Late last year, 13 U.S. military veterans were honored with Quilts of Valor and a recognition brunch at the Connie Hudson Mobile Regional Senior Community Center in West Mobile.
The Sassy Stitchers quilting group, which meets each Wednesday at the senior center, made the beautiful red-white-and-blue quilts to show appreciation to a few of those who left their homes and families behind to make the world a safer place for their own generation and those to come.
The quilters honor a group of veterans near Memorial Day and Veterans Day, and Nov. 14 was their fifth such event.
Below is a listing of each veteran, by war or conflict, who received a Quilt of Valor. A few of their stories are recounted.
From World War II, mostly in their 90s now, are veterans Nathan Gulley, U.S. Army; Lawrence Lockhart, U.S. Navy; Elaine Sullivan Sortie, U.S. Marine Corps; Thomas A. Cowart, U.S. Army; Fred Douglas Reed, U.S. Army; Lewis Charles Malone, U.S. Marine Corps and Marion C. Bush, U.S. Army.
Eudell Hudspeth, U.S. Army, served in both WWII and the Korean War.
Two of the veterans, Lelland Eugene “Gene” Black, U.S. Army, and Billy Joe Royster, U.S. Army, served exclusively during the Korean War. Two were in the Vietnam War — Bruce Garrison, U.S. Army and U.S. Coast Guard, and Herbert McCants, U.S. Air Force. One soldier, U.S. Navy veteran N. Stewart Hanley, served a 13-month tour of duty in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom II.
While there were some differences among the veterans, there were commonalities as well, especially among those who served in the same war.
Korean veterans always remember the extreme, bitter cold and deep snow with never a respite, and never an opportunity to get warm again until they were safely home in the Deep South.
Other common threads that seemed to run among the older soldiers, in particular the WWII and Korean veterans, were decades-long marriages to the same wife, staying with the same employer until retirement and, for most, association with a home church.
None of the veterans appeared to have been bitter about the wars they served in — they all had received medals for bravery, for being wounded in battle, for good conduct — and they had no regrets about having put their lives on the line for their country. And particularly admirable among the younger veterans was their sincere feeling of honor to be flanked by, and considered equal to, the WWII men and women of “the Greatest Generation.”
While most soldiers accepted their Quilts of Valor with a sort of humility, saying very little beyond “thank you” to the Sassy Stitchers or a terse comment that they were proud to have served their country, they were more forthcoming in their written stories submitted to the quilters.
Herb McCants, who joined the U.S. Air Force in 1970, came home to become a police officer and, with humor, admitted he saw more action at home than overseas.
Fred Douglas Reed was a corporal in the U.S. Army from 1942 until 1945. He was shipped out to serve in the China/Burma/India theater in 1942, but, being very much in love with the beautiful Lelia, decided he’d better marry her before he left; he didn’t want anyone to steal her while he was gone.
They’ve been married 72 years, have five children and “too many grand and great-grandchildren to count,” he said.
Cpl. Reed’s company was stationed at a base in India, near the Burma border. But as with many African-Americans during WWII, Reed and his fellow soldiers were assigned to non-combat units and relegated to service duties, such as supply, maintenance and transportation.
While their work was vital to the war effort and they served in a theater of war and were issued guns, they were never given ammunition. They had monthly inspections and had to have their guns and other military-issued items inspected, despite the fact that they never fired those guns.
When asked what would have happened had his unit been attacked, Reed said they would have had to notify others who did have bullets to come to their aid.
Veteran Marion C. Bush, 92, joined the U.S. Army in April 1943. He fought in five major battles, including the Battle of the Bulge and the Rhineland Campaign of 1944. The worst thing about the war, Bush said, was seeing all the death and destruction. He did find a brighter side, however; he liked seeing the cities and towns and countryside of Europe, and enjoyed meeting the people.
In addition to brunch and the presentation of Quilts of Valor, the veterans were entertained by the Dew Drops, a trio who dressed the part of 1940s USO troops and sang “The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B” and “Chattanooga Choo Choo.”
Wayne Dunkin brought the entertainment a little closer to the present with Elvis’ “American Trilogy,” three 19th century folk songs taken from a 1972 concert, and the singer’s effort to bring the nation together in a discordant time.
Betty Todd is facilitator for the Sassy Stitchers. While the quilting group occasionally holds a fundraiser to raise funds for Quilts of Valor, the quilters themselves generally provide their own materials. To learn more about the quilters, their project and other activities, call Connie Hudson Mobile Regional Senior Community Center at 251-602-4963.
Jo Anne McKnight is a writer in Mobile County. For more news of community events, people and places, visit her blog at joannemcknight.com.