Did you ever have that day when you thought, that was some day, and you were so glad you went the extra mile to make it happen? That’s what Saturday was like.
Flo, Rue and I started our day driving to Exeter, CA. Never even knew about this little town about 3 ½ hours’ drive from Valley Springs. We saw tons of fruit trees all blooming and citrus trees with fruit still on them. We arrived at the same time as one of our recipients. As we opened the door to the Hall, we saw we would have to climb up about 75 stairs straight up. That thrilled all us ladies. We were told that the building had been in the Masonic Lodge for 89 years. They had just redone much of it but hadn’t gotten the chair elevator working. So, up we went complaining all the way. It was very beautiful – big columns and murals on the walls. They told us the town of Exeter had over 200 Murals on walls in town.
We met Jeanette and Warren Croft – they were the connection to the Lodge. Jeanette volunteers once a week in the shop answering phones for QOH. We all sat down at the same table and Karen, our women veteran, asked what everyone was doing here. Her daughter had told her she was taking her to lunch. I coolly told her I didn’t know and that I was told to come, also just part of the lie. We talked about our service but I never said anything about Quilts of Honor. We had a potluck lunch made by a Filipino lady who was honoring our other quilt recipient who we were also surprising.
After lunch we went into the Temple area and Dale, our Master of Ceremonies, told Karen (Vietnam veteran) and myself to sit up on the thrones. Karen is like, oh no, I came here for lunch and now your making me sit up here. She asked me again what was going on. I told her that they asked us two women veterans up to honor us or something like that. She said, “I don’t like this. I don’t like being in front of people.” About that time Dale said, “Gail, the floor is all yours.” Gotta say, it was pretty cool up on the throne.
I started by telling who I was and before I gave some background, I needed to calm my fellow veteran down as she was getting anxious. (I forgot to tell you, as we sat down at lunch Karen told us her mother had passed away Friday night so she was still in shock.) I immediately had her stand and presented the quilt. She was definitely in shock. I told her not to be upset with her daughter as she was so good in surprising her and getting her there. Later she said that between her Mom passing and receiving the quilt, she was overwhelmed but thankful for her quilt. She had been through a ton in Vietnam and is a disabled veteran now but has never had an honor like this. As she stood up, she told how most people don’t believe her when she says she was in Vietnam. I have to say we found Karen because Linda, one of our QOH volunteers from the Sacramento area saw a new clip about her and she wanted Karen to get a quilt. Linda did all the background work to find her and get the daughter to surprise her. We told Karen that Linda made the quilt and she went the extra mile to find her. Karen was thankful and I know she will treasure her quilt.
Then I told everyone a little about Quilt of Honor and that we were there to honor another Army WWII veteran and POW, Ben. Holy cow, this guy is 90 plus years old and his story is truly amazing. He lied when he entered the service at 15 years of age, was captured and a POW for 5 years. When he came out he was 57 lbs. then he went back into the Army. All his family was present to surprise him because they knew he was to be honored. We had the presentation late as Ben has his wife in a home and everyday he goes to see her and doesn’t leave until she doesn’t know him. What dedication and truly an honor to shake this veteran’s hand. He also speaks 5 languages and spoke to his Filipino friends and family thanking them. His son had come from Las Vegas and got up and spoke of how proud he was of his did. His dad said no better accolades than those your children can give you. Ben also asked all veterans to stand – there were quite a few in that room and I bet we aren’t done with quilts for this group.
Then came another good surprise. Dale, our Master of Ceremonies, was an Army Korean veteran. We had brought an extra quilt so I called Dale up and he was truly surprised. He said he didn’t know anything about it. I told him we were pretty cool in how we find things out. His wife and daughter were present and got to be a part of his honor.
Then came my turn – I was to get a surprise. Years ago I met Dale and he had played taps years before and he had told me his story and that he still had his horn. I remember telling him that I bet it was worth something since it was pretty old and that I would like to see it someday. Dale had asked his family if he could give me his horn and his daughter was like, yeah! She told me he used to play wakeup call when they were kids. His wife said she was so glad it was going to someone who appreciates it. I will always remember the Armstrong family for such a beautiful gift. I started polishing it as soon as I got home and played it. Such a beautiful gift.
So, why did we make it to Exeter? Originally it was to surprise me with the horn but Quilts of Honor got to honor three very deserving veterans, all heroes in my eyes. The Masonic Brotherhood also was great to see – they were there for each other and enjoying their brothers receiving honors, big hugs, and handshakes.
I want to thank Jeanette, Warren, and Dale for the big surprise and setting this all up and Linda for going the extra mile to find Karen. It was a day to remember for all. The experiences we have with Quilts of Honor are truly one of a kind, just like the quilts and each time they are God’s blessings.
Until our next trip
God bless
Gail