Three honored with presentation from Quilts of Valor

Published 8:21 am Tuesday, July 12, 2022

WEST POINT — Three veterans from the West Central Georgia region were honored Saturday with Quilt of Valor presentations. The quilts were made by the Georgia-Alabama State Line Quilters with the ceremony taking place at sewingmachine.com in downtown West Point.

The honorees include Kristopher Gilmore of Fayetteville and Elbert Saylor and Milton Smith, both of LaGrange.

Gilmore was with the U.S. Marine Corps from 2007 to 2011. He did tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“It was an honor for me to serve my country,” he said. “I am from a family that has served our country over several generations.”

His dad, Ronnie Gilmore, previously received a Quilt of Honor at sewingmachine.com. When Ronnie Gilmore was an infant, his dad, Marvin Gilmore from Lanett, was killed in the 1944 Normandy Invasion.

Elbert Saylor is originally from Valley and is a 1993 graduate of Valley High. He served in the Marines from 1993-97 and in the U.S. Army from 2000-06. He did two tours of duty in Iraq.

“I am grateful to be shown some appreciation for my service,” he said. “I love this country, and its people. I was willing to lay my life down for my country and the American people.”

Milton Smith was in the Army from 1968-71 and remained stateside during the Vietnam War. A lot of his church friends from New Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church in LaGrange were there for the presentation.

“I had a good experience in the service.”  Smith said. “It was an honor to serve my country. I’m from a family who has had lots of men in the service.”

Quilts of Valor spokesperson Sheila Simpson welcomed everyone to the program and told a packed audience she hoped they enjoyed their time in West Point.

“There’s a lot to do here,” she said. “We are a town with a river flowing through it, and we have a lake nearby. There’s lots of fishing, camping and boating going on at West Point Lake.”

The ceremony began with the playing of recorded versions of songs for each branch of service: “The Caissons Go Rolling Along” for the Army, “Anchors Aweigh” for the Navy, “Semper Veritas” for the Coast Guard, “Off We Go Into the Wild Blue Yonder” for the U.S. Air Force and “The Marine Corps Hymn” for the U.S. Marines.

The Quilts of Valor was founded in 2003 by Catherine Roberts. At the time, her son had been deployed to the Iraq War. She was constantly worried for his safety and one night had a dream of a post-deployment warrior sitting on the side of his bed and struggling with his war demons. As the dream continued, she saw him wrapped in a comfort quilt and in a state of hope and well being.

The dream inspired Roberts to form a quilting group to make quilts for soldiers who had been in harm’s way. The first one was given to an Iraq War veteran who was recovering from his wounds at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C.

It took Roberts’ small group some three years to make and award 100 quilts but as word spread about what they were doing, chapters started organizing all over the U.S. In May 2014, the 100,000th quilt was presented. Since then, the number of presentations in the U.S. has surged past the 300,000 mark. It now stands at 315,840.

“Each quilt presentation carries with it a three-part message,” Simpson said. “First, we are honoring you for your service and your willingness to leave all you hold dear and stand in harm’s way in a time for crisis for all of us. Second, we know that freedom is never free. Our quilts are meant to say thank you for your many sacrifices. For those of us who have never seen combat or been in a war zone, such experiences are beyond our capacity to comprehend. Finally, these quilts offer you comfort. Throughout history, when young men left home to fight in a war, many of them took a quilt made by a family member that they called a comfort quilt. It may have been all these young men had to provide the warmth memories of home can bring. We want you to use this quilt. It is not meant to be hung on the wall or put in a display case.”

The local chapter has made a special effort to award quilts to veterans of World War II and Vietnam. Those Americans who came of age during WW II have often been called “the Greatest Generation.” Precious few veterans of that war are still living. The Vietnam War was a divisive period for our country, and some Americans were rude to soldiers returning home, insulting them with such reckless comments as “baby killers.”

“Our Vietnam veterans weren’t treated right on their return home,” Simpson said. “We need to do what we can to make amends for that.”