Five veterans presented with a Quilt of Valor at a ceremony in West Point

Published 10:30 am Tuesday, May 16, 2023

WEST POINT — Five veterans of U.S. military service were each honored with the presentation of a Quilt of Valor Saturday morning at sewingmachine.com in downtown West Point. The honorees included four Army veterans and one who had served in the U.S. Air Force. They include Army veterans Josh Back, Vicki Jenks, Paula Watson and Brett Wiersma and Air Force veteran Robert Lott.

Back is originally from Middletown, Ohio and was in the Army from 2002-2014. He was stationed in Iraq during the war in that Middle Eastern country. He now lives in Salem, Alabama.

Jenks is originally from Molino, Florida and now lives in Eufaula. She served in the Army from 1969-1972 during the drawdown in the Vietnam War and again from 1979-82.

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Lott was born, grew up and still lives in the Shawmut community. He’s a 1960 graduate of Valley High. He was in the Air Force from 1961-69 during Vietnam and again from 1974-91, including the Desert Storm period.

 “I was in the Air Force for 20 years and 10 months,” he said. I was in many different places including Thailand, Turkey and Alaska,” he said.

Watson is originally from East Point, Georgia. She was in the Army from 1966-2015 and was stationed in Germany and France for much of that time. She also did a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

Wiersma was born and grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He was in the Army from 1989-2016 and retired with the rank of major. He lives in Auburn today and is proud to serve as the senior Army instructor for 107 cadets with the JROTC program at Valley High. During his military service, he was stationed for a time in Korea. He also did tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The quilts awarded Saturday were sewn by the Georgia-Alabama State Line Chapter of the Quilts of Valor. They have monthly quilting sessions at sewingmachine.com.

The program was moderated by Debra Alexander. She has succeeded long-time moderator Sheila Simpson, who recently retired from sewingmachine.com. She is staying on as a Quilt of Valor volunteer.

The State Line Chapter programs begin with the playing of recorded versions of well-known songs for each branch of military 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 Air Force and “The Marine Corps Hymn” for the U.S. Marines.

Alexander read a narrative about the National Quilt of Valor organization. It was founded by Catherine Roberts in 2003. Her son was serving in harm’s way at the time, being involved in the invasion of Iraq. She constantly worried for his safety and one night had a dream of him being haunted by his war demons and then finding comfort in wrapping himself in a quilt. That inspired her to form a quilting group of women making quilts and giving them to soldiers who were serving, or who had served in combat zones.

It took several years for Roberts and her small group to make 100 quilts, but as other women found out what they were doing more quilting chapters were formed. They went from coast to coast. The number of quilt presentations passed the 100,000 mark in 2014. As of this month, a total of 340,406 quilts have been presented to veterans and active duty personnel.

“Each quilt presentation carries with it a three-part message,” Alexander 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 the warm 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.”

The program concluded with Simpson playing a recorded version of “My Name is America,” a song written by Kurt Orning and performed by Todd Allen Herendeen.