Quilts of Valor

  • George C.F. Willard is draped in his "Quilt of Valor" by Quilts of Valor Foundation Regional Coordinator Theresa Perreault, left, and Nancy Blackmer, right, who made the quilt, as recognition for his service in the U.S. Marine Corps. —Staff photo/David McLellan

  • George C.F. Willard is draped in his "Quilt of Valor" by Quilts of Valor Foundation Regional Coordinator Theresa Perreault, left, and Nancy Blackmer, right, who made the quilt, as recognition for his service in the U.S. Marine Corps. —Staff photo/David McLellan

  • Military veteran George C.F. Willard is wrapped in his "Quilt of Valor," made by Nancy Blackmer, in recognition of his service in the U.S. Marine Corps. Staff photo/David McLellan

  • James Cornwell is draped in his "Quilt of Valor" by his wife, Judy, left, and fellow veteran George C.F. Willard, right, for his service in the U.S. Air Force. —Staff photo/David McLellan

  • James Cornwell is draped in his "Quilt of Valor" by his wife, Judy, left, and fellow veteran George C.F. Willard, right, for his service in the U.S. Air Force. —Staff photo/David McLellan

  • Left and above, U.S. Air Force veteran James Cornwell receives his quilt and a certificate from Quilts of Valor Foundation Regional Coordinator Theresa Perreault at a ceremony in Orange this month. Staff photo/David McLellan

  • James Cornwell, left, and George C.F. Willard, right, veterans of the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Marine Corps, respectively, were honored with handmade "Quilts of Valor" this month. —Staff photo/David McLellan

Staff Writer
Published: 5/29/2019 6:00:22 PM

Physically, it’s just a quilt — red, white and blue cloth stitched together methodically. Symbolically, it is so much more — a token of gratitude and recognition, a well deserved honor and the culmination of not only weeks of quilting, but years of service to the country. 

This month, two veterans from Orange were honored by the Quilts of Valor Foundation, a nonprofit that seeks to thank and comfort veterans by offering them handmade quilts in ceremonial fashion.

“We will never know the depth of your sacrifice to protect and defend the United States of America,” said Theresa Perreault, Massachusetts Regional Coordinator of the Quilts of Valor Foundation, before the foundation recognized two local veterans at a recent ceremony: George C.F. Willard and James Cornwell, both of Orange. They were draped in their quilts at the Community Church of North Orange and Tully on May 14, just two weeks before Memorial Day. 

“I really want to say, ‘Thank you,’ to both of you gentlemen,” Perreault said.

George C.F. Willard served in the U.S. Marine Corps from June 1960 to June 1964.  He has been active in Orange town government, including as a member of the Selectboard and as a cemetery commissioner. 

James Cornwell served in the U.S. Air Force for 20 years. He graduated from the Ralph C. Mahar Regional School in 1960 before joining the service in 1961 and later spent time on the road working for NASCAR race teams. Cornwell returned to Orange in 2002, and since then has served as a member of the Orange Selectboard, Trustees of Soldiers’ Memorials and the Cemetery Commission. 

Nancy Blackmer, member of the North Orange Grange and the town clerk, hand-made both quilts, and invited Willard and Cornwell to the ceremony — neither Willard nor Cornwell were aware they would be honored at the event. 

“This is really an honor,” said Cornwell, tears in his eyes, as the quilt was draped over his shoulders. Cornwell served as a missile mechanic and an in-flight refueling technician in the Vietnam War, retiring as a master sergeant, Blackmer said. Recently, he had taken part in Honor Flight New England, which pairs up veterans and flies them to Washington, D.C. It was the first year that Vietnam veterans were participants in the program, and the combination of the Honor Flight and Quilts of Valor programs in just over a week meant the world to Cornwell, he said. 

Cornwell said he remembers the negative portrayal of soldiers who fought in the Vietnam War — in the news, in movies and other media, and in public opinion — near the war’s end. With the red, white and blue quilt around his shoulders, he said he was thankful things have changed and veterans from the Vietnam War are recognized. 

“It’s a huge reversal from what it was when we came back from Vietnam,” Cornwell said. 

Willard was similarly emotional, and had nothing but words of gratitude to give at the end of the ceremony. 

“This was totally unexpected,” said Willard. “All I have to say is, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.”

He, like Cornwell, deserved the recognition, Blackmer said. Once, while Willard was stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, he saw a woman drowning in the water. He jumped in and saved the woman’s life.

According to Perreault, Quilts of Valor was originally started by a woman named Catherine Roberts in 2003. Her son deployed to Iraq in 2003 when, one night, Roberts had a dream she was walking through the woods and found her son sitting on a log, depressed and in need of comfort. Her dream-self wrapped her son in a quilt, Perreault said. Roberts woke up with the idea: “‘I’m going to cover military personel with quilts, just to make sure they are comforted,’” Perreault said.

Since Roberts started the foundation in 2003, Quilts of Valor has seen 217,932 quilts go to veterans — though that number climbs higher every time she checks, Perreault said — in all 50 U.S. states. She frequently travels to Quilts of Valor ceremonies across the state, as she did in Orange, to talk about the origin and importance of the program.

“The Quilt of Valor Foundation’s original mission was to ‘cover service members and veterans wounded physically or psychologically with comforting and healing quilts of valor,’” Perreault said. “No one really liked the word ‘psychologically,’ and U.S. Army Chaplain John Kallerson suggested using ‘touched by war’ as a replacement.”

Originally, Quilts of Valor was a program that only gave quilts to veterans of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistant. In 2009, Perreault said, Roberts, the founder, was at a Vietnam veterans memorial event and, with no younger veterans present, she gave her quilts to Vietnam veterans who were deeply moved by the gesture of gratitude. 

“From then on, any warrior who had been touched by war, no matter when his or her service, could receive a quilt of valor, no questions asked,” Perreault said. 

“We cannot judge what being touched by war means to a veteran,” Perreault added. “It is different for each, depending on where or when they serve — a nurse at Landstuhl Air Force Base, Walter Reed or Topeka, Kansas, a nurse or medic at Dover preparing remains for burial, a general serving in the Pentagon, an infantry soldier serving in a war zone, in a humanitarian effort or down the street at the local armory.”

As the quilts were being prepared to be draped upon the two Orange veterans, Perreault read a poem, “It is the Veteran,” written by an unknown author: “It is the veteran, not the preacher, who has given us the freedom of religion. It is the veteran, not the reporter, who has given us the freedom of the press. It is the veteran, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech. … And it is the veteran, willing to give his life to protect your freedoms and mine, whose casket will be covered by the flag.”

David McLellan joined the Greenfield Recorder in February of 2018, covering eastern Franklin County. He can be reached at dmclellan@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 268. 


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