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Remembering, honoring Earl


Just as they have done for the last several years, Larry and Helen Melsness make their way from their home in Mound to the Adwell-Garvey Legion Post 180 Memorial Day service in Renville this past May. They make the trip to honor the memory of Larry’s brother Earl. Earl Melsness, who served in the United States Army and was killed in North Korea in 1950. His body had never been recovered. Larry, the surviving sibling of a family of seven, wanted to honor his brother whenever it was possible.

Following the ceremony, groups of people gathered to visit and share memories. Chris Dunsmore, Legion Commander, and the Melsnesses recounted a Memorial Day service in 2018 and together reminisced of the unusual course of events that day.

Larry and Helen Melsness, make the trip from Mound to Renville on Memorial Day every year to honor Larry’s brother Earl, who was missing in action in North Korea, and is presumed dead. Photo by Patricia Buschette

The scheduled speaker, a state senator, who had agreed to address the group, had failed to appear. When that part of the program was reached, Chris confessed to the group that the scheduled address was not possible.

Any other organizer would have panicked. However, Chris was well prepared. “I have a Plan B speech in my pocket every year and that speech is something I had just put together. I call it fun facts about veterans that I found while doing research.”

Chris is an avid veteran military historian, and over the years, has spent hours searching for information on veterans who are often forgotten; veterans whose names are on the Roll Call that were killed in action or missing in action

“I threw together what I had,” Chris explained, and in the time allocated to a speaker, he told those in attendance of his research that involved a number of veterans. “The information I shared was titled Though we are here to remember, there is so much that has been forgotten.” Among the veterans that Chris highlighted was one whose name is acknowledged at Memorial Day services every year, but no one remembers.

“I told what I learned about Earl Melsness. Records indicate he was taken captive and never seen again. The records note that he was a mechanic, and may have been removed from mechanic duties. At one point or the other, if needed, anyone can become infantry,” Chris explained.

Larry Melsness could hardly believe his ears. Each year his brother’s name was among those whose names were intoned in the Roll Call, but now the community was reminded of the sacrifice of a fallen hero – his brother. Larry was very moved by the respect and honor accorded his brother.

Chris recalled that after the ceremony, Larry came up to him and said, “I am Earl Melsness’ brother.” He vividly remembers the shock of the moment. “The hair on the back of my neck bristled,” he said with some emotion. “This was no coincidence.”

Larry remembers the last letter his brother wrote to the family. The letter, sent in 1950 delivered a chilling message. “The words are clear in my mind,” Larry remembers. “Earl, serving in North Korea, was stationed close to the Chinese border. He said that it didn’t look good. He reported that the Chinese were coming across the border into North Korea in droves.”

Earl Melsness was killed in action in North Korea in 1950.

The family did not hear from Earl again. They were later informed that Cpl. Earl W. Melsness was one of 154 U.S forces killed on November 30, 1950, at the Battle of Chosin Reservoir. His body was never recovered.

DNA tests have been conducted as attempts continue to locate bodies of those lost in war. Larry Melsness has attended meetings for families with updates on progress. There may be a breakthrough as an agreement has been reached to repatriate the remains of fallen Americans from the Korean War.

Memorial Day 2018 is one that Larry Melsness will not forget. He said he is happy that the speaker did not attend, giving him the opportunity to hear the honor accorded his brother. He expressed his appreciation and admiration for the way the program was and continues to be conducted.

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