Finnish Heritage Museum 301 High Street
Fairport Harbor, Oh, 44077
Map Here
Museum Hours:
Saturday 10am-3pm
"Father Was A Stone Carver
Lasse O. Hiltunen, President

FHM member and Viet Nam war veteran Eric Lehti entertained the crowd at the General Membership Meeting at Zion Church parlors on Sunday, May 15. Many in the audience were Fairport Harding High School 1965 classmates of Eric's.

Eric's father joeli lehtimiemi never discussed his war experiences, apparently feeling better to not reveal any of the wartime traumas he had witnessed. He did say however that he transported ammunition to the front. Eric believes that he also ferried the wounded and the dead from the front.

(photo: Eric Lehti displays his father’s stone carving chisels. Photo by Jane Hiltunen.)

Finland suffered through three wars in a six-year period. The winter war (1939-1940) fought against russia, the continuation war (1941-1944) part of ww2, and the lapland war (1944-1945).

Joeli lehtiniemi, erics father served in these wars. Joeli left for the war with a full head of dark hair and returned with his hair totally white. He like other 304000 finnish soldiers were sent recognition letters for their service. Joeli's letter was dated 1957 and was framed with two service medals. Eric proudly showed the framed artifact and passed it around the audience.

Because Eric's father chose to say nothing about his war experiences, eric did not find out about the memorial markers until 2011.

The people of Vimpelli, mostly farmers, wanted to memorialize Vimpelli's war dead and decided to do so with headstones. They approached joeli because they knew he could carve them. The markers are probably finnish red granite which is plentiful and used often for markers. Eric remarked that these stones are in place for memorialization only and no bodies are interred or buried under them.

Two crews were hired by lehtiniemi to take the raw granite, size each piece, finish the surface, and set each up for carving. Joeli then used his hammer and chisels and carved each stone into a suitable memorial marker.

Eric showed three slides of the vimpelli churchone outside, and two inside depicting a beautiful church. Fifty-five memorial stones are behind the church, exquisitely laid out in rows with a gravel path providing a walkway.

(photo: Finland sent every one of its soldiers a letter acknowledging his service. Shown is Joeli Lehtiniemi’s letter delivered in 1957.)

Each stone originally had gold leaf applied to the lettering, but over the years, the gold leaf faded and disappeared. Some of the stones now have white paint adorning the carved letters replacing the gold leaf.

Another slide displayed a singular stone revealing Viotto Uolevi Rantalahti, born in 1922 and died in 1944 in Juustilanti. Notably, most of these deceased servicemen were in their teens or early twenties. Eric related that he was 20 while in Viet Nam.

Eric also revealed that he had been transferred out and that a day later, companies A and C suffered 85% casualties. He lost brothers that day as he emotionally related. Further, eric said he never liked to regard soldiers as fallen, but preferred the stark term that they had been killed in action.

So why did joeli bring his chisels to america? Eric surmised that his father did not know what he would be doing to support a family, so he brought them with him. Eric also presumed that the chisels and hammer evoked memories. Now Eric has the chisels, and his brother Mauno has the hammer.

The carvings tell their stories.