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Local veterans honored with quilts of valor

WEST POINT — Five veterans from the east-central Alabama/west-central Georgia region were honored in a Quilts of Valor ceremony Saturday morning at sewiwgmachine.com in downtown West Point. The honorees included U.S. Army veteran William Rogers of Lanett and Harold Vaughn of Midland, Georgia. Air Force veteran David Belcher of Lanett, Navy veteran Larry Pruitt of LaGrange, Georgia. and current U.S. Army soldier Scott Mills of Hamilton. Georgia.

Rogers had a 26-year career in the military, spanning wars in Korea and Vietnam. He served from 1952-76 and was awarded a Purple Heart after being wounded in combat. He was awarded two Bronze Stars along with a host of other military awards.

“I was discharged at Fort Hood, Texas after 24 years, 24 hours and eight hours,” he said, getting some good-natured chuckles with his exactness.

Belcher told a crowd of family and friends that he left Lanett as a wide-eyed 18-year-old boy in 1965 and came back home after 21 years in the U.S. Air Force.

“It was a very memorable time,” he said. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. I thank God I was able to serve my country as long as I did.”

Pruitt was based out of Norfolk, Virginia and was a crewman aboard The USS DuPont, a destroyer that saw much duty in the Mediterranean Sea. He served between 1957-61.

“It was during the Cold War,” he said. “We were part of the NATO defense of Europe that was designed to keep Russia out of the Mediterranean.”

During a photoshoot, Pruitt held up a black and white photograph from the late 1940s. He was a young boy at the time, and the photo shows him sitting on the knee of a uniformed sailor.

He told the group that the photo is one of his prized possession.

The man in the photo is the late William Leroy Pruitt.

“He served in the Pacific in World War II,” he said. “He was one of the U.S. Navy’s Seabees. He helped built back Okinawa after the war.”

Pruitt said that his dad was his inspiration to join the Navy.

“I wanted him to proud of me,” he said.

Vaughn was pleased with his quilt.

It depicted soldiers doing something he did many times during his Army career – jumping from a plane. He served in the Army Airborne from 1972-92. In his 20-year career, he served with the famed 101st Airborne Division, the 1st and 3rd Armored Divisions and was a jump master with the U.S. Army Airborne School.

The youngest member of the group, Scott Mills, has been in the U.S. Army since 2004.

He is currently stationed at Fort Benning after having had deployments to both Iraq and Afghanistan. He said that in war zones, those who serve have each other’s back.

“You are ready at all times to defend your fellow soldiers, and you know they have your back, too,” he said.

Noting some Vietnam veterans in the group, Sheila Simpson said that the young men who returned home from that war in the late 1960s and early 1970s didn’t receive the kind of welcome they should have.

“We need to right that wrong,” she said.

Simpson is a spokesperson for the West Georgia-East Alabama chapter of the Quilts of Valor. The organization meets on Saturdays to make quilts for veterans.

“We want to know who we can make them for,” she said. “We are open to make one for any veteran or military member on active duty.”

A good group of quilters was present for Saturday’s ceremony.

It was National Sewing Day, and they are staying busy making more quilts for deserving veterans.

Quilts of Valor is a national foundation of people who make quilts to cover service members and veterans who have been touched by war.

“It’s a three-part honor,” said Simpson. “First, we honor your service, for your willingness to leave all you hold dear and to stand in harm’s way 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. For those of us who have never seen combat or have been to a war zone,  such experiences are beyond our capacity to comprehend.”

The third part is comfort. “Throughout our history, when young men left home to fight in a war, many of them took a quilt made by a family member. They were often called comfort quilts,” Simpson said. “Quilts have the ability to offer a source of both comfort and warmth. If you ever experience dark memories or need the warmth of a hug, we hope you will let this quilt wrap itself around you and provide both. We want you to use this quilt. It is not meant to be hung on the wall or put in a display case.”

Quilts of Valor was founded in 2003 by Catherine Roberts, whose son had been deployed to Iraq.

It took her and a small quilting group three years to make the first 100 quilts.

Those first ones were given to wounded soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan who were recovering from their wounds at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C.

As the word spread about what Quilts of Valor was doing, more quilting groups joined. In May 2014, the 100,000th Quilt of Valor was awarded at Walter Reed Hospital.

To date, more than 210,000 of them have been awarded by local chapters.