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A Memorial Day tribute: Minnesota author uncovers the journey of silent WWII hero

Author Janelle Kaye spoke Monday about her book “Reconciliation with War: A Family Journey” at the Windom Memorial Day Service at the Windom Community Center. (Erin Trester/Daily Globe)

WINDOM — “Memorial Day is a day to reflect on the true costs of war, and grieve for those who have fallen.”

So said Janelle Kaye, author of “Reconciliation with War: A Family Journey” and guest speaker at Windom’s Memorial Day program, where members of the Windom American Legion Post 206 and community members gathered Monday at the Windom Community Center for an emotional ceremony.

The post’s Girls and Boys State representatives, Michaela Hacker and Aaron Axford, both echoed Kaye’s theme in their Memorial Day speeches.

“When I was asked to write a speech about what Memorial Day meant to me, I asked myself, ‘How did they do it?’” Axford said. “‘How did they drop everything they were doing to go off to war?’

“Then I realized they each had someone worth fighting for. They had someone in their heart that they would risk their life for and protect what they love.”

Axford and Hacker each reminded people that the fallen veterans left families and friends behind, and they — as well as the veterans — should be honored daily.

“While we can’t have a ceremony every day, what we can do is take a few seconds out of our day and remember those who have sacrificed for this country,” Hacker said. “We shouldn’t stop fighting for them, because they never stopped fighting for us.”

Kaye shared her story about growing up in a household where post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) ruled, and how what once was a distant relationship with her father blossomed into love and understanding.

Kaye’s father, Charles Willsher, received the Distinguished Service Cross for his service in the 9th Infantry Division during WWII. The book includes parts of Willsher’s memoirs of his experience during the war, and Kaye’s journey of forgiveness and healing after a 40-year estrangement.

“Growing up, my mother and I never understood what was wrong — we never knew how to fix it,” she said. “My father suffered from what is now known as PTSD, but I never truly understood until his memoir was finished.”

During the Memorial Day program, Kaye read an excerpt from her father’s memoir, which tells the story of World War II from his perspective.

“I stood up and fired my bayonet, killing or seriously injuring three Germans, I felt the blood running down the right side of my face from where I’ve been injured in my ear, I realized then I was now partially deaf in that ear,” Kaye read. “I also saw the blood running down my leg from a bayonet wound, but my next thought was to help my fellow soldiers who were with me. We were all shaking and waiting for the same thing to happen all over again … we lost 50 men that day.”

Kaye explained that for the rest of her father’s life, her was plagued with a variety of physical problems and severe PTSD that resulted primarily from having killed others in hand-to-hand combat. 

“When my father was in the face of danger, his first thought was to protect others, and I now understand that he wanted to protect his family from the horrors that he experienced,” Kaye said. 

Since the 1980s, PTSD has been recognized and treated, but the need and opportunities to heal secondary or trans-generational PTSD has gone largely unrecognized. The book touches on methods and guidelines for healing and reconciling that may prove helpful for families everywhere.

“Where there has been war, there has always been PTSD,” she said. “Between 20 and 30 percent of combat war veterans suffer from PTSD, and it costs this country $2 billion. Every veteran who suffers from PTSD and seeks treatment costs (the country) around $8,300 a year.” 

Kaye concluded by reminding people that as we remember the fallen, we remember all of our veterans, and what the costs of war are.

“As we reflect today, we should remember the true costs or war and to listen without judgement to the stories that are locked in the heads and hearts of combat war veterans,” Kaye said.

Daily Globe Reporter Erin Trester may be reached at 376-7322.

Erin Trester
Erin Trester is the crime and city reporter for the Daily Globe. She's a native of Lewiston, MN, but moved to Buffalo, NY to attend college and obtained her bachelor's degree in Communications. She started at the Western New York Catholic Newspaper as a reporter in Buffalo, but in October 2013 she returned to her home state to start with the Daily Globe. Most of her spare time is taken up by her 13-year-old thoroughbred named Faith, but some of her other hobbies include reading, fishing and spending time with friends and family. 
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