Matt C. Abbott
Memorial Day 2010
By Matt C. Abbott
May 29, 2010

The following is the text of a speech to be delivered by Clark Sowers of Belle Fourche, S. D., during a Memorial Day service at Pineslope Cemetery in Belle Fourche. Mr. Sowers has been married for 30 years and is the father of 10 children.

To Commander Harold Brost and all who are here today, I am honored and privileged and humbled to be considered to say a few "appropriate remarks." I pray that God guides my words and allows them to do justice to those who have served our country. I offer my remarks not only to all who have served our nation's military, but to all who have lost family and loved ones.

I believe that suffering is the one thread that unites all of humanity. By being here today we acknowledge the cross we bear.

I love history. Winston Churchill often quipped, "Politics is worse than war. In war you die but once. In politics you die a thousand times." Although this was meant to humor, Sir Winston knew the realties of war, having fought in two, and became a prisoner in one and was the "Lion that Roared" to keep the world free in World War II.

But the reality of our history as a nation and war is stark compared to politics. In Korea we had 33,600 casualties; Vietnam — 58,209 and counting. In the Civil War, numbers of Blue and Grey were staggering: Chickamauga, 34,624 killed or wounded in two days of fighting; in five days at Chancellorsville we suffered 30,099 killed or wounded; in a half an hour there were 7,000 killed or wounded at Cold Harbor; in three days at a little crossroads town in Pennsylvania there were 51,112 killed or wounded; and at Antietam in one long day we suffered 26,134 men killed or wounded, the largest one day total in U. S. history.

But World War I put the "Civil War" numbers to shame. During the Battle of the Marne, in 19 days of July and August of 1918 the Allies lost 120,000 men. At the Battle of the Somme in July — November 1916, the Allies lost 60,000 men — on the first day of battle; 620,000 overall. In the first week of this battle the Germans fired 1,738,000 artillery shells at Allied forces. This equates to 172 shells a minute for an entire week straight! "Horrific" is the only word I can think to describe the "War to end all Wars."

Generations were swept from the field. But the greatest casualty figure that affects a community is when that casualty is a son. For our little community and the Vietnam War the number is "1." And that number had a name: Soldier LeLund Kahler. On April 8, 1969 the Vietnam War was brought home to the "Center of the Nation," when one bullet, from one sniper, killed one soldier.

I never knew LeLund Kahler, but I knew his mother, Joyce, as my 5th grade teacher in 1967. I knew her husband Henry, from a well kept distance, as the director of maintenance for the Belle Fourche school system all of my days as a student. I had the good fortune to meet LeLund's sister, LaNyce, last summer when she and her mother returned to Belle Fourche.

In the spring of 1969 I was finishing 7th grade. The New York Jets upset my Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III in the week that the Daily Post ran a story of soldier LeLund Kahler being decorated with the Army Commendation Medal with a "V" for valor when he ran down a Viet Cong soldier who had played dead during a firefight. Soldier Kahler effectively "eliminated the enemy soldier."

My grandparents were celebrating their 50th anniversary on the day that LeLund returned to duty after 18 days recovering from injuries suffered from a hand grenade. Nineteen days later Sergeant LeLund Kahler would die from small arms sniper fire as he led a squad across a river. His squad would recover his body from the river two days later.

At the end of the school year the Kahler's would donate a lighted model of the universe for the junior high. The planets would rotate and revolve according to their heavenly position. In July, on my 13th birthday, our nation would land man on the moon and bring them safely home.

It's strange that I can recall the events of my life then, but I never knew of the sacrifice of LeLund Kahler until I heard rumors of something tragic when I was in high school in the early '70s. Although that mystery was enticing, I was too self-centered and self-absorbed to pay attention and follow my instincts to learn more. Maybe now I understand more of the gruff nature of Henry Kahler. It must be hard to understand the long-haired youth of that time when your only son was killed in a controversial war. I think of my schoolmates then who were the same as me; unconcerned and uncaring about the world. It was all about us.

Ignorance is not bliss; it is ignorance.

Thinking of what the Kahler's lost and what we had makes me wish now I had the opportunity to go up to them and say "I'm sorry for your loss." Having lost a son ourselves, I know the value of the human touch in times like this. In talking to LaNyce, she reflected on missing having a brother around. She mentioned how LeLund's death broke her dad's heart.

There is collateral damage from war thousands of miles from the killing that lasts for years. Somewhere in time, with the aid of technology, I learned of the sacrifice of soldier LeLund Kahler. Through the years I have studied him from a distance because LeLund Kahler affected my life.

Ten years ago I finally visited Washington D.C. and was able to experience "The Wall." I found two monuments when I visited. One made of granite, the other made of living flesh of those veterans still suffering from the effects of war.

It is a beautiful area that is complimented by the Lincoln Memorial and Korean War Memorial and the World War II Memorial that honors the sacrifices of our soldiers, sailors and airmen and makes noble our cause for freedom.

I found soldier Kahler's name on the wall: Panel 27 West, Line 39. I had two etchings made of his name. His information sheet reads as follows:


SGT — E5 — Army — Selective Service
9th Infantry Division

Length of service 1 years
His tour began on Aug 18, 1968
Casualty was on Apr 8, 1969
Body was recovered

I realized then, I know of LeLund Kahler. But did I know who he was?

He was born December 3, 1947 in Burke, SD. When they moved to Belle Fourche, they lived on Roberts Street, across the alley to the south of his friend, Mick Beardsley.

He was tall and dark and cute even from the first grade. When other boys would spin the merry-go-round, he would slow it so the girls wouldn't hurt themselves. It seemed he had a genuine concern for others and even jumped into Orman to rescue a skier in a dangerous situation. But he was still a "kid" and managed to get in trouble in math class.

He was baptized and confirmed in the Lutheran Church and, on occasion, because he was always prepared, would help other kids with their Sunday school lessons. His graduating class of 1966 says, "You were honest, sincere, trusting and kind; a big brother to many and a bodyguard to those who needed his strength and protection."

As LeLund grew, he must have been a good athlete, as he was an all-state tight end in Class AA Football when Belle Fourche was classified with the Sioux Falls Schools and other large communities in the state. In basketball he was a tough 5'11" power forward who was essential to the great basketball teams of our storied past. His dad would take him down to the Round Up grounds to run in the summer. LeLund wanted to be good at what he did. He was like a bull in athletics.

He had many friends across all walks of life. One person described him as the "best man of the Class of 1966." Another said he was "a true friend." But the most poignant comment was, "He was a man." This is quite a comment for a young man who never made it to his 22nd birthday. But what his friends valued most was that he "was a friend for life." Even beyond high school this general opinion was held by those who knew LeLund.

After graduation he attended the University of South Dakota at Vermillion for one year. He didn't do well with his grades and LaNyce stated that she felt he was finding himself, as all young men must do. He was drafted into the military on March 21, 1968 and went overseas on August 18.

His mom said, "LeLund would write home often but each letter would be brief." Some of his friends still have his letters that he wrote from the other side of the world. Joyce Kahler said LeLund believed in the cause that he was fighting for. It is obvious his heart longed for home.

Soldier Kahler earned 18 specific medals. The majority of them while in Vietnam, many posthumously. They include: The Silver Star; Bronze Star, 2 Purple Hearts; The Air Medal; The Air Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters; The Combat Infantry Badge; Army Commendation Medal with 1 Oak Leaf Cluster and a "V"; Good Conduct Medal; Vietnam Cross of Gallantry; Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Palm Leaf and Star; Vietnam Combat Medal; Vietnam Service Medal; Sharpshooter Badge; Marksmanship Badge; National Defense Medal.

The following is the Silver Star citation:

    Sgt. Kahler distinguished himself by exceptionally valorous actions while serving as the Squad Leader with Company D, 2nd Battalion, 39th Infantry on a reconnaissance in force mission in Dung Tuong Province. After his platoon came under intense fire from a well entrenched enemy force, Sgt. Kahler crawled across more than 75 meters of fire swept terrain and took up an exposed position to effectively engage the enemy. Later during the action he moved a wounded comrade to safety and directed a heavy volume of suppressive fire at the hostile emplacements. His valiant actions played a vital role in routing the enemy force.

This would all soon come to an end. On April 8, Soldier Kahler was on a recon mission with his platoon and crossing a river in Sampans. John Miller, who served with LeLund, shared this with me:

"We were crossing a river in Sampans; LeLund was in the middle of the pack. Some of these Sampans are very crude and it takes a great deal of balance to keep them up right. My guess on why he was singled out would be that for some reason, that day, he wanted to carry my M60 machine gun, a favorite target of our enemy. As you can see, he was where I was supposed to be. When Le was hit his upper body weight, aided by his combat gear, would have toppled him out very easily. I didn't see the actual impact, only him falling into the water.

"Most everyone on the water bailed out of their respective Sampans but held on, using them as cover. Due to our heavy weight with our gear, if you let go, you would sink rather quickly. His body was recovered on the second day of our search; it looked like he had a faint smile on his face.

"I can only tell you what I remember about Lee, he was a very good soldier, and dedicated to looking out for his friends. I found he was far softer then his exterior showed. We laughed, cried and quietly reflected on our days while in country. I will always remember my friend with a smile and great reverence."

Soldier Kahler was singled out by the sniper because he offered to carry his friends M60 machine gun. The recovery of his body, the trip home from the other side of the world, the services and burial for soldier Kahler, a beautiful eulogy in our local paper, all would be over within 10 days of his death. As Cathy and I know, as well as you do, when you bury a loved one, most people go home to the life they left after the burial. But for the family, you walk into a house and sit at a table with an empty chair that will never be filled.

Politics really isn't worse than war. I would imagine when you lose a son or a daughter in war, the question always returns: "How did their dying help our world move forward?" In these times the silence of God must be deafening. The only comfort to a faithful Lutheran family must have been in knowing God sent his Son to die for others in the "Real War to End all Wars."

In the World War II movie, "Saving Private Ryan" Captain Miller suffers a fatal wound and his final words are spoken to Private Ryan. Captain Miller says to Ryan, "Earn this." The movie then pans 50 years later to an older Mr. Ryan with wife and grandkids in tow as they find Captain Miller's grave above Omaha Beach. His family doesn't understand his emotion as he falls to his knees at the grave. But what we see is that he has "earned this." A wife, beautiful children and grandchildren and success at whatever work he did was obvious. It is quite moving.

I have sat and pondered why soldier LeLund Kahler was so important to me. I visited his grave at the National Cemetery. I realized how the casual history of a man I never met should impact everyone in this community. I recall the stirring words in the entryway of the Ft. Meade hospital: "The Price of Freedom is Visible Here." And so it is. But I ask myself, "As a man who was never called to serve, what have I "earned" to answer the question, "How did LeLund Kahler's death move the world forward?" What can we do to acknowledge their service and sacrifice?

In a word, it's called citizenship. Although some are called to give all, we are all called to give. The most important gift we have to offer is our life in sacrifice for others. We may not be called to suffer and die a single death on a far away battlefield. But we are called to suffer one of a "thousand deaths" as a good spouse, as good parents, as good kids, as good neighbors, as good employees and employers, as leaders in our community who sacrificially offer our time, treasure and talent "to move the world forward."

We can become owners of the most important political seat: that of the informed voter. We can open our minds and our hearts to civil debate that leads us to the truth and what is best for the greater good of the people. We can serve as members of our city, county and state legislative boards or as volunteers in our community and schools and fire departments. We can serve in our nursing homes and hundreds of other areas of need. We can renew our relationship with God, go to church and pray.

It is imperative that we return to our American citizenship that defines us. We as a community should emphasize in our schools the value of Citizenship. Civics and Government classes must be taught as a priority and may be the most important class taught in our schools today!

If we choose to sacrifice and volunteer in our little community, we become involved in the cause that LeLund Kahler felt was worth fighting for. Then we can say our soldier did not die in vain. Then we can, as Scripture says, "Choose life." And it is an eternal life with no more pain or suffering.

The sacrifices of 234 years of our fellow Americans have allowed Cathy and me the freedom to live and grow in our hometown; to marry and raise a family and to serve our community to the best of our ability. The sacrifice of the Kahler Family and of all families who have suffered to keep our nation free is not lost in our home.

So I ask each of us today, in the center of a great nation, that when we leave this cemetery, this ground that Christ made holy, that we consider and pray and give thanks to God for the gift of our freedom that comes from only Him. That we recognize and give thanks for the sacrifice of LeLund Kahler and his family and all those who have served, and that we pray in gratitude when we remember those we love who are buried here.

And as Abraham Lincoln stated in his "few appropriate remarks": "...that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

May God Almighty bless you, bless our town and our nation. And may we all give thanks to the Kahler family and LeLund Kahler, for whom these words are dedicated.

© Matt C. Abbott


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
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Matt C. Abbott

Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic commentator with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication, media and theatre from Northeastern Illinois University. He also has an Associate in Applied Science degree in business management from Triton College. Abbott has been interviewed on HLN, MSNBC, Bill Martinez Live, WOSU Radio in Ohio, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's 2019 ‘Unsolved’ podcast about the unsolved murder of Father Alfred Kunz, Alex Shuman's 'Smoke Screen: Fake Priest' podcast, WLS-TV (ABC) in Chicago, WMTV (NBC) and WISC-TV (CBS) in Madison, Wisconsin. He’s been quoted in The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune and other media outlets. He’s mentioned in the 2020 Report on the Holy See's Institutional Knowledge and Decision-Making Related to Former Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick (1930 to 2017), which can be found on the Vatican's website. He can be reached at

(Note: I welcome and appreciate thoughtful feedback. Insults will be ignored. Only in very select cases will I honor a request to have a telephone conversation about a topic in my column. Email is much preferred. God bless you and please keep me in your prayers!)


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