Emotional. Inspirational. Dedicated. Sacrifice. Freedom. These are a few of the words that come to mind when I think of the men and women who have served and are serving our country in the military. Since beginning my association with the Quilts of Valor Foundation two years ago I am reminded of these words on a daily basis. And this past Sunday was an incredible reminder as I was honored to spend the day with a group of women who volunteered their services to assure freedom for all of us.
Over the last decade Honor Flights have taken veterans to Washington D.C. for the day to view the various war memorials. There have been Honor Flights for veterans from WW II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. In January of this year it was announced that one more Honor Flight would take place in September which would be only for women veterans. The flight would also include women pilots, an all-female crew, and women escorts. That announcement inspired Sara Kenny, the Nebraska coordinator for Quilts of Valor, to ask that each of the women on the flight be awarded a Quilt of Valor. At the time that seemed a daunting task as 135 quilts would be needed. The quilters of Nebraska stepped up to the challenge, however, and over 220 quilts were made!
On Sunday afternoon Meredith Smidt, a quilter in my Quilt of Valor quilting club, my mom, and I arrived at the Embassy Suites Hotel in LaVista for the pre-Flight activities. Participants were greeted with a lobby filled with colorful quilts stitched by a Quilt of Valor group from Omaha. We first spent some time with other Quilt of Valor members preparing the quilts for the awards ceremony and then had the honor of awarding the quilts to these wonderful ladies - veterans from WW II to the present, all of whom had been deployed overseas. When we wrapped them in their quilt we said to them, “This is your Quilt of Valor hug. Thank you for your service.” We were then met with tears, hugs, and some heartfelt stories. Meredith learned that one veteran was from a Gold Star family as her husband had been killed during his deployment leaving her with their two small children. Another veteran said that her quilt would be especially meaningful to her son because he was only two years old when she was deployed. Yet another veteran told us that she enlisted when she was 52 years old because she was a nurse with special skills that were needed overseas.
Following the awards presentation the group of 135 veterans gathered for a picture with their quilts before finding their places in the banquet hall. My mom and I stayed for the banquet as well and we were so glad that we did. We learned more about the Honor Flights and were so privileged to further recognize and honor the women participating in this final Honor Flight. The guest speaker for the evening was none other than Loretta Swit who portrayed a nurse during the Korean War on the immensely popular TV show M*A*S*H from 1972-1983. She told the veterans in the audience that, although she played an Army officer on TV, they were the real deal. She also shared stories about the writing on the show and how her character, Major Margaret Houlihan, evolved over the eleven years that the show aired.
Over 700 people attended the banquet which also featured speeches from the founders of the Honor Flights in Nebraska, Bill and Evonne Williams, the Governor of the State of Nebraska and his wife, Pete Ricketts and Susanne Shore, and a representative from the Nebraska Chapter of Quilts of Valor, Phyllis Schoenholz. And there was wonderful music throughout the evening including the Greg Spevak Orchestra, the Frontier Strings - a group of school-age children from the Omaha Conservatory of Music - and a gorgeous rendition of America the Beautiful sung by Janet Carlson Campbell who happens to be a childhood friend of mine.
Each and every time that I participate in an event involving Quilts of Valor I leave feeling enriched and also very humbled. I feel that every week when my quilting club meets to sew in my basement for a couple of hours. I feel that each time I finish a Quilt of Valor on my long arm quilting machine. I feel that each time we award quilts to veterans who have been touched by war. It is so good to be reminded of the sacrifices that others have made on our behalf so that we can enjoy our freedom.