Quilts of Valor wrap veterans with love

Pictured, from left, World War II veterans Norman Eggemeyer and Harold Hirstein were honored with quilts Monday night at the Waterloo VFW. (Kermit Constantine photo)

Sewn with tender love and care. Given to those men and women who demonstrated courage in their military service. Received with a sense of comfort and appreciation.

Quilts of Valor are said to represent the highest honor American citizens can bestow on veterans touched by war. On July 4, a ceremony awarding quilts to four Monroe County veterans captured the spirit of Independence Day better than any fireworks display, concert, or red, white and blue garb.

Those who came to watch the Waterloo Municipal Band perform at the courthouse bandstand had the rare opportunity to see these veterans wrapped with love.

The honorees were World War II Army veteran James Brandon of Waterloo, Korean War Army veteran Don Roush of Columbia, Vietnam War Army veteran Steve Sekach of Waterloo and Iraq War Army veteran Stephanie Kirksey of Dupo. Sekach said he immensely appreciated the effort to recognize his military service.

“I was surprised, shocked and amazed that someone would do that,” Sekach told the Republic-Times following the event.

Julie Yeager of Stars of Honor, a new Waterloo chapter of the Quilts of Valor Foundation, opened up the July 4 ceremony with a speech thanking the veterans for their service and explaining the significance of the quilts.

“We want this quilt to bring you a message from our hearts and we truly honor you for your service. We honor you for leaving all that you hold dear to stand in harm’s way in a time of crisis, protecting us from the effects of war,” she said.

An additional Quilts of Valor ceremony took place Monday night at the Waterloo VFW for Harold Hirstein of Waterloo, who served in the Navy, and Norman Eggemeyer of Waterloo, who served in the Army. Both are World War II veterans.

The quilts consist of three layers:
•The top of the quilt, with it’s many colors, shapes and fabrics, represents the diversity of those honoring the veteran

•The batting is the center of the quilt. Its warmth represents the hope that the quilt brings comfort, peace and healing to the individual receiving it

•The backing is the strength that supports the other layers. It represents the strength of the recipient, as well as the support of family, the community and the nation

Additionally, the stitches that hold the layers together symbolize love, gratitude and the tears of the maker.

“This quilt is meant to offer comfort to you and to remind you that although family and friends cannot be with you at all times, you are forever in all of our hearts,” Yeager said.

Every Quilt of Valor includes a label on the back with the recipient’s name, the date of the award and the names of the makers of the quilt. For more information, or to nominate someone to receive a Quilt of Valor, go to qovf.org. World War II veterans and those with life-threatening illnesses will be prioritized.

In addition, Yeager said Stars of Honor will serve more than just Monroe County veterans — two of the veterans to be honored next are from Farview Heights and Mascoutah.

According to Yeager, the Waterloo group began in April and the July 4 ceremony constituted the group’s first time honoring local veterans. She said the experience was “unbelievable.”

“I talked to all of (the veterans) and they were overwhelmed. The World War II veteran — it was a surprise,” she said of one of the recipients. “He had no idea. He came up and had his hand on his head, and he cried a lot. I went over to shake his hand and thank him and he cried.”

Yeager added she couldn’t believe all of the feedback the veterans gave for what she deemed her group’s small token of appreciation.

“These men and women put themselves in harm’s way and the least I can do is make a quilt for them. It seems so insignificant in comparison,” she explained.

Stars of Honor works with Warm N’ Cozy Quilting in Columbia — an official Quilts of Valor shop — to make the quilts. Debbie Chitty, a co-owner of the quilt shop, said one quilt is easily worth $150.

“(The ceremony) was so emotional and very moving,” she said. “It was quite an honor to be able to recognize those veterans in that way. It was a kind of like the end of a journey because we spent that time putting those quilts together and now they have a rightful home.”

The Stars of Honor group is locally funded and in need of donations, Yeager said. To contribute funds to materials for the quilts, email Yeager at jyeager416@gmail.com, or drop off a donation at the drop box at Warm N’ Cozy, 235 N. Main Street in Columbia.

A donation form for the group shows that every dollar can help. For instance, the form shows that $1 is enough for a label for a quilt and $20 will pay for the batting of the quilt.

Those interested in donating can also purchase raffle tickets for a queen size quilt to be awarded on Veterans Day. Tickets are $1 a piece or six for $5.

If anyone is interested in helping sew quilts, Stars of Honor meets next for sewing at 5 p.m. July 18 at the Monroe County Annex.

The memories of war may never cease to pain United States veterans, but the Stars of Honor group hopes the quilts can provide some tranquility to the local veterans who took part in protecting Americans’ freedoms for decades.

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