- Associated Press - Sunday, September 17, 2017

LYNCHBURG, Va. (AP) - The night of Sept. 11, local seamstresses aimed to warm World War II veterans’ hearts and bodies with commemorative quilts honoring their military service.

In a presentation ceremony at Westminster Canterbury in Lynchburg, eight veterans were honored by the Seven Hills Quilt Guild and presented with patriotic-themed quilts called “Quilts of Valor.” The quilts were the work of the Quilts of Valor Foundation, a nonprofit that presents veterans and active duty service members around the nation with quilts to honor their service.

During the ceremony, a presentation scrolled through images of the veterans in uniform during their service, their military accomplishments were read to the crowd and they were wrapped in their quilts by volunteers. A ninth Coast Guard veteran also was honored, but she refused a quilt because she only served for six months during the war and felt like she did not deserve it, according to Westminster Canterbury staff.

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Sitting in a wheelchair, Joseph “Mac” Pace quietly watched as the volunteers wrapped him in a green and brown quilt with different military emblems and sayings printed on it. After the ceremony, he expressed his gratitude for the Quilts of Valor volunteers who took the time to make the quilt and the ceremony to honor the veterans.

“It feels wonderful to be acknowledged,” said Pace, 94, who served until he was discharged in 1946 and stayed in the reserves until 1954. “It’s a great honor, and it’s wonderful to be able to have served my country as many years as I did. I have no regrets. I did get scared quite a few times though.”

The Quilt of Valor Foundation began in 2003, when founder Catherine Roberts’ son was deployed to Iraq. According to the foundation’s website, she had a dream where she saw a young soldier struggling with homesickness and depression while deployed. Later in the dream, she saw him wrapped in a quilt.

Soon after, she established the Quilts of Valor Foundation to sew high-quality quilts and award them to veterans and active-duty soldiers in recognition of their sacrifices to their country. Word of her organization spread, and the organization now has presented more than 200,000 quilts, according to Seven Hills Quilt Guild’s Quilt of Valor Committee Chairman Linda Thaxton.

“Her intention was to cover veterans or active service people. To give them some comfort to let them know that there are people that really care about them,” Thaxton said prior to the ceremony. “We don’t know them, but we love them just the same.”

With approximately 30 members, the Seven Hills Quilt Guild, based in Lynchburg, began working with Quilts of Valor in 2014 and since has presented a total of 12 quilts to veterans in the area.

The quilts have to be high quality, hand sewn and a certain size, as specified by the national Quilts of Valor Foundation, Thaxton said. According to the foundation’s website, the quilts are meant to be special gifts and specially awarded.

“Quilts of Valor would be the civilian equivalent of a Purple Heart award,” Roberts wrote on the website. “Quilts of Valor would be ‘awarded,’ not just passed out like magazines or videos. A Quilt of Valor would say unequivocally, ‘Thank you for your service, sacrifice, and valor,’ in serving our nation in combat.”

Pace began his military journey in 1942, when he left Virginia Tech and enrolled at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy - otherwise known as Kings Point - in Long Island, New York. After graduation, he served on seven different ships in both the Atlantic Ocean and then the Pacific Theater prior to the U.S. dropping the two atomic bombs on Japan, ending the conflict.

Pointing proudly to the gold U.S. Merchant Marines pin on his red sweater, he extolled the importance of the service, which transports American cargo and passengers around the world during peacetime and becomes an auxiliary of the U.S. Navy during wartime.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt pushed Congress to pass the Merchant Marine Act to establish a 10-year program for building ships to use for cargo shipping and military use. The bill also created a training program to train soldiers to man the ships, and that program became Kings Point.

“I’m so glad I got to be a part of it,” he said. “Roosevelt did a great deed for this country when he was able to establish ships to carry the ships and cargo and everything and have crews to man those.”

Westminster Canterbury’s Recreation Director Sue Ellen Clark said the facility and its staff were approached by the Seven Hills Quilt Guild to do the ceremony. They decided to honor the rapidly dwindling numbers of WWII veterans in their care.

“We love to do things that are meaningful and purposeful,” Clark said. “We do have a lot of veterans, and we have a lot of veterans that are older, and even in the process leading up to this to this night, we have lost many veterans from WWII. There are fewer and fewer chances to say thank you to the greatest generation.”


Information from: The News & Advance, https://www.newsadvance.com/

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