Foundation awards 13 Missouri veterans with quilts
By KACEN J. BAYLESS
Nov. 17, 2017
COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Lt. Col. Tom Stevens slowly hoisted himself out of his chair, gripped his white cane in his left hand and gazed forward as a list of his military accolades was recited.
Like a makeshift background, a red, white and blue quilt, embroidered with an American flag and exploding fireworks, draped behind the Purple Heart recipient.
Jan Martin, co-founder of the Quilts of Valor Mid-Missouri Chapter, read the names and military careers of 12 veterans at the foundation's eighth annual Veterans Day celebration. In front of friends and family at Satin Stitches sewing and embroidering shop, the foundation honored each veteran with an individually hand-sewn quilt stitched with a personalized label.
But, Martin said, there was something special about Stevens' quilt.
After learning about Stevens' visual impairment, foundation member Janet Espaleta called the Missouri School for the Blind. After several transferred phone calls and a little bit of self-teaching, Espaleta painstakingly stitched the label for Stevens' quilt in Braille.
"Awarded to Tom Stevens, who served in the US Army 1955 to 1971 including two tours in Vietnam. Awarded by Mid-Missouri Quilts of Valor. 11/10/17," the label said.
Stevens reached out to grasp the quilt and gently ran his fingers across its label.
"I hope I did it right," Espaleta said.
"I'm not a very good Braille reader, but it's there; I can tell you that," Stevens joked.
When Espaleta's quilt design was revealed behind him, the audience gasped and applauded. A prideful smile crept across Stevens' face.
The Columbia Missourian reports that 13 red chairs, wrapped in white and blue ribbons with the words "thank you," lined the front of the room. Every chair but one was occupied by a service member, as one of the veterans awarded was unable to attend the event.
As each veteran was recognized, they individually stepped in front of the audience. Some spoke about religion, others about their military careers or families. One theme was common among the veterans, though: They all were thankful to the Quilts of Valor foundation.
"You ladies are the backbone of the United States of America, and we are just an added page to that backbone," Stevens said.
Quilts of Valor was founded in 2003 as a national foundation to promote comfort and healing, Martin said.
The local chapter of the foundation, Mid-Missouri Quilts of Valor, was started in 2009. The first veteran the Missouri chapter served was a young man who served as a combat driver in Iraq.
"He was thrilled," Martin said. "He teared up, wrapped himself in that quilt and took it back to Iraq with him."
Foundation volunteer Teri Haney said veterans are nominated to receive quilts and the national group has quilted around 170,000 quilts in total. She said they usually try to stitch about 50 to 60 a year.
Volunteer June Wood lives in Windsor and does most of her embroidering at home. She said she's personally stitched 121 quilts and even brought six to the event.
As each veteran spoke candidly about their military careers and experiences, a few tears began to fall from the eyes of audience members.
"I want to thank you for this," Petty Officer 3rd Class Thomas O'Brien said. "This is something I haven't talked about in years. There was no welcome home for us, but this makes up for it."
Information from: Columbia Missourian, http://www.columbiamissourian.com