“The soldier above all others prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.” -Douglas MacArthur
The Forgotten War involved 5.7 million veterans who dubbed themselves, The Frozen Chosen. Even today, Korean War vets suffer from disabilities related to exposure to the cold, such as arthritis, stiff toes, and cold sensitization. Maybe that is why Vincent Courtenay scrunched into the one-of-a-kind quilt pressed around his back and shoulders and sighed with a big grin. “I wish I had one of these 64 years ago in Korea.”
Quilts of Valor
Quilts of Valor have given out thousands of quilts to military veterans across the United States. Diane Paquin Provost, who is chairwoman of Quilt Guild by the Sea, has presented these patriotic artworks during emotional ceremonies in which the vets are wrapped in the quilt, thanked for their service, and honored with a list of their military duties and accomplishments. She explains: “These men protected our country and it’s now an opportunity to honor them for their bravery and service. Whenever one of our volunteers sits down to stitch one of these comforting custom blankets, something amazing happens. For the quilter, it represents deep gratitude for their service. We are so pleased to honor these deserving veterans with quilts to bring warmth and comfort.” The red, white and blue pieces of textile art that the guild created are a testament of a grateful nation to its military.
The founder of Quilts of Valor is Catherine Roberts. After her son’s deployment to Iraq, she dreamt that a young man hunched over in despair, and then appeared hopeful after being wrapped in a quilt. The haunting image inspired her to mobilize stitchers across the United States to cocoon American vets in personally stylized comforters. The first Quilt of Valor was presented in 2003 at Walter Reed Army Medical Center to a young soldier from Minnesota who had lost a leg in Iraq. Robert’s mission is to “cover service members and veterans touched by war with comforting and healing Quilts of Valor.” The quilts are awarded by chaplains in military hospitals, to entire service units returning from deployment, or at veteran’s homes.
Volunteers Bind Quilts and Emotions
Each group of volunteer sewers across the country has a unique story. The Alabama branch of the movement began with a group of quilters in the Enterprise Quilt Guild, which has connections to soldiers at Fort Rucker. Elizabeth Mathews volunteered to represent Quilts of Valor at quilt shows, state fairs, or anywhere quilters gathered to enlist them into creating a quilt for a soldier. Matthew’s father, Major William Flynn, was a WWII and Korean veteran and represents the Greatest Generation to her. “All the quilts I make, I make in the memory of my father.”
Those who handcraft quilts from traditional patterns like the Ohio Star, Fence Rail, Churn Dash or Log Cabin, take their projects seriously. A fabric artist, Jane Bynum, has created several Quilts of Valor. “I put my brother’s initials in the quilting on each quilt. My brother, Billy Bolton, was killed in Vietnam in 1968 and his initials are BCB. I do this to honor him.” In one comforter, she stitched the words, “In valor there is hope”, a saying she heard in an old war movie. “When I heard those words, they sent chills in me. I knew I had to add them.” The individual thought that each quilter puts in their work of art is touching.
Lynn Hale designs quilts with care and deliberation. Her original creations also involve a part of herself. “When I am making the quilt, I pray over all of the sewing and the choosing of the fabric. I pray that the veteran who gets it would really like it.” From the responses she has gotten, it is “mission accomplished”.
A Common Thread from Vets to Community
Quilts of Valor desire to make connections between veterans and civilian quilters. “Anything from outside the military where a civilian wants to recognize what veterans have gone through and they recognize the selfless service, that’s just wonderful. It’s making those connections, building those bridges when the quilter can meet the veteran she has made the quilt for. For that reason, I try to make sure my quilters are present when we wrap a veteran with the quilt they made.”
The wrapping of the quilt around a vet signifies the wrapping of a nation’s arms around his shoulders. It snuggles a vet in the love and respect of others. It brings closure and peace to the hearts of those who had lived in the shadows.
The carefully stitched textile art that caresses Korean War vets represents history that should never be forgotten. As Pete Remdenok, who served in the Korean War states, “It’s never too late to be recognized.” Especially with something that will warm the bones and the heart at the same time.
“These are comforting quilts to thank you for your service. Any day is Veterans Day to us. You are not forgotten. You are always remembered for signing a blank check to willingly sacrifice your life for our freedoms. Our goal is to get you covered with a quilt, a tangible sign of our gratitude for your service.”
-Elizabeth Matthews, head of Alabama’s Quilts of Valor
Much of the novel, Miss Bee and the Do Bees, revolves around Joe, who is a veteran of Afghanistan suffering from PTSD as he works as an EMT. Scenes in the book include his group therapy sessions at Heinz Veteran’s Hospital in Chicago as well as in the recovery room at the medical complex. Can a vet find happiness with one of Chicago Public School’s finest special education teacher?
Main photo credit: https://pixabay.com/en/korean-war-memorial-washington-usa-580838/
Veteran wrapped in quilt: https://www.army.mil/e2/c/images/2014/11/10/371419/size0.jpg