Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Memorial Day remembrances & reflections May 25, 2023

A soldier sculpture centers the Northfield Area Veterans Memorial. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2023)

HIS STRONG STANCE, one boot planted in front of the other, ramrod posture all point to his disciplined military training. I am looking at a sculpture of a US soldier, a combat infantryman. As I study him, I gaze into his haunted eyes, eyes that, by my perception, reveal the horrors of war.

Standing strong in service to country, a life-size soldier replica. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2023)

Perhaps it is my own father’s stories of fighting on the front-line during the Korean War that shape my reaction to this soldier replica at the Northfield Area Veterans Memorial. But this could be anyone’s interpretation. That of a daughter, like me, whose father suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after leaving the killing fields of Korea. Or this could be the story of any active duty war veteran, the story of a spouse or child who lost a loved one on the battlefield, the stories of too many.

My dad took this photo of his buddies, including Ray Scheibe, left, in Korea. The photo is dated May 1953. Ray was killed in June. (Copyrighted photo by Elvern Kletscher)

This Memorial Day, I pause to remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice—their lives—to assure my freedom. My dad’s Army buddy and friend Ray was among those. Ray died the day before he was to leave Korea and return to his wife and infant daughter in Nebraska. My father witnessed Ray’s death and it broke a part of him.

Honoring fallen soldiers with a special monument at the Rice County Veterans Memorial in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

These are the personal details we need to remember on Monday, a national day of mourning and remembrance for those who died on the battlefield. Veterans’ memorials and parades and programs all provide ways to honor the brave men and women who died in service to country. But their stories are equally as important. These are, after all, individuals with friends and families, likes and dislikes, histories written long before they were drafted or enlisted and then called to war.

“The Walk of Remembrance” imprinted with veterans’ names and military information edges the Northfield Area Veterans Memorial. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2023)
A paver at the Rice County Veterans Memorial honors Sgt Donald E. Ponto, killed in action in Korea. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)
A full view of the Northfield Area Veterans Memorial. The stones represent each branch of the military. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2023)

Many Minnesota communities have veterans’ memorials. While designs differ, they share the commonalities of a centerpiece sculpture, sometimes a soldier or an eagle or some other strong symbol; pavers with veterans’ names imprinted; American and other flags; and ways to recognize all branches of the military. It is the names, accompanied by the initials KIA, which break my heart. KILLED IN ACTION. I recognize the intense pain and heartbreak experienced by loved ones back home. The grieving families. The Gold Star Mothers, a mother who lost a child in service to country. The fatherless children, like Teri, the infant daughter of my dad’s buddy, Ray. Overwhelming grief imprints upon those stone pavers.

An eagle at Veterans Memorial Park in Morristown. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

This Memorial Day, I encourage you to reflect on the war dead whom we honor on Monday. Walk through a cemetery and pause at the graves marked by small American flags. Attend a Memorial Day program not out of a sense of obligation, but out of gratitude. I feel thankful for a free press. Not every country has such freedom.

My dad carried this memorial service bulletin home to Minnesota from Korea. In the right column is listed the name of his fallen buddy, Raymond W. Scheibe. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

Spend time at a veterans’ memorial beyond a precursory walk through. Appreciate the words, the names, the symbols, the artwork. And, if a soldier sculpture centers the memorial, look into his eyes and remember this biblical quote pulled from the memorial service folder my dad carried home from Korea: Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).

Fitting words engraved in stone at the Northfield Area Veterans Memorial. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2023)

That July 31, 1953, service folder from Sucham-dong Korea lists 28 soldiers who died on the battlefield, among them my dad’s beloved buddy, Raymond W. Scheibe, age 22. It is my dad’s grief and trauma I see when I gaze into the eyes of that soldier sculpture in Northfield. War carries so much death and loss and pain. I vicariously understand that. This Memorial Day I remember, reflect, honor, carry on my heart the heaviness of war.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


With thoughtful gratitude on Veterans Day November 11, 2022

A bronze statue titled “Poppie” personalizes the Rock County Veterans Memorial in Luverne as do the names of some 1,600 veterans engraved in pavers. I’ve seen a lot of veterans memorials and this is among the most impressive. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo August 2013)

NEARLY EVERY COMMUNITY has one. A veterans memorial. I appreciate that public recognition of military service in communities from rural to urban. Yet, acknowledgment of our veterans must stretch beyond public memorials.

Today, Veterans Day, I pause to personally thank the individuals who have served our country. That’s important to remember—individual service and sacrifice. I expect most of you can rattle off names of those in your circle who engaged in combat or other military work. They left their homes, their everyday lives, to answer the call of duty.

I feel gratitude to individuals who, either by draft or by choice, stood strong for democracy. Words like courage, commitment, strength, fortitude…filter into my thoughts when I think of our veterans.

But I also think of the physical, emotional and mental challenges too many combat veterans face post-war. I can never comprehend the pain, the trauma, the grief experienced by those who fought in war zones. I only know how my own father, an infantryman in the Korean War, battled the demons of war during his lifetime. That glimpse was enough to elicit deep concern within me.

We are making strides in recognizing and treating post traumatic stress disorder, for example. Not until near his 2003 death was my dad aware of his PTSD. He never got the intervention and help he needed upon arriving home from war. I’m thankful for the help available today, although I expect sometimes it’s not easily-accessible and not nearly enough.

Suicide among veterans remains high. After hearing a few of my dad’s stories of war atrocities and killing, I recognize the emotional and mental tolls on health. Returning to everyday life after experiencing the traumas of war brings challenges civilians will never fully understand. We need to be there for our veterans in ways that matter—support, compassion, care, understanding—with gratitude in our hearts.

TELL ME: If you’re a veteran, what would you like to hear today, Veterans Day? How can we as a country better honor and help you? If you know a veteran, what have you done to honor and help veterans?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Focusing on the true meaning of Memorial Day May 28, 2022

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. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

THIS HOLIDAY WEEKEND, as you fire up the grill, perhaps gather with family and friends or head Up North to the lake cabin, please pause to remember the reason for Memorial Day.

Helmet on rifle in boots is the universal symbol honoring fallen soldiers, this one at the Rice County Veterans’ Memorial in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2020)

It’s not about the unofficial start of summer or a day off work or whatever. Rather, Memorial Day is a day for honoring those military men and women who died in service to their country. It is a day to reflect on that sacrifice of life, to honor, mourn, remember.

Printed on the back of a Memorial Day program folder in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

As the daughter of a Korean War veteran who served as an infantryman with the US Army on the frontlines in Korea and decades later received the Purple Heart, I grew up understanding the significance of Memorial Day. I attended the annual Memorial Day program in my hometown of Vesta, publicly read the poem, “In Flander’s Fields,” multiple times, went to the cemetery afterwards, listened to the haunting playing of taps.

A story about my dad’s Army buddy, Cpl. Ray W. Scheibe, killed in action and published in the July 23, 1953, issue of The Wolbach Messenger. Dad witnessed Ray’s death and was forever haunted by that awful memory. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

My heart holds those Memorial Day memories which prompt me, to this day, to attend a local event honoring fallen soldiers.

A veteran plays taps at the conclusion of the 2016 Memorial Day program in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2016)

Yet it is not the pageantry of a parade, the flying of flags, the singing of patriotic songs, the delivery of speeches or even a poppy pinned to a lapel that moves me the most. Rather, it is the singular playing of taps. Mournful and heartwrenching in a way that grips my soul with grief. For those who died in service. For those left behind.

A paver at the Rice County Veterans’ Memorial notes the tragic death of Sgt. Donald E. Ponto, killed in action. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2020)

Memorial Day is, to me, a profoundly powerful day. It brings not only emotions of sorrow, but also of gratitude.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


From $221K for Ukrainian kids to top film awards April 5, 2022

The promo for the final owl art auction. (Source: International Owl Center Facebook page)

IN THE MIDST OF WAR and pandemic, inflation and everyday struggles, I want to pause and focus on two recent bits of good news. One comes from the tiny town of Houston in southern Minnesota. The other comes from the glitz and glamour of the entertainment world. Two complete opposites, yet notable in how important each is in this vast connected world of ours.

Let’s start with Houston, where the International Owl Center just concluded its third online “Ukrainian Art Auction for Ukrainian Kids.” The final auction of art created by Ukrainian youth for the center’s annual International Kids’ Owl Art Contest raised $48,893 for UNICEF, designated specifically for kids in Ukraine.

All three auctions raised a whopping $221,353. That’s an incredible amount generated from the sale of 190 pieces of original owl art, limited edition prints and direct donations. The giving spirit of those wanting to help youth in war-town Ukraine stretched well beyond Houston, population around 1,000, to a wide world of caring and generous souls. I am heartened by this show of love and support.

And I am heartened to read on the Owl Center Facebook page that staff connected with some of the young artists and learned that they have fled Ukraine with their families and are safe.

Promo for “Summer of Soul” from the “Summer of Soul” Facebook page.

Now the other bit of positive news has nothing to do with war, but rather with film and music. The documentary, “Summer of Soul,” just won the 2022 Grammy Awards Best Music Film. And a week earlier, it landed an Oscar for the Best Documentary Feature.

Generally, I pay no attention to these awards because, well, they don’t interest me. That’s not to diminish the hard work of these artists because their creativity enriches our lives and world. But I cared about “Summer of Soul” Oscar and Grammy nominations after watching a public television airing of the documentary by filmmaker Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson. His film focused on the Harlem Cultural Festival in the summer of 1969. Six concerts over six weeks brought 300,000-plus people together in Harlem to celebrate the Black culture, specifically music. Performers included the likes of Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Gladys Knight and the Pips… But Thompson’s film was about more than the music. It was about the issues facing Black people, highlighted in interviews woven into concert footage. Many of these same issues remain today.

There’s more to this story. Although produced 53 years ago, “Summer of Soul” was only recently released. In promos for the film, it’s titled as “Summer of Soul (Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)” on ABC. I encourage you to view this enlightening documentary. Experience the music, the culture. And then reflect. For in opening our hearts and minds, we expand our understanding of each other in a world that needs to connect and care.

The International Owl Center, located in downtown Houston, Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

To the creatives behind “Summer of Soul” and to the creatives behind the “Ukrainian Art Auction for Ukrainian Kids,” thank you for sharing your talent and for your generosity of spirit. I am grateful.

FYI: The International Owl Center is taking a pause from its “Ukrainian Art for Ukrainian Kids” auctions to prepare for the International Festival of Owls April 30 – May 1. I will update you if/when more fundraisers happen. Or check the International Owl Center Facebook page to stay posted.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Third owl art auction underway to help Ukrainian youth April 1, 2022

From left to right, owl art created by Adelina, 14; Dasha, 10; Kamila, 10; and Maria, 14. (Promo source: The International Owl Center Facebook page)

IT IS AN INCREDIBLY uplifting story in a time when we need positive news. Chapter three in the story of “Ukrainian Art for Ukrainian Kids” continues to write hope into my days and restores my confidence in the goodness of humanity.

Yesterday the International Owl Center in the small southeastern Minnesota community of Houston opened its third online auction of art created by youth in Ukraine. Proceeds from that art and direct donations will go to UNICEF for kids in Ukraine. Thus far, the Owl Center has raised $172,091 with a $250,000 goal by auction’s end at 8 pm (CST) on Sunday, April 3.

That’s a phenomenal amount of money generated already from the sale of art created through the years for the International Kids’ Owl Art Contest. When war broke out in Ukraine, Owl Center staff pulled all of the Ukrainian student art from its collection, partnered with the Houston Area Community Foundation and worked with volunteer Jayne Overstreet to set up an online auction series.

While the ultimate goal is to raise monies to help youth in war-torn Ukraine, the hope is also to establish a sense of connection with those young artists. Most attended schools in eastern Ukraine.

This particular auction features 57 pieces of 12×16-inch original owl art, 15 large format 16×23-inch originals and limited edition prints of three pieces. Direct donations to the project can also be made. Please consider bidding on art or donating to help these dear young artists of Ukraine.

FYI: Click here to reach the auction site.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


International Owl Center in Minnesota raises $100K for Ukrainian kids March 22, 2022

Promo for the first auction, now closed. The art here is from left to right by Sofia, 15, sold for $1,750; by Polina, 9, sold for $2,250; by Maksim, 5, sold for $2,300; and by Anna, 15, sold for $7,660. (Source: International Owl Center Facebook page)

IN A SMALL TOWN of some 1,000 in the bluff country of southeastern Minnesota, a nonprofit is doing its part to help the children of Ukraine. In a big way.

“We are utterly blown away!!!!!” That’s the publicly posted reaction to the $100,052 raised through an online auction of Ukrainian youth art from the International Owl Center in Houston. Minnesota. Not Texas. The monies will go to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) for the children of Ukraine.

Winning bids for the 59 pieces of owl art by Ukrainian children and teens, accumulated through the years for the center’s annual International Children’s OWL Art Contest, ranged from $425-$8,005. The highest bid was placed on the snowy owl art of 14-year-old Sofia. Two other works of art drew nearly as much—15-year-old Anna’s realistic owl family ($7,660) and 9-year-old Anna’s yellow and blue owls perched on a branch against a star-studded sky ($7,505). Nine other pieces were purchased for more than $2,000 each.

The International Owl Center, located in downtown Houston, Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo November 2015)


Regardless of purchase price, all 59 works of art are valued as “priceless” by the Owl Center, a nonprofit with a mission “to make the world a better place for owls through education and research.”

That mission has temporarily expanded to better the lives of Ukrainian youth in the war-ravaged country of Ukraine via the center’s “Ukrainian Art Auction for Ukrainian Kids.” The initial five-day auction is the first of three. The second art auction opens at 8 am (CST) Wednesday, March 23, and closes at 8 pm (CST) Sunday, March 27. The Owl Center also plans to keep some of the remaining 200-plus pieces of Ukrainian kids’ art in their permanent collection.

Owl art, by youth from all over the world, decorates the center’s walls. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo November 2015)


Reaction to the first auction has been one of incredible gratitude for the generosity of bidders and those who donated via the donate monies option to reach that $100,052 total. Some $95,000 of that, according to my tally, came from the art sales. Commenters on the Owl Center’s Facebook page praise the artwork and also express their concern for the Ukrainian children. “I hope she (Sofia) is safe. Her owl is beautiful,” writes Dori.

“This is amazing. I hope each artist is safe,” Deb comments.

And Linda summarizes, “Well done! May all these artists be held (in) care and protection.”

Gina also writes: “I think what you are doing to help the children of Ukraine is amazing. Thank you for your every day work with the owls and for this extraordinary act of giving.”

I, too, am impressed by the reaction to this auction in the enthusiasm and the generous bids. In a time when many of us feel helpless, this is one way to help youth like Karelina, Maksim, Polina, Anna, Nastya, Alia, Sofia, Veronika, Olga…

A banner on the side of the International Owl Center in 2015. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2015)


The Owl Center is doing even more. Plans are underway to print a set of 20 blank greeting cards from selected art created by Ukrainian youth. The public is invited to help select the art. Again, proceeds from that will go to UNICEF for the children of Ukraine.

Additionally, Ukrainian kids’ art is featured on three street banners hanging in Houston.

Although I don’t have the financial means to buy any of the art, I can support this project via writing about it. And I expect those owl cards will fit my budget. Mostly, my heart overflows with gratitude to the International Owl Center for organizing this art auction, for reaching beyond the borders of their small Minnesota community to make a difference internationally in the lives of children in Ukraine.


FYI: The Owl Center hosts the International Festival of Owls April 30 – May 1. To learn more about the center, click here. Also check out the center’s Facebook page for current auction info. Please spread the word about the art auction. The link for all of the auctions will remain the same with the listing updated when each auction opens.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Owl center auctions art by Ukrainian kids to benefit youth in war-torn country March 18, 2022

The International Owl Center, located in downtown Houston, Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo November 2015)

SOME 5,000 MILES FROM UKRAINE, in the small southeastern Minnesota community of Houston, the International Owl Center is doing its part to help the children of this war-ravaged European country. And they’re accomplishing that through children’s art.

Promo from The International Owl Center Facebook page.

The center is auctioning original art by children from Ukraine—art submitted through the years to the annual International Children’s OWL Art Contest. Proceeds from the “Ukrainian Art Auction for Ukrainian Kids” will go to UNICEF’s efforts to bring relief to the children of Ukraine, according to the auction website.

Owl art from all over the world decorated the center’s walls when I visited in November 2015. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo November 2015)

The current auction features 59 pieces of art by children like Polina, Anna, Alexandra, Sofia, Vladyslav, Olga, Maksim, Yelyzareta…ranging in age from five to 17. The art varies from boldly colorful interpretations of owls to realistic.

The Owl Center is home to resident owls. I photographed this one in 2015. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo November 2015)

I encourage you to click here, shop the art and purchase a piece (s) if you are so inclined and/or able. Bids are pushing over $100, well into the hundreds of dollars. When I scrolled through the art Thursday afternoon, owl art by 5-year-old Maksim and 10-year-old Karelina each had bids of $510. Bids already totaled $11,500.

This auction marks the first in several. Bidding on this group of 59 original pieces of owl art by Ukrainian children closes at 8 pm on Sunday, March 20.

A banner on the side of the International Owl Center in downtown Houston during my 2015 visit. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo November 2015)

As you scroll through this art, do so slowly. Notice the details, like the single tear falling from the owl painted (#29) by Yana, 11. Or the hearts encircling 7-year-old Anna’s owl painting (#8). Or the adult owl sheltering a younger owl (#20) in 15-year-old Adelina’s creative art.

Think about the children and teens who created this art. Where are they now? Are they safe? Are they scared? Are they hungry? And, because this art was created through the years, are some of them now parents? Or perhaps young people now defending their country?

Appreciative students created these owl thank yous in 2015. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo November 2015)

Olexander, Katya, Daria, Viktoria, Yaroslava, Olesia, Lika…names mostly unfamiliar to us. That matters not. What matters today is that these names represent the children of Ukraine who need our help. And one way to help is to buy this original art from the collection at the International Owl Center in Houston, Minnesota, population not quite 1,000 and more than 5,000 miles from war-torn Ukraine.


FYI: To read my 2015 post on the International Owl Center, click here.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Regarding Ukraine March 9, 2022

A peace dove themes this painting on burlap by Mexican artist Jose Maria de Servin. I purchased this at a recycled art sale in Faribault perhaps 10 years ago. It is among my most-treasured pieces of art. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

I’M STRUGGLING, really struggling, with the invasion of Ukraine by Russia and the resulting death, destruction and humanitarian crisis.

Deaths of civilians, documented in a powerful image of a mother, her teenage son, her elementary-age daughter and a family friend killed by Russian mortar fire. Lying dead in the street, luggage beside them, as they attempted to reach safety in Kyiv. Photojournalist Lynsey Addario witnessed the attack and photographed the scene for The New York Times. That published March 6 on the front page. In a television interview, I could see and hear Addario’s pain, her grief. She struggled to photograph the deadly scene, terming this killing of innocent civilians a “war crime,” which the world needed to see. I saw. I cried.

I’ve seen, too, media images of bombed homes and other buildings. Utter destruction. I cry.

And I cry, too, over the “humanitarian crisis,” the endless exit of refugees from this country under attack. I can’t even count how many times I’ve cried over scenes of young mothers wheeling suitcases with young children clinging to their hands. I imagine my own daughter doing the same with my two grandchildren and the idea of that shakes me to the core. To see children clutching their stuffed lovies or a mom spoon-feeding soup to her preschooler roadside or a soldier cradling a baby…it’s overwhelmingly sad.

I wonder why, this time, I’ve felt such angst, such concern, such grief. War has always wrought death, destruction and exodus. But this seems different in sheer numbers of individuals and families fleeing. This seems different in the depth of evil behind what is unfolding in Ukraine. This seems different in the worldwide implications. I write this in the context of my life-time.

I think, too, my husband’s connection to Ukraine, where his ancestors resettled from Germany to then Russia (current-day Ukraine), deepens my sorrow. His forefathers once farmed the land around Odessa before journeying to America and a new life in North Dakota.

In prayer…just as Mary is depicted praying in this statue at the Holy Trinity Catholic Church Grotto in Waterville, Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2016)

My feelings now are mostly of concern, angst, helplessness. Yet, there are three actions I am taking. As a woman of faith, I pray. I pray for protection of the Ukrainian people, some by name (given to me by friends). I pray for their leader, President Volodymyr Zelensky, and other world leaders. I pray for peace. And more.

I am also supporting and encouraging friends worried about people in Ukraine. Family of family. Friends.

I purchased this vintage tray at an antique shop in St. Charles many years ago. It’s likely from the 60s or 70s. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

And, finally, I’ve pulled out my “peace” art as a visual reminder. Coming of age in the 1960s and 1970s, at the time of the Vietnam War, the word “peace” played into my everyday vocabulary. The peace symbol was everywhere. On posters, jewelry, drawn in my spiral-bound notebooks. Today, more than ever, I need visual cues that peace is possible. I need hope when I cry.

TELL ME: How are you reacting to the situation unfolding in Ukraine? If you have personal connections to Ukraine and feel comfortable sharing, please do.

ALSO, please take time to read my friend Paula’s post, “Spring in Europe.” You will be moved by the message from this US combat veteran and native Minnesotan living with her husband in the Netherlands.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A letter to Dad on Veterans Day November 11, 2021

U.S. Army Cpl. Elvern Kletscher, my father, in the trenches in Korea. (From my father’s photo collection)


I’m sorry.

I’m sorry I didn’t take the time to ask. And then to listen.

I’m sorry I didn’t recognize earlier that you were suffering.

I’m sorry I was too busy with my own life and family to realize that I could have, should have, tried to understand.

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 while killing a sniper. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2011)

Nearly 19 years have passed now since your burial, since that brutally cold early April day when I wrapped my arm around Mom in the wind-swept hilltop Vesta Cemetery. I felt her body shivering, shaking with grief as she accepted a folded American flag.

Moments like that imprint upon me as I remember you—husband, father, grandfather, son, brother…and veteran.

You were buried with military honors. The firing of guns. The mournful playing of taps. An in-ground military marker notes your final rank as a sergeant in the US Army. Awarded the Purple Heart, albeit 47 years after you were wounded on Heartbreak Ridge in Korea.

My father, Elvern Kletscher, left, with two of his soldier buddies in Korea. (From my father’s photo collection)

Today, on Veterans Day, I think of you. Honor you. And consider how fighting as a boots-on-the-ground combat soldier in the mountains of Korea forever changed you.

I recall the few stories you shared through the decades. You watched as a mortar killed your friend Ray, who was scheduled to leave Korea the next day. He left behind a wife and infant daughter. Dad, your grief led me to search for that “baby” two years after your death. I found Teri living in Iowa and with only minimal knowledge of her birth father. I have yet to meet her, but want to some day.

Some day. Days and weeks and months and years pass and then some day is too late. Now I hold a shoebox brimming with curled black-and-white photos and other items from your time in the Army. Your Selective Service System registration certificate. A well-worn mini black book of prayers, hymns and devotions from the Ladies Aid in Vesta. Faith and prayer carried you through many a hellish day and night in Korea.

On the back of this photo, my dad simply penned “a letter from home.” I appreciate this photo of my dad taken by an unknown buddy in Korea. (From my father’s photo collection)

In a letter to your parents, a copy tucked into a folder labeled “Korea” in my office file cabinet, you termed the war-torn Asian country a “hell hole.” Likewise, an over-sized embroidered decal declares “RETURNED FROM HELL.”

I have no doubt that war was hell for you. “Shoot or be shot,” I remember you saying. You spoke, too, of bitter cold, of hunger, of orphans begging for food across barbed wire fences. Of horrible war-time atrocities that I can’t bear to write here.

My dad carried this memorial service bulletin home from Korea. In the right column is listed the name of his fallen buddy, Raymond W. Scheibe. (From my father’s collection)

And then when you arrived home—bringing with you a folded memorial service bulletin from Sucham-dong, Korea, dated July 31, 1953, and including your buddy Ray’s name—the horror and grief you experienced remained. But few, if any, acknowledged your struggles back then. You were expected to resume life as usual, returning to rural Minnesota to farm the land, to milk cows, to marry and raise a family. Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was not yet recognized.

I’m sorry, Dad. Sorry about the neighbor who laughed as you dove to the ground when a rifle fired during pheasant hunting.

I’m sorry, Dad, for the fear you felt when guns fired during a small town parade.

I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you like I should have been.

Near the end of your life, you found empathy and care in your veterans’ support group. That comforts me. Those men understood what you’d experienced. For that I am grateful. They provided the emotional support I failed to give you. I’m sorry, Dad. So sorry.

With love,


© 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