The first Saturday of every month, dozens of enthusiastic quilters gather to meet in the cramped back room of a quilt shop settled off Highway I-385 in Simpsonville, South Carolina. The women, and some men, pile up their red white and blue quilts at the front of the room for Tom, their boisterous and quick-witted coordinator.
Each month, women and men gather to show off and discuss the quilts they have created for Quilts of Valor. These talented quilters use their free time to support Quilts of Valor by designing and creating quilts for the organization.
Quilts of Valor Foundation, often abbreviated QOVF, started by creating and sending quilts to troops that were wounded in Iraq (OIF) and Afghanistan (OEF). In 2009 quilts were awarded to veterans of all conflicts.
Ken Hinkle, a Marine that served in Vietnam, is the coordinator for Upstate South Carolina. So far, Upstate South Carolina has created 3,100 quilts. The Upstate has been leading the nation for the most amount of awards for the 8th year in a row.
On March 2nd, the meeting was a little larger, extra chairs set out, and people standing in the back of the room by sewing machine displays. In attendance today are a number of Vietnam veterans with their decked-out caps and vests, a family in matching green “U.S. Army” t-shirts, the family and friends of Vietnam Veteran Charlie Conn.
Charlie Conn served with the 18th Military Police Brigade and was a dog handler. Together, Charlie and his sentry dog guarded high value targets like large amounts of ammo and weapons. As he spoke on, he expressed the value of dogs in the Vietnam War.
“Your dog was your best friend. The one thing that will keep you alive”, he said with a sad smile. Only 200 dogs were brought home from Vietnam, the other working dogs were either KIA or handed over to the Vietnamese.
After Charlie’s short speech, his wife and the woman who made the quilt draped his new quilt across his shoulders. The quilt is draped across the shoulders of the recipient to comfort the veteran, to say ‘it’s okay’, and to thank the veteran for their service and sacrifices.
As the applause died down and after a few sniffles from the audience, Charlie coughed and said there was something he needed to say: “I went to Vietnam and I went through the military, and my wife went with me. We were married two weeks before I left, and she has been with me 52 years. And without her support and encouragement, and without the Lord’s help, keeping me alive; because it’s been a challenge. I’ve kind of lived on the edge for a long time. So I just want to thank the Lord, I want to thank my wife, I want to thank you folks. I appreciate what you did. You don’t know how important that was. Thank you”
Hinkle shook Conn’s hand and said, “From one Vietnam veteran to another, thank you for your service and welcome home.”.