Members of the community pulled the furniture from their homes for the event.

Flags line a wall.

Flags line a wall.

A map posted in the veterans' lounge.

A map posted in the veterans’ lounge.

One of many photos displayed.

One of many Vietnam War photos displayed.

Signs of support, flags, even a map of Vietnam, transform this space from fairgrounds beer garden to veterans’ lounge. In an adjoining room, photos from the Vietnam War are staged on tables and along walls.

 

Vietnam wall preview, #19 Langhorst cross

 

Vietnam wall preview, #18 stacked crosses

 

Vietnam wall preview, #21 two soldiers' crosses

 

Outside, a cluster of white crosses drew me to view images of soldiers, all Minnesotans who have died in wars since 9/11. I imagined the grief of PFC Moises A Langhorst’s family as I studied the freckled face of this 19-year-old killed in Iraq in 2004.

Visitors can view items, like this jeep, part of a military exhibit.

Visitors can view items, like this jeep, part of a military exhibit.

Several military tents have been set up at the fairgrounds.

Several military tents have been set up at the fairgrounds.

A separate field of crosses will honor those from a several county area who died in Vietnam. Such a display personalizes war. And for many of those who visit the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall and the accompanying displays, including items from a military museum, the impact will feel deeply personal.

Used during the Vietnam War, this 1968 boat is pocked with bullet holes. A viewing stairway will give visitors access to an interior view.

Used during the Vietnam War, this 1968 boat is pocked with bullet holes. A viewing stairway will allow visitors to see the interior.

I noticed this sticker on the end of the boat.

I noticed this sticker on the end of the boat.

I listened as a Vietnam vet, standing next to a military boat used in Vietnam, mentioned the expected arrival of another boat in which soldiers were blown apart. As the daughter of a Korean War veteran, I cringed inwardly, remembering similar stories shared by my combat soldier father. None of this is easy.

The area set aside for protesters on the northwest side of the fairgrounds.

The area set aside for protesters, and posted as such, on the northwest side of the fairgrounds.

Organizer Van Sluis expects some veterans to struggle. And he also expects protesters of the Vietnam War. A special area has been set aside for them. I’d never thought of that possibility. And, as I considered likely protests, I thought, yes, this too is part of living in a free country.

The front of the wall trailer delivers a message of honor and respect.

The front of the wall trailer delivers a message of honor and respect.

It is because of the sacrifices of our military men and women that we are free, and remain free.

FYI: Click here to see a full schedule of events, for directions to the Rice County Fairgrounds and more.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In Faribault: A Willow Street welcome honoring Vietnam War vets August 31, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:12 PM
Tags: , , , , , ,

 

Vietnam Wall Memorial processional, #72 group by my house

 

A DOZEN OF US GATHERED late Wednesday afternoon in my front yard to honor those who served and those who died in the Vietnam War.

 

Vietnam Wall Memorial processional, #4 drawing flag with chalk

 

As we waited for the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall to arrive from Owatonna, the adults chatted. And some of the kids chalked American flags onto the sidewalk fronting my Willow Street property.

 

Vietnam Memorial Wall processional, #1 woman waiting with flag

Across the street a woman waits for the processional to begin.

Three American flags, spaced evenly along the boulevard, lifted occasionally in the breeze on a stunning August day here in southeastern Minnesota.

Leading the way...

Leading the way…

The Wall processional presented a great opportunity to honor these veterans. How well I remember the protests of decades earlier, the unrest and open hostilities expressed toward Vietnam vets. On this day in my community, in my neighborhood, in my yard, we gave them the respect they deserved. Whether or not you agree with the war matters not. Respect matters.

 

Vietnam Wall Memorial processional, #16 back of beginning

 

I saw honor in the lengthy lines of bikes, cars and other vehicles, in the waves, the American flags…

 

Vietnam Wall Memorial processional, #19 watching

 

There’s something deeply moving about participating in an event like this. I can only imagine the emotions felt by the Vietnam veterans who today—from Owatonna to Medford to Faribault and in between—witnessed a warm welcome home.

 

Vietnam Wall Memorial processional, #25 jeep

 

Vietnam Wall Memorial processional, #29 red jeep with wall sign

 

Vietnam Wall Memorial processional, #30 row of bikers

 

Vietnam Wall Memorial processional, #32 trike

 

Vietnam Wall Memorial processional, #34 back of 2 bikes

 

Vietnam Wall Memorial processional, #40 bikes and flags

 

Vietnam Wall Memorial processional, #46 biker & POW flag

 

Vietnam Wall Memorial processional, #49 biker waving

 

Vietnam Wall Memorial processional, #50 bikes

 

Vietnam Wall Memorial processional, #57 Vietnam vet on bike

 

Vietnam Wall Memorial processional, #58 red car

 

The Traveling Wall arrives in a trailer near the end of the processional.

The Traveling Wall arrives in a trailer near the end of the processional.

Volunteers will be setting up the wall on Thursday morning at the fairgrounds.

Volunteers will be setting up the wall on Thursday morning at the fairgrounds.

The trailer and accompanying vehicles continue north on Willow Street.

The trailer and accompanying vehicles continue north on Willow Street.

 

Vietnam Wall Memorial processional, #71 vets van

 

Vietnam Wall Memorial processional, #76 utility vehicle

 

Vietnam Wall Memorial processional, #9 American flag in chalk

My friend’s teenage daughter chalks a message of thanks on the sidewalk in front of my home.

FYI: The Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall opens Thursday afternoon at the Rice County Fairgrounds in Faribault. Click here for a detailed schedule of events from now through Labor Day. Check back for a follow-up post on a pre-eve stop I made at the fairgrounds.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In Faribault: Prepping & waiting for the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 1:28 PM
Tags: , , , , , ,

IN A FEW HOURS, the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall arrives in Faribault.

I am prepping. And so are others.

 

Vietnam Wall prep, #1 bikers

 

Around noon, a contingent of bikers, motorists and others swept past my Willow Street home en route to the Steele County Fairgrounds in Owatonna. There the group will gather for a 3 p.m. departure. The entourage will travel through Owatonna, Medford and into Faribault, ending at the wall construction site, the Rice County Fairgrounds.

 

Vietnam Wall prep, #13 red vehicle

 

Here at my home, three flags are staked in the boulevard, a sight that prompted the Faribault group to honk horns and wave as they passed by.

 

Vietnam Wall prep, #24 basket of American flags

 

A basket of American flags sits inside my front door, awaiting kids I expect here for the processional. I’ve dug out the sidewalk chalk to keep them busy while waiting. Ice cream treats are stashed in the freezer. Water bottles are cooling in the fridge.

 

Vietnam Wall prep, #25 patriotic t-shirt

 

I’ve swiped my husband’s American flag t-shirt from his dresser drawer.

Shortly before invited friends, and maybe others, arrive, I’ll spray for mosquitoes.

Today’s processional promises to be a memorable and moving experience, especially for those of us old enough to remember Vietnam. I expect the kids to learn something today about this chapter in America’s history.

Faribault, I hope you will show your honor and respect by lining the processional route and by showcasing your patriotism with American flags.

Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

 

 

Vietnam wall replica arrives in Faribault today with opportunities to honor & heal

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
Many Vietnam veterans attended the ceremony.

I photographed this Vietnam veteran during a ceremony at Faribault American Legion Post 43 in July 2013. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

VIETNAM WAR. Those two words can create angst in those of us who remember that turbulent time in our nation’s history. Unrest and protests headlined media coverage. Veterans found themselves returning to a country ungrateful for their service. They were shunned, neglected, disrespected.

But today, with decades since the end of that war and with an aging population of Vietnam veterans, thinking has shifted and we as Americans recognize the need to honor these men and women who served and those who died doing so.

The Harley dress code: black leather.

Bikers will be among those escorting the traveling wall from Owatonna, through Medford and into Faribault between 3 – 4 p.m. today. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

This afternoon in my southeastern Minnesota community of Faribault, the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall arrives under escort for a several-day stay at the Rice County Fairgrounds. For those living along the route, like me, this presents a public opportunity to pay respect. I hope Faribault residents and others will show an enthusiastic and honorable patriotic welcome as the motorcade proceeds through town. Click here to see the specific processional route for the entourage, expected to arrive here around 3:30 p.m. today.

I hope, too, that many will visit this 80 percent replica wall of the original memorial in Washington, D.C. It will be open 24/7 from Thursday afternoon through early afternoon on Labor Day. I am certain seeing the thousands of names thereon will make a powerful personal impact.

A young boy peruses the pavers honoring veterans at the Rice County Veterans Memorial in Faribault.

Pavers at the Rice County Veterans Memorial in Faribault honor Vietnam and other veterans. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

There is hope also among local organizers for healing as written in their mission statement:

To offer veterans and visitors an opportunity to experience both an educational and healing experience, and offer an important historical contribution to the understanding of our nation’s history.

Healing is possible, even decades after the Vietnam War ended.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling