There’s a quilt hanging off a couch in Gary Way’s living room that he would very much like to be buried with when it comes time to shuffle off this mortal coil.
Way is in no rush to dive 6 feet under, mind you, just a fan of excellent craftsmanship. Red, white and blue are totally his colors, the American bald eagle embroidered on top lends a sense of occasion and it feels — well at that juncture comfort probably won’t be of grave concern, now will it?
Anyway, like with most premium textiles what you’re really paying for — or not really paying for, in this case — is the brand.
“It symbolizes respect, something we Vietnam veterans never got when we returned,” Way said.
That sentiment was echoed more than once on a beautiful spring day at the Centre Hall Lions Club, where the ladies of Happy Valley Quilts of Valor gathered for one last sew-athon before closing out yet another season of Americana-tinged patterning.
Those men went through such hardships and we need to thank them.
Fabric choices aside, there was nothing overtly patriotic about the basic mise en scene, a series of long, rectangular tables that broke the quilting process down into a succession of thread cuts, hot irons and mechanized stitches.
Having the means is one thing, but motive is more difficult to prove. It’s also make-or-break for something like this, the question of why a group of women would want to spend six hours making blankets in May.
The answer, of course, lies with your friendly neighborhood veteran.
“Those men went through such hardships, and we need to thank them,” group member Janice Kennedy said.
Kennedy was working at Frye’s Sweeper and Sewing Center when she saw a flyer advertising the Centre Hall contingent of the Quilts of Valor Foundation, a national effort to recognize those who have served with a lasting — and washable— symbol of gratitude.
Since joining the group almost two years ago, Kennedy reckons that she has completed three quilts of her own and contributed to many more.
“Some quilts there’ll be six of us working on one quilt top,” Kennedy said.
Helping to keep it all organized is Carolyn Foust, who brought the concept back to Centre Hall after encountering a few Quilts of Valor members during a trip to South Carolina.
Some of the World War II guys, their stories are amazing because they’ve been in battles you’ve only read about in history books.
Foust has deep ties to the military. Her husband was drafted straight out of Penn State, and the couple spent some time stationed in Germany during the Vietnam War. Their son-in-law has since gone on to complete two tours in Iraq and another in Afghanistan.
Altogether those experiences have provided for a multigenerational perspective of the sacrifices that have been made by both veterans and their families.
“Some of the World War II guys, their stories are amazing because they’ve been in battles you’ve only read about in history books,” Foust said.
Not all of them returned to a hero’s embrace.
Way spent a year in Vietnam before experiencing a homecoming so vitriolic that he changed out of his military uniform in Seattle before continuing his trek back east.
“We were called baby killers and all that stuff,” Way said.
He received his quilt alongside three other members of the Centre Hall American Legion, as well as a few kind words about a legacy that has become permanently intertwined with that of the country he served.
“It was very touching, very moving,” Way said.