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West Point quilters honor Navy veteran

WEST POINT — U.S. Navy veteran George Lean is the latest recipient of a quilt made by the Georgia-Alabama Chapter of the Quilts of Valor.

The presentation took place Saturday morning, March 3 at sewingmnachine.com in downtown West Point.

Lean was in the Navy for the better portion of three decades. His first stint was from 1976-79. After being out of the service in the 1980s he went back in 1991 and served until 2015. He and his wife Jennifer now reside in West Point.

During his Naval career, Lean was stationed at a number of places including Whedby Island, Wash., Atlanta, Ga., Mayport and Jacksonville in Florida. He was a flight engineer for much of his career. The last five years in the Navy he was a command master chief. He’s has lots of experience in being on both helicopter and aircraft flights. He has lots of experience aboard P-3s and DC 9s.

He especially enjoyed being on flights for NASA.

“I went around the world three times,” he said. “I enjoyed my time in the service. It was good to me and my family.”

Lean made some good friends in the service.

“I miss my comrades,” he said. “We stay in touch. It’s always good to talk to them.”

Lean’s new quilt was made for him by Sheila Simpson and nine-year-old Emma Wargofcak. It was presented to him following a short ceremony highlighted by the playing of “Anchors Aweigh,” the familiar Navy song.

Quilts of Valor is a national foundation of people who make quilts to cover service members and veterans who have been touched by war in order to provide comfort, honor and gratitude for their sacrifices and service. The organization was founded in 2003 by Catherine Roberts when
her son was deployed to Iraq.

Roberts had a dream of her son struggling with his war demons and then sitting on the side of his bed, wrapped in a quilt and being grateful to have something to comfort him. From this dream, the Quilts of Valor began. The first quilt was awarded to a service member at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C. She formed a small quilting group, and within three years they had made 100 quilts for aging veterans and active duty personnel.

That small movement went national and by 2014, over 100,000 quilts had been hand sewn by women all over the U.S. That number has since grown to more than 180,000.

“I would like for you to know that this quilt brings a three-part message,” Simpson said to Lean. “First, we honor you for your service, for your willingness to leave all you hold dear and to stand in harm’s way in a time of crisis for all of us. Second, we know that freedom is never free, and our quilts are meant to say thank you for your many sacrifices. Finally, these quilts offer comfort. We hope when you experience dark memories or need the warmth of a hug, you will let this quilt wrap itself around you and provide both. We want you to use this quilt. It was not meant to hang on a wall or be put in a display case.”

“Quilters say that every quilt tells a story,” Simpson continued. “The story of your quilt began with a Georgia quilter who shares your love of country. As of today, the story of this quilt becomes your story. We hope you will look at your quilt as a tangible reminder that there are thousands of women and men across America who are forever in your debt, and this it is our pleasure to honor you with a Quilt of Valor.”