In the early morning sunshine Wednesday, eight military veterans gathered in the shade in front of the Brookridge Retirement Community. They sat facing a small crowd of gathered friends and family as Kristy Morgan, the Community Relations Director for Brookridge, introduced Donna McCormack, the head of the Oklahoma branch of Quilts of Valor.
“This is our first ever Quilts of Valor presentation, and I’ve been here for nine years,” Morgan said.
The Quilts of Valor Foundation began with a dream. Founder Catherine Roberts’ son Nat was deployed in Iraq when, one night, in 2003, she had a dream in which her son’s whole unit was shivering and cold, unable to sleep.
Roberts woke from the dream and paced for a time before her restlessness gave way to tired eyes and she fell back asleep. This time, Roberts entered the same dream. But now her son and his whole unit were sleeping peacefully under warm quilts.
“Obviously she was a quilter,” McCormack said. “But that’s where this idea was born, in that belief that every veteran needed to be wrapped in a quilt of valor to comfort them, welcome them home and say thank you for your service.”
McCormack presented each veteran — Alvis Lum, James Thompson, Charles Boggs, Veronica Johnson, Walter Horton, Ralph Melcher, Tom Charles and Tom Munson — with a hand-sewn quilt.
This particular group of quilts came from a quilt guild located in Minnesota. Each one was embroidered with the veteran’s name and the date it was given, and came with a certificate thanking them for their service as well as a handwritten card from members of the quilt guild.
“These quilts are not to be hung up and saved, they’re to keep you warm and comfort you,” McCormack told the veterans, “and if you wear it out, I’ll make you a new one.”
James Thompson, a retired lieutenant colonel with in the Army who served for 23 years, accepted his quilt from McCormack and expressed his gratitude to her and his fellow veterans.
“I’m humbled by this,” Thompson said. “Thank you to your organization, and I accept this with pride of behalf of myself, the Brookridge staff and all the men and women who have served.”
It was a moment that brought his daughter, Mary Bales, to tears. After the presentation, Bales tried to express what it meant to see her father be honored in front of his friends and family alongside his fellow veterans. Again she held back tears.
“Anything that honors him for what he’s done makes me feel very proud for him,” Bales said. “He did tours in Vietnam, Korea and World War II and survived all of them … he always gave the credit to my mom for raising us because he was gone so much.”
It meant more to her than she could say in words, but her tears were enough.
“In 15 years, we’ve given out just over 250,000 quilts to veterans,” McCormack said. “That’s a lot of sewing.”
And a lot of joyful tears.