Quilters honor veterans
10 local veterans received Quilts of Valor during moving ceremony in Ocala.
Robert Mills, a veteran who served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1973-1979, center, gets wrapped up in his quilt by Lisa Slinsky, left, and Betty Arahood, right, both of the Country Road Quilters, during the Quilts of Valor presentation at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Ocala, Fla. on Thursday, Nov. 16, 2023. Ten quilts were presented to veterans to honor them for their service during the Quilts of Valor ceremony on Thursday night. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2023.
Ten veterans were honored for their service and sacrifice during a Quilts of Valor presentation held by the Country Roads Quilters of Ocala on Nov.16 at St. Mark’s Methodist Church in Ocala. The occasionally emotional presentation ceremony saw the veterans receive handmade quilts, many with patriotic themes or special meaning to the veteran. A label attached to each quilt stated it was meant to “honor and comfort those touched by war.”
Vietnam War veteran Robert Mills, 67, served with the Second Air-Naval Gunfire Liaison Company, or ANGLICO, on assignments including forward observer for artillery and airborne. He was clearly moved by the gift and sentiment.
“This is great. It’s a good feeling to be honored by the people we served. We Vietnam veterans didn’t get any parades for our first homecoming, but this quilt makes me feel appreciated,” he said.
Mills said he comes from a family of military service members and when he saw an uncle in a U.S. Marine Corps dress blues uniform, he decided to join the Marines.
Mills’ colorful quilt has a label attached that reads: “Made by Country Roads Quilters of Ocala, quilted by Pam Leese.”
Mills first stood in front of his outstretched quilt and was then wrapped in the quilt by presenters. His daughter, Ulysa Muirhead, a local psychologist, was on hand for the presentation.
“Amazing,” she said of her father’s service. Muirhead also is a veteran and her son, Donovan Muirhead, is serving in the Marine Corp. Robert Mills’ son, Robert Mills III, is serving in the U.S. Army and is deployed to Iraq. Mills’ friend, Willie Watts, also attended the ceremony.The Quilts of Valor Foundation is a national nonprofit outreach that began in 2003, when founder Catherine Roberts dreamed of a young man plagued by the horrors of war while her son, Nat, was deployed to Iraq, according to qovf.org.
Roberts envisioned the young man in her dream wrapped in a comforting quilt and his “whole demeanor changed from one of despair to one of hope and well-being. The quilt had made this dramatic change,” the website states.
According to the Quilts of Valor Foundation April 2023 newsletter by Executive Director Lori Thompson, the organization has 10,000 volunteers who “create and award” an average of 30,000 Quilts of Valor annually for “service members and veterans.
Cathy Washburn of the Country Roads Quilters of Ocala said the group previously gave their completed quilts to other groups for presentation but now the local group is a Quilts of Valor Group Member and can host their own presentations. Washburn and Buffy Sutherland, president of Country Roads Quilters, serve as Quilts of Valor Group Leaders. Washburn explained that the quilts are usually group efforts, with a number of members involved in the finished quilt.
JoEllen Oppliger has been with Country Roads Quilters since 2013. She said the quilts—the size recommended by Quilts of Valor is 60 inches by 80 inches—can take from 60 to 80 hours to fabricate. She said she puts her “heart and love” into the quilt work and that the group does the quilting for the love of veterans.
Oppliger was involved in making a Quilt of Valor with a red, white and blue colored scene of an eagle on a motorcycle for Army veteran Phillip Friedli. She said the quilt would be “meaningful to him.”
Friedli served from 1970 to 1972. He is a Vietnam War veteran and served as a combat medic. Friedli indicated after the presentation that he has ridden “two wheelers” since childhood.
Quilter Lisa Slinsky sees the quilts as a meaningful expression of gratitude for the service of veterans. Her son, Alan Slinsky, 39, is serving in the Army.
Lisa Corneilson, an educator, has been a quilter for 40 years. She said the craft is a “family tradition.”
Tommy Harris, a quilter for about 25 years, is one of perhaps three male quilters in the 99-member group.
Husband and wife Lynn and Michael McKinney were both honored with Quilts of Valor. They served in the Navy from 1998 to 2003 and met while in the Navy in 1999. He also served in the National Guard from 2007 to 2018.
Quilt of Valor recipient Frida (Jones) Brannon served in the Air Force from 1975 to 1981 as an airframe mechanic and in law enforcement, in locales including Arizona, Mexico and Hawaii.Recipient Leroy Thompson served in the Navy from 1959 to 1965, including on a destroyer involved in actions during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. He was accompanied by his wife, Joan Thompson, and daughter Leigh-Ann Thompson, who nominated her father for the Quilts of Valor presentation.
Joe Shay, an Army squad leader during the Vietnam War, also was a recipient. He said when he returned home in 1969, he was called names and “beat up” and he appreciates the change in outlook by the public. Shay’s neighbor and Desert Storm veteran Drew Pearce attended to support his fellow veteran.
Army veteran Daniel McCarroll, who served from 1987 to 2017, and Marine Corps veteran Diego Martinez, who served from 2012 to 2017, also received Quilts of Valor.
Recipient Gary Guevara, 61, who served in the Army from 1980 to 1984, said he thought the event was “fantastic.”
Guevara’s girlfriend, Lisa DeGuzman, took note of his emotional reaction to the ceremony.
“He had something in his eye a few times,” she said.
To learn more about the Country Road Quilters of Ocala, go to crq-ocala.org