Sometimes, words can’t do justice to a situation.
For instance, saying that a recent ceremony in Cambria involved “giving each of 10 veterans a quilt, a hug and some applause” would be such an understatement, it would be like labeling Shakespeare as only a sonnet writer. Both would miss the mark by a country mile and a wheelbarrow full of irony.
The Aug. 7 Quilt of Valor presentations to the vets followed a traditional format in an event filled with emotion, memories and two-way gratitude ... for the more than a thousand hours of quilting the seamstresses donated to commemorate the hundreds of thousands of hours those men spent defending our country.
The honorees are veterans of various wars, conflicts, special assignments and peace-keeping missions, and nearly all of them are members of American Legion Post No. 432, which hosted the event. The vets served stateside and overseas in such hotspots as Okinawa, Korea, Vietnam and Guam.
Between them, the 10 vets and the son of the late Frank Buttress, who represented his father at the event, gave 32 years of active service to the country from World War II in 1944 through 1967, plus one man’s additional 34 years of Army Reserve service extending to 1985.
The honorees, in alphabetical order, are:
• Jay Burbank, U.S. Air Force airman 1st class, hydraulic mechanic on B52 bombers
• The late Frank Buttress, WWII Army Air Corps mechanic (represented by his son, U.S. Air Force vet Steve Buttress)
• Alan Doctor, U.S. Army in Korea, then Army Reserve for 34 years
• John Ehlers, Air Force captain, Strategic Air Command
• Terry Farrell, sergeant, Marine Corps infantry
• Jerry McKinnon, Navy/Coast Guard, fire support, machine mate 3rd class in Korea
• Mel McColloch, Army Airborne on Dark Operation special assignment in North Korea
• Chuck McMillen, master seaman/quartermaster, peacekeeping in the Navy
• Roland Soucie, Navy, electronic technician 2nd class
• Richard Tanner, WWII Merchant Marine radio officer overseas, including in the Okinawa invasion.
Those esteemed veterans are more than military men. They’re also Cambrians of note, including several Citizens of the Year and leaders of area nonprofits and service clubs such as the Legion, Cambria Historical Society, Cambria Chamber of Commerce, Piedras Blancas Light Station, Friends of the Cambria Library and more.
Some of the men are retired. Some are disabled. Some are still very active, thank you. Some either own or have owned local businesses. Many have known each other well for years and decades.
All the humble vets seemed slightly dumbstruck to have been singled out and honored. “We just did what had to be done,” one of them said later.
And then there were the quilts that were the event’s cornerstone.
Each was an amazingly detailed, individualized work of art created stitch by stitch with love and appreciation by women who donate their time, skill and artistry to honor the vets in a remarkably meaningful and comforting way.
The Quilts of Valor Project group that began in Delaware in 2003 blossomed to become a nationwide, grassroots effort that has since awarded more than 230,000 quilts. The Gold Coast Quilt Guild’s Quilts of Valor Project, which launched in 2011, has distributed more than 260 quilts to veterans, according to chairwoman Mary Ann Carnegie of Cayucos.
Gold Coast encompasses quilters in Cambria, San Simeon, Cayucos, Morro Bay and Los Osos. Each Quilt of Valor is a team effort, according to professional “Curly Girl” quilter Kerry Hubbard of Cambria, who worked on most of the coverlets given out that night. Debbie Johnson of Cambria made Tanner’s quilt, and Leeri Deedon of Morro Bay made the award-winning quilt for her friend Burbank.
So why do they do it?
Although the seamstresses are loathe to put dollar signs and timecards on their creations, Carnegie acknowledged that each of the donated quilts probably took about 100 hours to create (not counting the joy time spent shopping for fabric and debating about designs) and would cost at least $200 to $500 to duplicate.
However, as Legion Cmdr. Phil Kispersky quipped at the end of the ceremony, he’s certain that most quilt society meetings begin with a 12-step-like greeting: “Hello. My name is ____, and I’m a quilter.”
Carnegie acknowledged with a rueful laugh that the art is indeed a creative addiction.
But, as she described at the ceremony, equally addicting is dedicating their time and skill to “a form of national service that we can do from our homes and then distribute to say to the veterans ‘thank you. You are not nor never will be forgotten.’ We believe that as we sew, love, care and gratitude flow from our hearts through our hands into the quilts we make.”
Ah, yes. I guess some words can suffice.
Side note: Quilt recipient Richard Tanner is my husband.