Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The importance of Veterans Day to me as a writer & veteran’s daughter November 10, 2017

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

 

WHEN I CONSIDER Veterans Day, I think beyond a general blanket of gratitude for those who have served, and are serving, our country. I see a face. I see my soldier father, an infantryman on the battlefields of Korea and recipient of the Purple Heart.

 

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.

 

My dad, Elvern Kletscher, died in 2003. But his memory remains strong in my heart as do the few stories he shared of his time fighting for his country. He witnessed unspeakable, violent deaths. And, yes, he killed the enemy, often telling his family, “It was shoot or be shot.” I cannot imagine shooting someone so near you can see the whites of their eyes.

 

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

 

Atop Heartbreak Ridge, Dad picked off a sniper who for days had been killing off American soldiers. He suffered a shrapnel wound there.

But his wounds ran much deeper than the physical. His wounds stretched into a lifetime of battling post traumatic stress disorder, long unrecognized. He told stories of diving to the earth when a neighbor fired at a pheasant, the sound of gunfire triggering all those horrible war memories. The neighbor laughed. Likewise, guns shot at a small town parade sent him ducking for cover.

 

My dad’s military marker in the Vesta City Cemetery. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I can only imagine the demons my father fought. You cannot walk away from war-time death and violence unchanged. Only much later in life, as the decades passed and awareness of PTSD grew, did my dad find some comfort in talking to other vets with similar experiences.

 

Soldiers receive The Lord’s Supper in Korea, May 1953. Photo by my soldier father, Elvern Kletscher.

 

Dad’s strong faith also pulled him through his emotional turmoil, during and after war.

Now, as I look back, I wish I had been more understanding, more grateful. But I can’t change that. Rather, I can choose to honor my dad by writing, an expression of the freedom he fought to preserve.

 

I wrote a story (“Faith and Hope in a Land of Heartbreak”) about my dad’s war experiences in this book, published in 2005 by Harvest House Publishers.

 

As a writer, I hold dear the value of my freedom to write. No one censors my writing or tells me what to write. I treasure that. I cringe at the current overriding criticism of the press in this country, the constant allegations of “fake news.” I worry about this negative shift in thought, the efforts to suppress and discredit the media. My dad fought to keep us free. And that freedom includes a free press.

 

 

That struck me Thursday evening as I gathered with 13 Faribault area writers at a Local Authors Fair at Buckham Memorial Library. Here we were, inside this building packed with books and magazines and newspapers and more, showcasing our writing. No one stopped us at the door to check if our writing met government standards. No one stopped us from selling our books. No one stopped us from engaging in free conversation with each other and with attendees.

I am grateful to those who assured, and are assuring, that I will always have the ability to write without censorship in a country that still remains free.

 

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Honoring our veterans November 11, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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A star marks a veteran's grave in a southern Minnesota cemetery. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

A bronze star marks a veteran’s grave in a southern Minnesota cemetery. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

ACCORDING TO THE U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, here’s the definition of Veterans Day:

A celebration to honor America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.

Today, on Veterans Day, consider those words and thank a veteran.

Within my extended family, I’d like to thank my brothers-in-law, Marty, Jon, Neil and Tom, and my sisters-in-law, Rosie, Jamie and Rena, and nephew, Jonathan, for their service to our country.

Who would you like to thank?

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In honor of our veterans November 11, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:00 AM
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“A CELEBRATION TO HONOR America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.”

That, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, is the purpose of Veterans Day.

Veterans participate in the program.

Veterans participated in a special program dedicating a private veterans’ memorial in rural Rice County. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Today, pause to remember and/or thank a veteran for upholding those values. Perhaps it is your spouse who is deserving of your gratitude or your neighbor or co-worker, brother or sister…

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

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

We all know veterans. My father fought as a front-line infantryman in the Korean War. My brother-in-law, Neil, just returned from deployment to Afghanistan. Many more family members have served, too.

It is easy to take our freedom for granted when living in the United States of America. Freedom. To speak, write, come and go…

Last week I read the obituary of U.S. Army veteran and Faribault resident Paul Gray, 84, who served in Korea. I was surprised to read that Gray had been held as a Prisoner of War for 33 months. I’d never before considered the capture of Americans during that conflict. Gray’s POW experience, the obit stated, “was a tremendous influence in providing the inner strength he carried with him throughout his life.”

I can only image the strength it would take to endure nearly three years in captivity.

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.

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, and others who died in service to their country. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Then I wondered how many other Americans were taken prisoner. According to the National Park Service website, more than 7,100 Americans were captured and held during the Korean War. Of those, more than 2,700 were known to have died.

An article on the subject states in part:

Life as a POW meant many forced marches in subfreezing weather, solitary confinement, brutal punishments and attempts at political “re-education.” Here prisoners received their first systematic dose of indoctrination techniques by their captors. This was a relatively new phenomena and resulted in the Code of Conduct that now guides all American servicemen in regards to their capture.

An additional 8,000 plus American soldiers were reported as missing in action in Korea. That’s 8,000 too many.

More tributes on the exterior of the Happy Hour Bar.

Tributes to veterans are posted throughout Montgomery, Minnesota, including these on the exterior of the Happy Hour Bar. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Thank a veteran today and remember their families, who also have sacrificed for freedom.

FYI: Click here to read about Montgomery, Minnesota’s way of honoring veterans.

Click here to read how Minnesota teen Heather Weller honors veterans.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Veterans’ Day: Grief in a shoebox November 11, 2012

IT IS BUT A SINGLE SLIP of paper, creased and yellowing with age. Yet, it is so much more. The words typed thereon, 59 years ago, hold heartache and honor and memories of my soldier father and his buddy.

My father shipped home from Korea into the welcoming arms of family.

Cpl. Ray W. Scheibe shipped home from Korea in a box, to a grieving family.

The third section of the memorial service bulletin my soldier dad carried home from Korea.

It’s all there, on that piece of paper, a memorial service bulletin dated July 31, 1953, Sucham-dong, Korea. My father folded that paper into quarters, carried it across the ocean and across the country and back home to southwestern Minnesota and then tucked his grief inside a shoebox.

A story about Cpl. Ray W. Scheibe, published in the July 23, 1953, issue of  his hometown newspaper, The Wolbach Messenger, Wolbach, Nebraska.

Cpl. Ray William Scheibe lost his life in Korea June 2, 1953, when he was hit by a round of mortar fire, according to information received from a buddy. He was a member of an infantry unit and was on patrol duty at the time of his death.—from The Wolbach Messenger, Thursday, July 23, 1953.

Sgt. Elvern Kletscher, my father, witnessed the horrific death of Ray, who was due to ship out the next day. Back in tiny Wolbach, Nebraska, Ray’s wife, Marilyn, and their 3-month-old daughter, Terri Rae, waited.

The memorial service bulletin lists the names of those soldiers who died, including Ray Scheibe.

Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13—scripture quoted in the memorial service folder dated July 31, 1953, Sucham-dong, Korea.

An in-ground marker honors my father, Elvern Kletscher, a Korean War veteran and recipient of the Purple Heart for wounds he suffered at Heartbreak Ridge in Korea. My father did not receive his Purple Heart until 2000.

This Veterans’ Day let us remember, always, those who have served and are serving.

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

The cover of the 1953 memorial service folder from Korea.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Heather needs your help to thank a veteran November 7, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 4:28 PM
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Heather Weller after delivering thank yous to veterans at the veterans’ home in Fergus Falls in November 2011.

KRISTI WELLER of New York Mills emailed me this morning asking for help in publicizing a project her 14-year-old daughter, Heather, is undertaking for Veterans’ Day.

For the fourth year, Heather is gathering thank you notes for her “Thank a Veteran” program. You can help by writing and emailing a thank you to veteranthankyou@gmail.com. But hurry. Heather is planning to deliver the emails and handwritten cards she’s collected on Sunday, November 11, Veterans’ Day, to veterans’ homes in Fergus Falls, Minnesota, and Fargo, North Dakota.

This ambitious eighth grader has collected and distributed more than 8,000 thank yous to veterans and soldiers in three years. How great is that?

Kristi sent me a wealth of information, too much really, to share with you. So I’d suggest checking out Heather’s Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/pages/Thank-a-Veteran/116200178444473

Buried in the details of Heather’s charitable work for veterans, I found a particularly profound piece of information shared by her mother. Heather has been teaching 30 students in a 4-H Cloverbud class about gratitude for our veterans. The kindergartners through second graders have made thank you cards that Heather will deliver.

And in the process of teaching these young 4-Hers, Kristi says her daughter learned this: “…most of them thought that a veteran was someone who took care of animals. Kind of sad.”

That is why we need passionate youth such as Heather who appreciate and support veterans through projects like “Thank a Veteran,” “Holiday Mail for Heroes,” Quilts of Valor,” “Project New Hope” and more. Heather educates, speaks, promotes, crafts, thanks.

And she’s planning, too, to gather veterans’ stories for the Veterans History Project of the Library of Congress American Folklife Center.

Won’t you join Heather in thanking a veteran for his/her service to our country? Again, email your message of gratitude (include your name, town and state) by this Saturday to: veteranthankyou@gmail.com

FYI: To learn more about Heather’s work, click here to read a post I published last November.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Photo courtesy of Kristi Weller

 

A passion for honoring veterans November 16, 2011

Dear Veteran:

Today, Veterans Day, I honor you—you who gave of yourself to serve our country so that we might live freely.

Because of you, I can pursue my dreams, speak my mind, vote, express myself through my writing and so much more.

As the daughter of a Korean War veteran, I understand the depth of your service to country. For all you have done, thank you. May God bless and keep you in His care always.

With appreciation,

Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Minnesota Prairie Roots blogger

Faribault, Minnesota

I SENT THE ABOVE short message last week to 13-year-old Heather Weller of New York Mills who was collecting thank you notes to deliver to the Fergus Falls Veterans Home on Veterans Day.

It was the least I could do for this teenager committed to honoring our service men and women.

After submitting my e-mail and blogging about Heather’s “Thank a Veteran” project, I received an e-mail from her mom, Kristi Landwehr Weller, thanking me for supporting her daughter.

I asked her to update me on Heather’s project after Veterans Day. Kristi reports that Heather received 185 e-mails from 42 states and Canada. She also collected 75 handwritten thank you notes at her local county fair, the Minnesota State Fair and 4-H events.

Now if those numbers, geographical locations and efforts aren’t enough to impress you, how about this: Heather collected more than 500 thank you cards and letters from her elementary school and the high school in New York Mills. She also handcrafted 100 cards.

Then this remarkable young woman delivered all those notes and cards to those veterans in that Fergus Falls home. She gathered the e-mails and messages into a binder to leave there.

Heather Weller with some of the letters she gathered at her school and cards she made.

And to impress you even more, Heather also gave Veterans Day speeches at the Fergus Falls Veterans Home and at the New York Mills schools.

Did I mention that Heather turned 13 years old in September?

Her passion for honoring our veterans doesn’t stop with Veterans Day. Says Heather’s mom: “…she collects messages all year round online and in person, gives speeches about her cause, promotes Project New Hope (providing veteran family retreats), makes quilts for Quilts of Valor, visits the vets home all year round, involves the school in Holiday Mail for Heroes and is working on care packages for soldiers…just to name a few things.”

Oh, and recently she participated in the Junior National Young Leaders Conference in Washington D.C.

“Seeing the war memorials and hearing about great leaders seems to have made her even more determined to spread the word (about honoring veterans),” Kristi says.

Kristi, who calls herself “just a proud mom,” apologizes for “going on and on” about her daughter.

Well, Kristi, I’d say you have every reason to be proud of Heather for her passion, selfless giving, devotion, hard work, dedication and enthusiasm in honoring our veterans.

Such commitment deserves recognition. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for this passionate young woman. I expect that no matter what path Heather follows in life, it will be one that involves giving to others. And that is admirable, admirable, indeed.

CLICK HERE to learn more about Heather’s efforts.

CLICK HERE to read my first post about “Thank a Veteran.”

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Photos courtesy of Kristi Weller

 

Remembering Ray November 11, 2011

My dad carried home a July 31, 1953, memorial service bulletin from Sucham-dong, Korea.

THEY DIED IN SERVICE to their country—Frankie L. Davis, Eugene Jones, Charles Musgrove, Raymond W. Scheibe…

Names. Of soldiers. Men who were remembered during a July 31, 1953, memorial service in Sucham-dong, Korea.

Names, typed onto a service folder that my dad, Elvern Kletscher, carefully folded and carried home to southwestern Minnesota from the killing fields of Korea.

One name—Ray Scheibe—that meant so much to him. A soldier-brother. His 22-year-old friend. His buddy who died, blown apart by a mortar the day before he was to leave Korea and return home to his wife and 6-week-old daughter in Wolbach, Nebraska.

My father witnessed Ray’s horrific death. He never forgot Ray.

Neither have I.

A story about Cpl. Ray W. Scheibe, published in the July 23, 1953, issue of The Wollbach Messenger.

My dad’s been gone since 2003; his buddy since that fateful day during the Korean War on June 2, 1953.

Yet their intertwined lives as soldier-brothers remain forever preserved in black-and-white photos and that service bulletin tucked inside a shoebox stored in my office. Memories of war and of lives lost confined to a box measuring 13 x 6.5 x 4 inches.

This photo, taken by my dad, shows Ray on the left. The photo is dated May 1953. On the back my dad had written: "Sgt. Shibe, June 2, 1953."

It doesn’t seem right, that I should keep these photos and scraps of war in a non-descript box, pushed into the back of a dresser drawer. But that is how my dad kept his war memories, stashed in that shoebox, shoved out of sight, away from family, away from emotions that could easily overwhelm him.

Two years after my dad’s death, I became interested in the contents of that shoebox and began wondering about that baby girl back in Nebraska—Ray’s daughter. I decided to look for her.

After a short search, I found Terri living in Harlan in southwestern Iowa, about five hours from my Faribault home. (Click here to read a previous blog post about finding Terri.) We’ve talked, although not recently, by phone, exchanged e-mails, letters and Christmas cards.

Yet, we’ve never met.

Every Veterans Day, every Memorial Day, every June 2, I think of Terri and her dad and how her dad never came home. And mine did.

Sonny Nealon, Ray's best friend in high school, sent me this photo he took of Ray's gravestone.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling