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Travelling military quilt returns

JBLM soldiers were guardians of quilt since 2010

Photo by Corinne Lincoln-Pinheiro

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You could hear a pin drop as one Vietnam veteran removed his glasses and wiped tears away. Across the room, a Pearl Harbor survivor's hands shook. Women dressed in turquoise blue skirt suits - members of the Ladies Auxiliary, bowed respectfully as they lined the walls of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 4884, in Spiro, Okla.

The significance of that moment Aug. 11, 2013, wasn't lost on the 150 in attendance as Joint Base Lewis-McChord's (JBLM) Spc. Niomi Wright of the 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team (SBCT), 2nd Infantry Division, handed the travelling quilt to the post commander - the military quilt has finally returned to its rightful home.

It all began when Spiro resident and retired King County Detective Sgt. Keith May won the quilt at the VFW's raffle; he knew it didn't belong in a box. In Dec. 2010, May contacted friend and former JBLM Soldier, MSG Carl Pinheiro of 3-2 SBCT. The idea: send the quilt to a Soldier overseas with instructions that before their tour ended, they'd pass it on to another servicemember. The hope being that as the war ended, a soldier would return it for enshrinement at the post. Wright was that soldier; she returned from Afghanistan spring of 2013.

"It's exciting for me because I got to be part of something that brought strangers together," said Wright. "We are now connected through our experiences with the quilt and I couldn't be more proud. It's quite satisfying to present it back to the VFW on behalf of (us) guardians."

What began as a simple idea became a story that is now chronicled in a journal that will stay with the quilt. Stars and Hero - The Voyage of the Travelling Quilt: A Story about Honor, Sacrifice, Love and the Symbolism of a Small Gesture, is a record of the guardians' experiences through emails. It reflects their pain, sacrifice, and loss, and journals their dreams, hopes, love and immense pride.           

"I thank you for your support and for this wonderful quilt," wrote the quilt's first guardian, Army SGM Aldo Galeana while deployed in Afghanistan in 2010. "It means so much to me."

Navy PO Steven Foran, the second guardian, agreed. "I must say there's nothing like American-made to keep you warm at night," he wrote in 2011; he too was stationed in Afghanistan.

For former JBLM soldier and Army SFC Enicka Williams, it was all about upholding tradition.

"‘Stars' is keeping me warm at night," she wrote in 2012 to May. "What's so special about this (quilt) - is it's carrying on a tradition ... and now I get to personally partake in one, thank you."

By the end of her tour, tradition had changed into something else.

"When I (first) got (Stars) it was a blanket but today (it) represents so much more," Williams wrote. "She is a symbol that shows that there are people in our country who get it. They get what we do. So thank you again. For everything."

Williams first named the quilt Stars and later Wright renamed it Hero and dubbed it male, hence the journal's title.

"An idea is just a wish or dream," May said, "that just lies on the floor and collects dusts if no one cares."

And May cared much for the quilt's guardians who lost parents, friends and comrades while deployed. He too suffered debilitating injuries when as a pedestrian an automobile struck him. He continued to write and send care packages to the guardians.

The true significance of sending the quilt overseas to a total stranger wasn't about keeping them warm, though. The quilt represented hope. For each guardian, knowing that someone cared was the richest source of that hope, and the guests of Post 4884 knew they had witnessed that covenant with its return.

"It makes me warm and fuzzy inside," said Fran Lindenau, the quilt's maker. "I'm thankful that I had even a small part to play in this. It's great to see it come full circle."

Dignitaries included the state's representative, senator's aid, retired veterans from all branches of the Armed Forces, other post commanders, and senior state leaders of the VFW and women's auxiliary, among others.

Photo: Retired King County Detective, left, and quilt winner Sgt. Keith May, his wife, Gwendolyn May, former JBLM soldier MSG Carl Pinheiro (now stationed at Ft. Hood, TX) and JBLM Army Spc. Niomi Wright of 4-2 SBCT as she holds the travelling quilt before the enshrinement ceremony at VFW Post 4884, Spiro, Okla., Aug 11, 2013.

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