Wrapped in fabrics stitched together by volunteers, Bill Creech and six of his fellow World War II veterans sat in the ticket area of Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. They had just come home from the Austin area's 61st Honor Flight, which takes veterans to Washington, D.C., for a trip to war memorials and other sites to acknowledge and thank them for their service.
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Upon their return, all 40 of the veterans on this Honor Flight were greeted by a huge crowd of friends and family, civic groups and well-wishers. In addition to a commemorative coin and book that all of the Vietnam War, Korean War and World War II veterans received, the seven World War II veterans were given something special.
Each one was wrapped in a Quilt of Valor made by quilters who participate in a local chapter of the national Quilt of Valor organization through Poppy Quilt 'N Sew store in Georgetown.
"I'm just going to put it on me so everyone can see it," said Bill Creech, 99. "I love it." Creech wasn't sure what he had done to deserve it. He didn't feel like he had done anything different than what everyone in his generation did.
Creech was in Normandy the day after D-Day and at the liberation of Belgium and wounded in the Battle of the Bulge.
Quilts of Valor is a national organization that has given more than 228,000 quilts to veterans, including almost 20,000 this year. Last year, the Poppy Quilt 'N Sew group awarded 20 quilts. This year it's on track to award 30 or more.
Typically the group awards one quilt at a time; this was the first time it had teamed up with Honor Flight Austin, making it possible to award seven quilts at once to seven World War II veterans ages 93-99. One, Gilbert Loera, had never flown on a plane before.
"It's such an honor to be here today with all of you," said Michelle Bailey, owner of Poppy Quilt 'N Sew, as she presented the veterans with a Quilt of Honor.
Any time they give a quilt, it's always special, says Linda Parmentier, who participates in Poppy Quilt 'N Sew Quilt of Valor group. "Many of the veterans will cry; they will just sob," Parmentier says. "They are wondering why they deserved it."
Poppy Quilt 'N Sew Quilt of Valor has about 40 members and has regular sewing days, including evening and day events.
Sometimes members work on their own quilts, sometimes they piece together quilt squares donated by others and sometimes they add to the number of donated squares. Last year quilters donated hundreds of squares with the same "log cabin" square pattern, which they then pieced together in different patterns to make quilts.
Because of this project, Poppy keeps many patriotic fabrics on hand. Its Quilts of Valor members also keep their own stashes.
Quilting fabric isn't cheap. Quilters who donate a Quilt of Valor have typically put in about $300 to $500 worth of fabric, batting and time on a long arm quilting machine if they are not quilting by hand. Poppy donates the time on the long arm for all the Quilt of Valor quilts the guild makes and creates the space and atmosphere for the group to meet.
Poppy holds sew days twice a month for members of the group to meet. During sew days, longtime teachers show quilting newbies different patterns and techniques. It can be a great place to learn quilting.
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Quilters often join guilds like the Chisholm Trail Guild or the Austin or Pflugerville guilds to share techniques or take classes through the guild. Earlier this month the Chisholm Trail Guild's members gathered at the Georgetown library to learn from Kate Colleran, of Seams Like a Dream, who designs quilting patterns. She was offering a separate workshop later that week as well.
Chisholm Trail is holding a quilt show with certified judges Sept. 27-28 at Dell Diamond.
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Many local quilting guilds and stores have different ways that they give back to the community, such as participating in Quilts of Valor or making baby blankets for Project Linus, for kids in the hospital, or making quilts for breast cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.
"You can only make so many quilts for friends and family," Bailey says. "Quilters are very generous."
Joining a guild or participating in a philanthropy project through a local quilting store helps create a community like an old-fashioned sewing bee.
Many, like Barbara Keese, have a long family history of quilting. She remembers sitting beside her grandmother while she quilted. Quilts of Valor Sew Days create that kind of community for her.
"It gets you out of the house," Keese says. "You know they will be loved."
Each Quilt of Valor blanket has been put together by volunteers and has a patch sewn on that states who it was awarded to and the date, who made the quilt pieces, who quilted it and who put on the binding (the edges). It represents 20 to 50 hours worth of work.
"I think it's fabulous that they took the time and their valuable talent," said Katherine Loera, wife of quilt recipient Gilbert Loera. "I hope that God blessed each one of them."
Michelle Gonzala's grandfather Jesse Bratton got a quilt. "I think it's incredible," she says. "He's a very humble person. He's never talked about the war that much."
One thing he did tell granddaughter Julianna Gonzala is "he didn't think that he would make it back."
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In fact, at one point, he was missing and his name was posted on the window of the Coca-Cola Bottling Company as one of the town's dead. His mother didn't believe it, though, Michelle Gonzala says.
Fred Henry's daughter Donna Giniewicz said, "I'm at a loss for words," when she found out her father was getting a quilt. Her father went into the Marines underage and later had to have his father sign the official paperwork so he could enlist.
"I think it is so deserved," says Connie Justice, the daughter of Pete Justice. "It's so meaningful."
"I'm going to cherish this day," said Odell Howard, 93, as he sat wrapped in his quilt. "I'm going to remember the people that gave it to us. I think it's the greatest day in my whole life."
"It's an honor, for sure," said recipient Sylvestre Torres, 92. "Thank you."