Final Farewell for a quiet hero

Retired Army nurse Carol Kelm served her country, community


Family, friends and fellow veterans will bid their final good-bye to retired U.S. Army Maj. Carol Kelm Saturday morning at Fairview Cemetery.

The Stillwater VFW Post No. 323 Honor Guard will conduct Kelm’s gravesite service with full military honors befitting a veteran who served her country as an Army nurse in three wars, made the military her career, rose to the highest rank a woman could reach in the Army when she served and was a VFW life member.

But Saturday’s service cannot adequately remember a woman with a fierce independent streak who gave back to her community for many years after her retirement.

“She lived alone. She never asked anybody for help,” said Kelm’s nephew, David Carlson.

Carlson moved back to Stillwater from Appleton, Wis., in 2010, in time to take care of his aunt, who was in poor health.

“It was a good thing that we did because that’s when she started to fail,” he said.

Kelm passed away Sept. 14 at age 97. She lived in her small lakeside home in Lake Elmo up to her death, Carlson said.

Submitted Photo
Retired Army Maj. Carol Kelm, center is shown with two colleagues at one of the many military hospitals she was stationed. A graveside service for Kelm, who died in September is Saturday at Fairview Cemetery in Stillwater.

Carlson said his aunt was born and raised in Stillwater, graduating from Stillwater High School in 1935. Kelm went on to earn a teaching degree from Winona State Teachers College and teach physical education for five years, Carlson added.

World War II was raging when Kelm joined the Army in the mid-1940s, Carlson said.

“The Army sent her to nurses training at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester,” he said.

From Rochester, Kelm served as a nurse during the last days of World War II in 1945, Carlson said.

“When she was in Japan, she volunteered to treat victims of the atomic bombs,” Carlson said about his aunt.

The Army became Kelm’s career, Carlson said. His aunt served at military hospitals in Orleans, France; Osaka, Japan, and every major U.S. military hospital until retiring in 1966, Carlson said.

“Her military service spanned three wars, World War II, Korea and Vietnam,” he said.

Kelm returned to Lake Elmo, built a house on the city’s namesake lake and indulged in her love for fishing, Carlson said.

“Her first passion in life was fishing. Her most important day of the year was the opening of bass fishing,” he said

Carlson said Kelm would carry her outboard motor to her boat. When lugging an outboard motor became too hard, Kelm would bring oars to her boat, he added. Eventually, age forced Kelm to fish off her dock, he said.

Fishing wasn’t Kelm’s only interest, Carlson said. She hunted, traveled, climbed mountains, played baseball and basketball and bowled.

“She was an avid bowler. She bowled in Stillwater for years,” he said.

Kelm also gave back to the community by volunteering at local nursing homes as a physical therapist and speaking at schools.

“That was in the early years (of her retirement). She did that up into the ‘90s,” Carlson said. “She visited elementary schools and talked about the war and her travels.”

Kelm’s death leaves Carlson and his wife with a lot of memories of his aunt. That’s because he said Kelm left a house full of carefully labeled and organized slides of her travels.

“She documented everything,” he said.

And that might be a good thing, because Carlson said his aunt’s passing marks the end of her family’s lineage in the Valley.

“She is the last of the Kelm family,” he said.



Maj. Carol V. Kelm, U.S. Army (ret.)

The Stillwater Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 323 Honor Guard will conduct a graveside service with military honors for Maj. Carol V. Kelm, who passed away Sept. 14, 2012, at the age of 96. Maj. Kelm was a life member of the VFW.

The service is 11 a.m. Saturday just south of the main flagpole at Fairview Cemetery in Stillwater. The family invites all who wish to attend.