Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Remembering Pearl Harbor from Minnesota December 7, 2010

MY MOM WAS ONLY nine years old when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor 69 years ago today.

I asked her about this shortly after 9/11.

She shared how frightened she was because, in her small world and for all she knew, Hawaii was as close as a few towns away from her Minnesota home.

Imagine how terrifying the attack must have been for children, and adults, in a world where communication was not instantaneous.

Rhody Yule wearing his USS Arizona cap.

EVERY DAY THE NUMBER of WW II veterans dwindles. And with the deaths of these former soldiers, a bit of our living history dies too. Some of their stories will never be told for many cannot speak of the horrors of war. Others share their stories only with family members and/or their brothers in arms.

I am fortunate to have met one particular WW II veteran about a year ago. He is 92-year-old Rhody Yule, a truly remarkable man. Rhody, while small in stature, is big in heart. He possesses humbleness, strength of spirit, a sharp mind and gentleness of character that we should all emulate. I cannot say enough good things about my friend.

 

Rhody’s military experience included serving in Nagasaki, Japan, cleaning up after the atomic bomb. He won’t say much about his time there, calling the situation “a mess.” Clearly, he saw more than anyone should ever witness.

I asked Rhody once about the possibility of radiation exposure. He had to do what he had to do, he told me.

I’ve seen photos my soldier-friend brought home from Japan. The utter obliteration of the landscape can only be compared to the most powerful and devastating storm times 100 or maybe 1,000.

Rhody, who is a former sign painter and an artist, created a trio of sketches from his time in Japan. The public will have an opportunity to see those during an upcoming exhibit at the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault.

One of Rhody's sketches from Japan during WW II. In the bottom right, you will see an opening into a cave, where Rhody said the Japanese worked on military machining projects.

Another one of the three sketches Rhody did while stationed in Japan during WW II.

I, along with many others, have been working for the past several months to make this show, “A Lifetime of Art, The Rhody Yule Collection,” a reality. The exhibit opens with a reception from 5 p.m. – 7 p.m. on Friday, January 14, and closes on February 26.

In addition to the Nagasaki sketches and many other pieces of art, Rhody is showing a painting he did on a piece of old tent canvas while stationed in Nome, Alaska. He had no other material on which to paint the 1944 circa image of snowplows clearing snow from the military runway. Imagine the history on that piece of canvas, the stories held within the threads of that fabric.

WE ALL HAVE STORIES to tell. Today, the anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, let us hear the stories of those who remember this day that shall forever live in infamy. And more importantly, let us listen.

Text and photos © Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Artwork © Copyright 2010 Rhody Yule

 

A WW II flag of honor reminds me of freedom’s price on Independence Day July 4, 2010

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Four flags, including an American flag that flew in Iraq, stand in the narthex of Trinity Lutheran Church, Faribault, Minnesota.

FOUR FLAGS STAND in a circle in the Trinity Lutheran Church narthex—two American flags, the other two unrecognizable to me.

So I inquire on this Sunday morning, this Fourth of July, this day we celebrate our nation’s birthday, this day of independence.

The one flag, with the big blue star in the center and the smaller white stars along the sides belongs to Kathy, who manages the church office. She knows nothing about its background, only that she purchased and proudly flies this red-white-and-blue at her home along with an American flag.

But the other flag, oh, the large star-studded flag, draws the attention of many. “What is this flag?” we ask each other as we unfold the fabric to reveal a sea of stars on white fabric bordered by red.

The women of Trinity Lutheran Church stitched this WW II honor flag.

And no one knows, until Dave arrives and uncovers the mystery. It is, he says, a flag recognizing those congregational men and women who served our country during WW II. The blue stars denote all who served. The six gold stars hand-stitched atop six blue stars honor those who never came home.

Six gold stars represent the six Trinity members who gave the ultimate sacrifice, their lives, during WW II.

I stand there awed, really, that so many individuals from this German Lutheran church in a mid-sized Minnesota community answered the call to duty during a single war. My friend Lee and I count: 162 blue stars and six double stars of gold upon blue.

The blue stars number 162, one for every Trinity member serving in WW II.

Six young men gave their lives for their country. The thought of such grief within a single congregational family overwhelms me.

I feel now as if I am viewing a sacred cloth. I wonder how many tears fell upon this flag as the ladies of the congregation stitched these stars.

I lift the flag, gently flip the fabric to the back side and examine the even machine-stitching on the blue stars. And then I examine the long, uneven stitches on the gold stars, sewn in place by hand.

Hand-stitching on the backs of two gold stars honoring those who died. The outer row is machine-stitching, holding the blue stars in place.

Dave tells us the flag stood at the front of the church, as did similar flags at churches through-out our community of Faribault. Roger steps up, says he remembers a smaller flag in the church he attended during WW II.

And if Dave’s memory serves him right, this flag remained on display until the end of the war.

Today I am glad, even though also saddened, that this flag of honor has been taken out of storage and put on display. For this one morning, on this Independence Day, those of us gathered here freely to worship have been reminded again that freedom does not come without a price.

A view of three of the flags, looking into the sanctuary, centered by a cross.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling