This was a night I will always remember for so many reasons. We had band practice all day and I mean, all day. I thought my lips would fall off. Debbie and Flo stayed back at the hotel so they could get the quilts ready and hidden for presentation since all the band would be at practice. That was our first mistake. One member was sick and one member was late and kept wandering the halls so it took longer before they could get going.
The plan was they would drive the quilts to the back door, load them on a luggage rack and get them inside. First, the quilts fell off the rack – good thing they were all in plastic bags. Then, you know how Debbie and luggage racks don’t get along? The rack got loose, Debbie fell on the curb and the rack hit her in the head. Now I’m at practice 5 miles away. We had just taken a break and the Director says, “Gail Belmont, front and center.” I’m thinking, OMG, what did I do. She tells me that she wants me to do an interview for the TV station and to get the girls to come back with the quilt. Now I know they are stressed trying to get the quilts out and I didn’t know about the mishap, so I phoned Flo and told her I needed them here by 10:45. It’s not good to get Flo excited like that and she said real serious, “Are you kidding? Do you know what I’m going through over here?” She goes on about it not being an easy job and a few other things, and I’m pretty much in SGT mode by this time and was back in the Army again, so I calmly say, “you can make it back here, right?” She answered me with, “Yes we will. I gotta go. Bye” I was like, dang, what a mess. They are supposed to have an easy morning and I’m going on TV and look like a truck ran over me. My allergies kicked up in good old Alabama and my lip was red from practice. Oh, and the Chapel was like 50 degrees – the air conditioner never stopped. Needless to say, our Thursday morning started off like a top of elephants. The girls got there in time, I did the interview, and we had a good southern lunch.
We practiced all afternoon and then the trumpets had to stay afterwards to practice fanfare and taps. We barely got ready for dinner and the ceremony. All three of us got our blue dress shirts on and off we went to dinner.
Now the plan was, we would give out the first 6 quilts then go down to the office where the quilts were stashed and covered with blue sheets tied onto the luggage rack, and roll them into the room which I thought was pretty cool.
The First SGT called me up to present the quilts. First was to one of our band Directors who had 42 years active duty. You can see the expression on her face and yes she cried. Then I called two of our guys who help us. One is a Vietnam veterans and Stan the Man who helps us with equipment every reunion and on concert night with the podium. Both men were totally overwhelmed and cried and hugged me. They the band’s special honorary member, Kay, who has done our food every reunion – she cried and was overwhelmed. I was batting 100% with tears. I also presented Command Sergeant Major Denise Shelton her quilt after returning from Iraq. Then came one of my special ones – to the First Sgt. She had no idea and she even asked Flo who the quilt was for. She totally went crazy and it was Carl’s attic window QOH.
Before they rolled the cart into the room, I told them that I don’t normally present quilts to non-combat veterans but I knew so many in that room had experiences that they never talked about and that they were my sisters and each one would be receiving a quilt. There were gasps in the room and some tears started flowing. I explained that we would do 5 at a time and that their name would be called. I can still see so many of their faces, the warmth in their eyes as they shook my hand; some kissed me and some hugged me. Some said they couldn’t believe this was happening. The ones I knew more you could see their buttons were ready to pop. When I told them to unfold their quilts and they saw the instruments and the patterns, they were amazed. So many comments – “how did they do that?” “look at that!” I must say my band has never been a quiet bunch but at times you could hear a pin drop. Those who received their quilts went out into the hallway and one of the ladies took pictures with their quilts.
I explained to them all that I felt my QOH family went out of the box for them and I hope they took the time to tell them. You can already find thank you’s on Facebook. I know when they get home and family and friends see their quilts, it will be special again.
When we finished, I was surprised when Flo and Debbie and my First Sgt. presented me with my quilt that they had snuck from California. I had once mentioned that I wished I could get my quilt with my sisters and brother. I told the ladies not to get jealous when I showed it. They laughed and clapped and loved it, too. I was also awarded a picture frame with a special quilt saying that they made me read out loud to the group.
We made a ton of money on the auction and they were really bidding on the raffle quilt. The Director called Debbie and Flo up front and they were presented with challenge coins. They also got their picture taken just like the band members and both of them and Quilts of Honor are now honorary members of the 14th Women’s Army Corps Band.
I couldn’t write Thursday night as it was so late but it was one of the most special nights in my life. I’m so proud of all my QOH family. The work you continue to do is truly a gift from God.
I will close with – one of the band members came up to me and said, “You know I saw the Statue of Liberty and got to go inside and it’s very special to me. How did you know only one other person knew that my quilt had the Statue of Liberty all over it.” I told her God knew and he helps me with that.
I will write more about the concert and the quilts. We are landing soon – almost home.
Women’s Army Corps Band 69-72