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.
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.
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.
My heart holds those Memorial Day memories which prompt me, to this day, to attend a local event honoring fallen soldiers.
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.
Memorial Day is, to me, a profoundly powerful day. It brings not only emotions of sorrow, but also of gratitude.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
MAKING THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE
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.
WITH GRATITUDE & CONCERN
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…
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
EVERY MEMORIAL DAY, my emotions rise, sometimes spilling into tears. This year, 2021, proved no exception.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
YOU CAN SPEND considerable time reading all of the information included in a World War I exhibit at the Steele Country History Center in Owatonna. But I am more a Cliffs Notes reader when it comes to museum-based history. I scan to gain a general overall understanding and then choose to focus more on content that interests me most.
“Fight the foe with the hoe.”
The “Over Here, Over There: The Great War” exhibit presents Steele County’s role in WW I, both on the battlefield and at home. It’s an incredible research project. Well done. Detailed and personalized. I’ve come to expect such historical accuracy and professionalism in homegrown exhibits at this southern Minnesota museum.
As I ducked into military and medical tents, listened to the sounds of machine gun fire,
took in the wall of nearly 1,100 soldiers’ names,
admired military medals,
pulled copies of soldiers’ letters from mailboxes,
observed blacklisted books of German poetry,
considered the sacrifices of Wheatless Wednesdays and Heatless Mondays, I contemplated how this war affected every aspect of life. Not just for those military personnel in battle, but for the everyday American.
And when I read the section on immigration, I contemplated how little has changed. How the issues of yesterday—back then the hatred of Germans—today has only a new color, a new ethnicity. I read: Mass immigration created social tensions. Many native-born citizens demanded assimilation and wanted less immigration.
I don’t intend for this post to spark intense discussion on immigration issues. But the immigration section of this exhibit certainly resonated with me. I am of German heritage. If my grandparents were still living, I would question them about issues they faced because of their ethnicity.
It saddens me to think how, still today, social tensions and demands for assimilation and hostility toward immigrants remain. Strong. Often hateful. As if we didn’t all come from immigrants. As if we aren’t all human beings worthy of love and respect and a place to call home.
All of that aside, I’d encourage you to tour “Over Here, Over There: The Great War.” There is much to be culled from this exhibit whether you read every single word or browse through the information. In history we learn. If only we’d retain those lessons so history does not repeat itself.