Quilts of Valor designed to give comfort to Vietnam Veterans

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Two local Vietnam veterans were recently presented with their own Quilts of Valor, honoring them for their military service.

The two men, Raymond Paul Phillips and John McKiven, have been best friends since they met in Vietnam.

Phillips served in the U.S. Marine Corps after training in 1966 at Parris Island, South Carolina. He spent time in Puerto Rico, Vietnam, and Okinawa during his service. He received six ribbons, including two Purple Hearts, the Vietnam Medal of Honor and the Good Conduct Medal.

McKiven completed Marine basic training in 1968, at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. He also spent a week in Twentynine Palms, California, where he learned to shoot a 50-caliber machine gun.

He was awarded the National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Palm, Vietnamese Campaign Medal and the Rifle Marksman Badge.

When McKiven arrived in Vietnam, Phillips was the first Alabamian he met, sparking their friendship.

McKiven showed him a photograph of his first cousin, Nancy Faye McKiven, and Phillips began writing her.

Phillips returned home before McKiven finished his service, and by the time both men were home, Phillips was spending more time in Southside with Nancy than he was at home in Clio.

Phillips married Nancy, making him and McKiven relatives as well as friends.

The Phillipses had a long marriage until she died last September. Phillips then moved to Gadsden to live closer to McKiven and family.

The quilt presentation was held at McKiven’s home, and friends, family and other veterans were in attendance.

Lynn Hales, district coordinator for Northeast Alabama for Quilts of Valor, presented the quilts along with Sue Biggard, her assistant.

“It shook me up that they gave us those,” McKiven said. “There’s not many people who’ve done stuff for the Vietnam veterans.” He said he felt the same way when Hales originally called him to discuss the presentation.

Many Vietnam veterans were not thanked upon their arrival home, Hales said. Some quilt presentations mark the first time that’s happened.

The Quilts of Valor Foundation is a nonprofit group that aims to honor, comfort, and cover veterans and service members with handmade quilts.

Catherine Roberts started the foundation in 2003, during her son’s deployment in Iraq after she dreamed of a veteran sitting on the edge of his bed, surrounded by war demons. In the next scene in her dream, she envisioned that veteran sitting with a quilt wrapped around his shoulders, which blocked out the demons. The veteran’s demeanor had changed from one of despair to one of hope.

The dream led Roberts to organize the foundation in her home in Delaware, before expanding it into what it is today — a widespread entity that awards quilts to veterans and service members all over the nation. More than 159,000 have been presented to date.

The quilts are not simply passed out to men and women who served their country; they are awarded in a special ceremony as a symbol of public thanks. Each quilt is different, but all are used to say “thanks” and provide comfort to the recipients. Some have notes from the people who made them by hand; others have specialized colors for the recipient’s branch of service.

Hales said each ceremony also is different, but the responses from the veterans and servicemen are heartwarming.

A member of Lakeside Quilters, a quilting club in Guntersville, she said she learned about Quilts of Valor when the club began making quilts to be presented to servicemen and women. When the district coordinator role became available, Hales took on the position and has held it for nearly a year. Since then, she has presented quilts to veterans all across Northeast Alabama.

Lakeside Quilters made the quilts for McKiven and Phillips.

Hales said presenting quilts always warms her heart. “It’s so reminiscent of the men I was raised with who were willing to give and serve,” she said, noting that she had several family members who served in the military.

Hales said the reactions from those receiving the quilts is always great. “You know, they’re military men. They’ve been trained to stand straight, show no emotion and do their work,” she said.

Still, the response sometimes is more emotional. Hales said veterans who have received quilts have come back later to let her know how much of an impact the presentation had on them and their families.

When presented with the quilts and thanked for their service, recipients are always appreciative of the quilt and the recognition. Sometimes, their response is more emotional. She said veterans who have received quilts have returned later to let her know how much of an effect the quilt had them and their families.

Veterans can be nominated by anyone, or can nominate themselves. The quilts are made by quilters clubs or volunteers, using donated materials or those purchased through fundraisers.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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