May 30: Story Challenge in 99-words

Written by Charli Mills

Charli Mills, a born buckaroo, makes literary art accessible at She writes about the veteran spouse experience and women forgotten to history.

May 30, 2022

White pine, birch, and birdsong encircle me like a secret garden. I stand on what was once a sandy dune when Lake Superior surpassed its modern shoreline about a mile away. Modest white gravestones line a small meadow patched with magenta phlox. The garden perennial grows wild among the dead Finns of Waasa Cemetery between abandoned copper mines and farms.

It is the memorials that catch my eye.

In the US, every person who served in the American Navy, Marines, Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, or National Guard can receive a headstone, grave marker, or medallion to honor their service. The bronze markers and medallions stand out and it’s clear the Finnish migrant families served heavily.

Carefully, I step over blooming phlox and approach the markers with my camera. WWII stands out as the majority of service, followed by Vietnam. I only count a single WWI headstone. I wonder if the Finns who left their homeland after generations of conflict with Sweden and Russia preferred to work the mines during the Great War. The next generation, however, signed up for duty.

Most of the dates indicate that those who served also survived. It’s comforting to know that soldiers returned from war to be buried next to their families. But the sacrifice of fighting in a war for one’s nation extends beyond death. War aftereffects also destroy families and lives. Even training for combat alters people. It feels surreal to be standing in a quiet cemetery so far from Ukraine, knowing that many of the 397 souls interred with military honors also experienced the acrid smells of battle and deafening blast of battles.

Does every generation feel we should have evolved beyond war aggression by now? Does every generation feel there is yet something worth fighting for? The human family feels locked in this paradox.

In the natural setting that is Waasa Cemetery, I feel at peace at this moment. I have not had much peace in the past five years and while I can say it’s service-related, I never served in the military. I’m one of the veterans of the war after the war. Lately, I’ve felt so invisible I have lost sight of myself. I’ve come here to reconnect to my passion for catching stories. I didn’t expect to find so many veterans. But I follow my instinct and allow curiosity to sing like a yellow-bellied warbler.

Who was Arthur E Kela?

Born to Edward Kela and Kate Jankala in 1920, Arthur was a multi-generational Finn. His father immigrated to America in 1907 and his mother was born to immigrants in Calumet. His parents would have known Big Annie and the property where my eldest daughter lives. Arthur was born in Boston (Michigan, that is). His father worked deep in the Quincy Mine until one day he was struck by a streetcar and killed before he was the age of 30.

According to the 1930 census, Arthur’s mother Kate owned her home. This is curious because one of the contentions of the 1914 Miners Strike was that the companies owned the homes and families were displaced when a miner died. Kate’s only sons were two and newborn when her husband died. She also had twins (girls) and two daughters, all older than the boys. I wonder how she made a living? In 1930, a border (a copper miner) is listed in the household.

By 1940 Arthur was 20 and his brother Randolph 18. They were single and living at home with their mother, both working as laborers, while each of their sisters had married and left the Boston Location home. They both enlisted in the Army for WWII in the summer of 1942. They both survived. One of their sisters, Hilda, died young from complications of bronchiectasis while her brothers served.

Arthur married Arlene Linja in 1948. He was 28 and she was 16. By 1950, they were living with Kate, Arthur’s mother. She had married in 1946 but was listed as separated, and her estranged spouse was boarding elsewhere. He died in 1956, and although nothing indicates that they ever reconciled, Kate is buried in Waasa Cemetery under the surname Oikarinen (he’s buried in Houghton). By the way, such name changes make women difficult to track in historical and public records.

Also, in 1950, Arthur’s nephew by his deceased sister, Ronald Ojala, was living with him. Ronald grew up and moved to the copper mines in Butte, Montana.

Meanwhile, Arthur’s brother Randolph who also served in WWII, married and had one son and one daughter. Gary Randolph Kela served in Vietnam. When he came back home to Calumet, Michigan, he lost control of his truck and struck a building at one of my favorite local parks where I pick prehnite. He died of his injuries in 1968 and his military marker is next to his father’s in Lake View Cemetery where Arthur’s father is buried. I find it curious that Kate’s final resting place is not there.

Cemeteries might yield stories anchored by headstones, but it’s the living in between the deaths within a family that gets me wondering. Wondering leads to wandering in my imagination. Kate interests me the most — a young widow who raised six children in the shadow of the mines, the mother of two young men who left to fight overseas. A grandmother who raised her motherless grandson.

Curiously, I could not locate the grave of Arthur’s wife. There is a bit of living news, however — she is alive and a neighbor to my daughter, living where her husband was born in Boston Location. I want to meet this woman and share a cup of tea and listen to family stories from living memories.

This Memorial Day, I’d like to once again mention two friends of my husband who were killed in action in Grenada. Philip Grenier and Mark Yumane. May we remember your names.

May 30, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story behind a memorial. Is it a structure, plaque, or something else? What does it seek to remind those who view it? Go where the prompt leads!

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  1. Doug Jacquier

    H, Charli and all
    I crave your indulgence for this long post but as you will see, it shows how a song can be a memorial.

    I’ll submit a 99-word piece later but it will go nowhere near to the genius and pathos of this song, written by Scottish-born Australian, Eric Bogle. He’s singing about WW1 and the disaster that was Australian troops landing on Gallipoli beach in Turkey on April 25, 1915. April 25 became Anzac Day, our rough equivalent to Memorial Day in the US. Only one Australian veteran survives from that war; he’s 110. Now our WW11 veterans are rapidly falling off the twig, including my Dad and his brother, and our Vietnam vets are now collecting pensions.

    Note: Men who travelled the countryside looking for work carried their few belongings in a bedroll over their shoulder, and they called it Matilda, hence waltzing Matilda down the track.

    “And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda”

    When I was a young man I carried me pack
    And I lived the free life of the rover
    From the Murray’s green basin to the dusty outback
    I waltzed my Matilda all over
    Then in 1915 my country said: Son,
    It’s time to stop rambling, there’s work to be done
    So they gave me a tin hat and they gave me a gun
    And they sent me away to the war

    And the band played Waltzing Matilda
    When the ship pulled away from the quay
    And amid all the tears, flag waving and cheers
    We sailed off for Gallipoli

    It’s well I remember that terrible day
    When our blood stained the sand and the water
    And how in that hell they call Suvla Bay
    We were butchered like lambs at the slaughter
    Johnny Turk, he was ready, he primed himself well
    He rained us with bullets, and he showered us with shell
    And in five minutes flat, we were all blown to hell
    He nearly blew us back home to Australia

    And the band played Waltzing Matilda
    When we stopped to bury our slain
    Well we buried ours and the Turks buried theirs
    Then it started all over again

    Oh those that were living just tried to survive
    In that mad world of blood, death and fire
    And for ten weary weeks I kept myself alive
    While around me the corpses piled higher
    Then a big Turkish shell knocked me arse over head
    And when I awoke in me hospital bed
    And saw what it had done, I wished I was dead
    I never knew there was worse things than dying

    Oh no more I’ll go Waltzing Matilda
    All around the green bush far and near
    For to hump tent and pegs, a man needs both legs
    No more waltzing Matilda for me

    They collected the wounded, the crippled, the maimed
    And they shipped us back home to Australia
    The armless, the legless, the blind and the insane
    Those proud wounded heroes of Suvla
    And when the ship pulled into Circular Quay
    I looked at the place where me legs used to be
    And thanked Christ there was no one there waiting for me
    To grieve and to mourn and to pity

    And the Band played Waltzing Matilda
    When they carried us down the gangway
    Oh nobody cheered, they just stood there and stared
    Then they turned all their faces away

    Now every April I sit on my porch
    And I watch the parade pass before me
    I see my old comrades, how proudly they march
    Renewing their dreams of past glories
    I see the old men all tired, stiff and worn
    Those weary old heroes of a forgotten war
    And the young people ask “What are they marching for?”
    And I ask myself the same question

    And the band plays Waltzing Matilda
    And the old men still answer the call
    But year after year, their numbers get fewer
    Someday, no one will march there at all

    Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda
    Who’ll come a-Waltzing Matilda with me?
    And their ghosts may be heard as they march by the billabong
    So who’ll come a-Waltzing Matilda with me?

    You can listen here. Eric himself is still going strong at 77.

    • Gloria

      My late dad used to sing that song Doug. But he didn’t know all the words.

    • Charli Mills

      Doug, thank you for broadening the global experience of the WWs. I had no idea about the origins of “waltzing Matilda” and appreciate the introduction to this song. If healing begins with awareness, then art — music, song, film, etc. — becomes the anecdote for many. There’s no missing the emotion of this song. “The armless, the legless, the blind and the insane/Those proud wounded heroes of Suvla…And thanked Christ there was no one there waiting for me/To grieve and to mourn and to pity.” You can’t forget these words. We ask the same question. There is no answer equal to the aftermath.

      • Doug Jacquier

        Thanks, Charli. Just to provide some context for Australia, from a population of fewer than five million, 416,809 men enlisted, of which over 62,000 were killed and 156,000 wounded, gassed, or taken prisoner (i.e. a casualty rate of around 50%), most of them as the result of the indifference and incompetence of the British (including Winston Churchill, whose name my grandfather refused to have spoken in his house).

      • Charli Mills

        I did not know the numbers. That’s shockingly horrific.

  2. restlessjo

    I’m amazed at how much information you can piece together from a headstone and public records, Charli. So many lives! So much distress. It hardly seems appropriate to wish you happy Memorial Day. On this day a year ago a good friend of mine died, far too young and unrelated to the military.

    • Norah

      That’s so sad, Jo. The memories never fade. I wish you peace. ????

      • restlessjo


      • restlessjo

        Thanks, hon.

    • Charli Mills

      May your good friend be remembered, Jo. Yes, it is amazing how much can be extracted from the documents, including the gaps that stimulate the imagination.

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks for sharing this post, Michael!

      • OIKOS™- Art, Books & more

        Thank you for the information, and the great challenges, Charli. Have a beautiful weekend! xx Michael

  3. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    I was thinking too that Arthur’s mother has an interesting story to be revealed. And this line struck me: ‘Even training for combat alters people.’ I know that’s true because I saw it with my students when I was teaching and we trained for armed assault and responded to alarms. (I know I switched context there, but that’s where that line led.)
    I am glad you felt peace and reconnected; may it sustain you and get you through your hard times. Warble on, Charli. And should you again lose sight of yourself, just come by Carrot Ranch and reflect on all your good friends and good work; sit with Pal and Kiddhartha by Ernie’s old still stream, or let your own characters out to play.

    • Charli Mills

      D., too easily that truth slips from those trained for military and those trained to survive the war zone that has become American schools. The madness of gun “rights” has exceeded what soldiers have faced in battles over centuries. That couldn’t possibly be what veterans fought for. That couldn’t possibly be what our founders idealized. That couldn’t possibly be freedom.

      As I sit in a cabin with electricity, wifi, and heat (it’s June 3 and 49 degrees in Eagle Harbor!) I know all too clearly why I can’t find the peace of the Ranch (and Kiddhartha) and the joy of all the writers here. Every day is a battlefield. The war after the war can’t be over soon enough. I feel all my creativity and connection flooding back. How the f*4k do children learn and teachers teach when they don’t feel safe?

  4. Norah

    How exciting to find that a part (a who) of the history you researched still lives, and close by too. I’m sure she’s a strong resilient woman. She’ll need to be when bombarded by your questions. ???? Kidding. I know you will be gently and respectful in your probing.
    I was surprised to see how similar Arthur’s dates were to those of my Dad (30.01.1921 – 11.02.1999). I guess that would be so for many who fought in the second world war. Although I didn’t know my Dad until after the war, I know it changed him. How could it not? He suffered physically, but I think the most suffering was mental pain. The cause of his death was lung cancer. No doubt caused by smoking, which he did all his adult life (definitely all the time I knew him). Cigarettes were distributed to servicemen during the war. I think lung cancer eventually took many who ‘survived’.

    • Jules

      My FIL was changed by WWII. We think he actually helped in liberating one of the camps. But he didn’t like to talk about the bad side of the war. I can only imagine how he could have lived if there hadn’t been a war. He was a kind and gentle man. War changes everyone… May your father’s memories be for blessings.

      • Norah

        Thank you for your kind comment, Jules. War anywhere changes us, I think. Even when it’s far away and we’re not directly involved. We are all connected in some way, and the pain, though not the same for all, affects us all.

      • Jules


    • Charli Mills

      Ha! Norah, that’s too funny. I think I found her house and smiled at the Finnish Flag hanging in the window like a curtain. I’ll be gentle in my approach and ask only for the stories she’d be willing to tell.

      Oh, wow, that’s true, though, the dates would be similar among many WWII veterans. The mental pain must have eaten holes in people, trying to hold it all in. I’ve heard that story , too, about military-issued cigarettes. Lung cancer is the slow death of those who came home forever unhealed. It’s still a heartache for you, and those left wondering how many generations it takes for a single veteran’s internal wounds to heal?

      • Norah

        I look forward to reading what you find out through your gentle questions, Charli.
        It’s interesting (and distressing) to think about the number of generations it might take to heal a single veteran’s internal wounds. I think a few.

      • Charli Mills

        Native Americans say our decisions impact the next seven generations. The Bible also mentions generational damage visited upon the next generations. We are beginning to understand the psychology behind traumatic events on groups of people and their generations, including secondary PTSD. An eye-opening book is “My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies” by Resmaa Menakem. A healing book is “The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma” by Bessel A. van der Kolk. We all need to heal by this point in humanity!

      • Norah

        Seven generations. Wow! That’s a lot to answer for and a lot of healing to do.
        I’ve added the books to my list, but I always add more than I can ever delete.

  5. Lakshmi Bhat

    Thank you so much for sharing so much about Arthur’s life. Yes, war should not happen but it happens in every age. Regards.

    • Charli Mills

      Thank you for connecting with Arthur’s life, Lakshmi. We have war on repeat. I wonder why, after all the suffering passed down, too?

  6. Jules


    Your reflections about war – and the people who served are honorable. Thank you. My FIL and many of his brothers and other family also served in WWII. I cannot go much further back but I can go forward to those in my own family who served in the Navy. I also currently have family in today’s Army. One just became what they call a half a bird… Not quite a full Colonel. Back in the day it was custom to marry in your uniform. So in my home I have images of my loved ones in their uniforms on their wedding days.

    May your peace continue to blossom with creativity. May we continue to remember and support those who promote peace. As well as aid those who suffer because of ‘war’. (((Hugs)))

    I’ll be back hopefully sooner than later with a story. I’ve been a tad overwhelmed with good things; retired husband, summer, family… If you can see the animatied movie “Enchanto”… I got to see it last weekend and enjoyed it.

    • E.A. Colquitt

      ‘It was our wedding day…’ heh heh heh. Such a good film!

      • Charli Mills

        Well, if two writers say so…!

    • Charli Mills

      It is honorable to dignify the service of those in our communities and families, Jules. Thank you. It’s harrowing to think of mothers with multiple children in service. I guess that was the premise of “Saving Private Ryan.” Congrats to your half a bird! That’s a big deal. And thanks for the “Enchanto” tip. Hugs back!

  7. Jennie

    My heart aches. Thank goodness for people like you who take the time to uncover the history. Never forget! My Memorial Day remembrance at school helps children to never forget.

    • Charli Mills

      Thank you for teaching children Memorial Day remembrance at school, Jennie. My heart aches for the school memorials.

      • Jennie

        Thank you, Charli. I will always teach children about Memorial Day. I still have nightmares about Sandy Hook. I can’t imagine what those children and families have gone through.

      • Charli Mills

        It’s beyond belief such a thing can happen, keeps happening. Thank you.

  8. E.A. Colquitt

    Happy belated birthday, Charli!

    Thanks for this. I didn’t know (or had perhaps forgotten) that Memorial Day existed – your hard work pays off in these blog posts. I really enjoy reading them 🙂

    My stories are about a memorial service – a funeral service, so I’ve tried to make the tales uplifting!

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks for the birthday wishes! I’m glad you enjoy reading my research posts. It’s such a joy for me to hunt for forgotten stories. Heavy topics have an edge that can lift us up. Writers who can do that give hope to others.

  9. Michael B. Fishman

    I’m happy you were able to find some peace during your time away. I don’t believe humans will ever evolve beyond war aggression, and if there’s yet something worth fighting for, it’s fighting to evolve beyond war aggression. “Make love, not war”. Is there a better goal? Say it out loud to someone and if you’re lucky the worst they’ll do to you is laugh.

    • Charli Mills

      Yes, Michael, I will shout from the rooftops a similar goal that aligns with love — make art, not war! I believe in fighting for what is good and right, I believe in protecting those who are vulnerable, but I will not believe in war aggression and power over. I’m finding my way back to peace, to creativity, to sacred purpose.

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