Vietnam vets honored with Quilts of Valor

Published 8:00 am Tuesday, February 20, 2024

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WEST POINT — Two next-door neighbors from Salem, Alabama, each received a Quilt of Valor in a Saturday morning ceremony at in downtown West Point. Both served in the U.S. military during the Vietnam War era.

Mickey Hinson was in the U.S. Navy from 1964 to 1969. He was in Japan for two years during his service and learned that the barracks next to where he was staying had a soldier named Lee Harvey Oswald in the 1950s. Oswald became one of the most infamous people in the country in 1963.

Hinson is originally from Columbus, Georgia, and lives not far away from his hometown in neighboring Lee County.

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Everett Kneshtel was in the U.S. Army from 1964 to 1966. He is originally from Taylor, Michigan, and was with a surface-to-air missile unit in South Korea during his time in the service. He has lived in Alabama since 1980.

Hinson and Kneshtel received their quilts from the Georgia-Alabama chapter of the Quilts of Valor, a national organization whose mission is to cover service members and veterans with comforting and healing Quilts of Valor.

Members of the quilting group present for Saturday’s program included Carol Cofield, Shirley Welch, Jennifer Siggers, Angela Maddux and Sherri Reichardt, who served as the program moderator.

Reinhardt told the crowd gathered for the 11:30 a.m. ceremony that what’s now the Quilts of Valor Foundation originated in a dream founder Catherine Roberts had 21 years ago in 2003. Roberts’ son Nat had been deployed to the Persian Gulf region to take part in the invasion of Iraq. She worried constantly for his safety and her dream was as vivid to her as real life. She saw a young man sitting on the side of his bed in the middle of the night, hunched over and battling with his war demons.

“Then, as if viewing a movie, I saw him in the next scene wrapped in his quilt,” Roberts states on the QoV web page. “His whole demeanor changed from one of despair to one of hope and well-being. The quilt had made this dramatic change. The message of my dream was Quilts = Healing.”

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 350,000 mark.

“Each quilt presentation carries with it a three-part message,” Reichardt 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 of 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.”

As veterans who served during the era of the Vietnam War, Hinson and Kneshtel each received a Vietnam Veteran lapel pin. This is for those U.S. service members who served between November 1, 1955, and May 15, 1975. Each pin depicts an eagle, a blue circle, a laurel wreath, stars and stripes and bears a message.

The eagle represents courage, honor and dedicated service to our nation. The blue circle represents the U.S. flag and signifies vigilance, perseverance and justice. The laurel wreath is for honor and victory. Like the blue circle, the stripes represent the flag. The lapel pin has six stars. They symbolize the six nations that took part in the Vietnam War: the U.S., Australia, Thailand, New Zealand, South Korea and The Philippines. On the back of the pin is a message — “A grateful nation thanks and honors you.”