Local vets comforted by donation of quilts

Three local veterans were honored with “Quilts of Valor” by the Helping Hands Quilt Guild on Monday. From left are Lawrence Gant of Dover, David Van Kavelaar of Wyoming and Thomas Vella of Camden. (Special to the Delaware State News/Ariane Mueller)

DOVER — Three local Vietnam War veterans received a heartwarming acknowledgment of their service to country Monday afternoon, and emotions ran high.

U.S. Air Force retiree Lawrence Gant choked up when describing the impact of receiving a “Quilt of Valor,” recognizing his 24-year military career.

“It’s a great honor to all the veterans, and I never anticipated getting anything like this,” the Dover resident explained.

“I had seen the church put it out in their messenger and knew of different people who had received it in the past, but I never anticipated receiving it.”

The 10-minute ceremony at the Wyoming United Methodist Church continued to further the Quilts of Valor Foundation’s mission statement: “to cover service members and veterans touched by war with comforting and healing Quilts of Valor.”

Members of the Dover-based Helping Hands Quilt Guild stitched the blankets for the organization’s sixth annual presentation to veterans.

Combat veteran and former U.S. Marine Corps infantryman and lance corporal, David Van Kavelaar of Wyoming, said that “to be remembered for your military service is all anyone can ask.”

“The Helping Hands Quilt Guild, I’d never heard of it but am glad they exist, and I know it makes all of us proud to receive this,” he added.

When winter arrives, Mr. Van Kavelaar said he will appreciate the gift even more.

“It’s warm right now. We’ll surely have a place for it,” he said, as he sat draped in his quilt.

U.S. Navy veteran Thomas Vella of Camden, an ex-seaman who served two years in the Boatswain Division and two years in the reserves, was the third recipient. He was also noted for decorations including a National Defense Service Medal, a Good Conduct Medal, a Bronze Star for service in Vietnam and the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal.

“I’m just a guy who went into the service, did my duty and got out, so to win this was nothing I ever could have expected,” he said.

Mr. Van Kavelaar earned a Purple Heart, a Combat Action Ribbon, a National Defense Service Medal, a Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry, a Vietnam Civil Action Medal, a Vietnam Campaign Medal, a Vietnam Service Medal and the Marksmanship Medal.

A senior master sergeant serving as an aircraft instrument craftsman, Mr. Gant earned a Meritorious Service Medal, an Air Force Commendation Medal, an Air Force Good Conduct Medal, a National Defense Service Medal, a Vietnam Service Medal and a Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal.

Fashioning the quilts required a group effort among Helping Hand Quilt Guild members, many of whom were not present at the awards due to COVID-19 concerns, organization president Mary Kokoszka said.

Helping Hands Quilt Guild President Mary Kokoszka gives her opening remarks at the ceremony Monday. (Special to the Delaware State News/Ariane Mueller)

Ms. Kokoszka described the members as having “unselfishly donated their time, talents, fabrics, battings, backings, bindings and labels for the making of the quilts each of our honored guests will receive tonight.”

The presentation was a special affair, with members able to put a recipient’s face to the quilt. Previously completed quilts had been sent to the Serendipity quilt shop in Dagsboro, where they were shipped to a regional or national collection point.

“The members of our guild never knew where our quilts went or who was awarded the quilts we made,” she said.

“We decided, as a group, to award our quilts locally, so we get the chance to meet the recipients, and they get the chance to meet the ladies who worked so hard to make their quilt.”

The Quilts of Valor Foundation was launched by Seaford resident Catherine Roberts in 2003 and has expanded to more than 10,000 members nationwide, who have created more than 257,000 quilts. More information is available online at qovf.org.

Prior to the quilt presentations, Ms. Kokoszka retold the story of Ms. Roberts’ reported inspiration for the project, which began with a dream of a veteran “sitting on the side of his bed in the middle of the night, hunched over.”

“She could see his war demons clustered around him, dragging him down into an emotional gutter of utter despair. Then, as if viewing a movie, in the next scene, he was wrapped in a quilt. His whole demeanor had changed from one of despair to one of hope and well-being,” Ms. Kokoszka said.

“The quilt had made this dramatic difference. The message was clear — quilts equal healing.”

The Helping Hands Quilt Guild also contributes its creations to needy children and adults, as well as pillowcases for hospitalized children, face masks and many other fiber arts-related service projects made by volunteers, according to a news release promoting this week’s awards ceremony.

More information on the Helping Hands Quilt Guild is available at helpinghandsquiltguild.com.