- Associated Press - Sunday, June 19, 2016

BIG RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) - A group in Big Rapids has found an unlikely niche: conducting quilting bees in an old jail, piecing together patriotic covers to honor veterans.

“We meet once a month,” said Mary Picucci. The gathering space is one of six cells in the old Big Rapids jail, a big brick house owned by the local historical society.

Old Jail Quilters group assembles quilts connected with the national Quilts of Valor Foundation, which honors veterans with “warmth and recognition” by presenting them with patriotic-themed quilts, she said. Since 2003, the national group has distributed more than 138,000 quilts, The Muskegon Chronicle (https://bit.ly/1tl3Czs ) reported.

The actual activity of piecing together the quilts is popular, too. Picucci said the group has grown from just four members to 26 in a year’s time. Among the group’s members is 90-year old Mille Splitstone, who does the quilt’s bindings by hand.

“We’re always hunting for veterans,” she said.

On Thursday, June 9, the Old Jail Quilters presented quilts to four World War II veterans at Sanctuary at the Oaks, a senior living community in Muskegon:

(asterisk) Norman G. Peterson, 93, served as a Lt. junior grade in the Navy from 1944-1946. He served in the pacific theater of the war as a communications specialist, relaying coded messages. Later in life he was a chemistry professor at Ferris State University. “Serving in the military has made me a far better man,” Peterson said. “I’m a far better American because I served in the military.”

(asterisk) Jack Joslyn, 96, served in the Air Force for 25 years, starting as pilot of a B-17 bomber in 1942, and moving to the reserves later in his career. He flew about 50 missions through Europe on unnamed bombers -€? he “just took whatever was available” — and survived the bombing raids without getting shot down. “Just lucky,” he said when asked about his survival.

(asterisk) George Hartman, 92, was the tail gunner on the B-17 bomber “Ain’t Misbehavin’” from 1943-1945. The plane was shot down in 1944 and he became a prisoner of war of the Germans. As a prisoner, Hartman was forced to march for 89 days on scant feed, as Harman calls it: “dehydrated grass soup.” Just four of the bomber’s crew of nine survived the march, and just one other besides Hartman is living today.

(asterisk) Ken Muston, 92, served in the 3rd infantry division and participated in the invasion of Anzio, Italy on Jan. 22, 1943. He was taken a prisoner of war by the Germans, and like Hartman was given almost no provisions by his captors. “We had a farmer that gave us a pig’s head,” Muston remembers. “It was full of maggots.”

Picucci thanked the men for their service.

“We don’t know where we would be if you gentlemen had not done what you did,” she said.


Information from: The Muskegon Chronicle, https://www.mlive.com/muskegon

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