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December Giving

I have said so often that we are like Christmas all year because what we give is so meaningful. From November 17th, the night we awarded to the NAMPOWS (prisoners of war from Vietnam), it seems each time we go to do something involving Quilts of Honor, we receive another blessing.

This past week we went to Dignity Alcove, a rehabilitation center for homeless veterans. This is our second year to award quilts there. Native Daughters of the Golden West have been helping the guys at Christmas. They decorate a tree, set up bingo, and cater a special lunch to bring a little of Christmas to them. Roberta Taylor, a Gold Star mom, had asked me to help so I told her if the guys complete the program, we would award them a quilt. The program is approved by the VA and each week they inspect the facility. There are 40 beds and the veterans can stay up to 2 years.

We went to lunch first and as we were eating our lunch I struck up a conversation with a Marine who had been homeless for 4 years. As we talked, the tears rolled down his face and I thought to myself how hard it was for him to ask for help. As we got ready to move I said, “Remember you’re a Marine; you can do anything.” He said “yes I can.” I felt good talking to him but it also made me realize that there are veterans everywhere who need our help in so many ways. We then went to award our quilts. The first one, Ralph, you can see his smile tells it all. Then came Julian who they had to go find but he was thrilled once he saw what he received. It was a good day and we felt like we are making a difference in their lives by showing them someone does care.

So, do we reach our veterans? I would say we do a pretty good job of finding those in need from homeless veterans to prisoners of war.

On Sunday Flo and I were asked to come to Delta A’s Car Club. They wanted me to speak about our trip to New Orleans and the NAMPOWS. The last 2 years we have given quilts to veterans in the club. They drive these cool Model-A cars and dress in the era. They have a Christmas brunch and it includes prime rib for breakfast – I just love it. This time Cyndy, our videographer, helped me and we showed the short video of what she had made from our trip. Everyone seemed to enjoy the presentation. They all chipped in donations then they voted Flo and I into the Delta A’s as members. We laughed and said we didn’t even have a car. They replied that it wasn’t a problem. So what a week already. We headed home, I walk in the door telling mom all about what happened at Delta A’s and she said, “OMG, now you’re going to buy one of those cars, I just know it.” Don’t you just love what your moms can come out with?

It has been a great year for Quilts of Honor. We never really know what a day may bring but it thrills our hearts to see how many we make happy with our Quilts.

May you all be blessed this holiday season with happy memories and loving friends and family. I know I am blessed to have each of you in my life. Thank you for being part of our Quilts of Honor Family.

God bless you and your family and Merry Christmas,
Gail

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Most of you out there were not aware that for the last year, we have been planning to honor the prisoners of war who were held captive at the Vietnam Hanoi Hilton and the Son Tay Raiders, a special Army Ranger group who tried to rescue the prisoners. It would be a surprise at their Reunion. When I was approached about doing this, my first question is always how many veterans – that wasn’t what I said. My first words were, “We would be honored.” I did explain to them that I would have to have all of their names as each quilt would be made for them. My contact, Joe Milligan, was perfect. He fed me the names and bios and then the work began.

When the bios started coming in, we would read them all and just be in ah at the time each one had spent in captivity. Every time I would tell someone what we were doing they would say that it gave them chills.

Every quilt to me needed to be our best work and I basically pushed all of our volunteers to do their best even though they do good all the time. I felt that they needed that extra special quilt. Often my heart hurt thinking about what they had been through. Our QOH group went out of the box and the quilts were truly one of a kind beautiful. We shipped the quilts two weeks in advance to be sure that they got to New Orleans.

The afternoon of the event we arrived early so we could get the quilts into the banquet room without anyone noticing. Cyndy, who came along to record the event on video, got her equipment set up. We had brought a change of clothes so we could blend in at dinner. One hour before the event the lobby started filling with handsome gray haired men, most in suit jackets and women in beautiful gowns. We had a little room right off the ballroom that we could sit down and relax and wait. The problem was, most of us were nervous. We had been warned that these men were different, very private and they liked just getting together, no outsiders, so we were like, oh no, this could go belly up.

When it was time for dinner, we sat in the back of the room all together as to not bring notice. We had southern food for dinner – glazed pork chop, sweet potatoes and greens and for desert a choice of bread pudding or pecan pie. Dinner went smoothly and one by one the crew slipped out to change. Then came Bob to bring me up to the front.

They had already warned me that there wasn’t a program so don’t speak or they would get bored and possibly leave the room. All of a sudden a calm came over me and I knew it would be alright. I began my little talk and luckily they stayed with me especially when I said you all out rank me in this room but I am going to play Sergeant tonight and they laughed. Carl went to the podium to call out the names, 5 POWs at a time in alpha order. When the first 5 came up they just seemed so happy. I had them unfold altogether and show the crowd. The room filled with gasps – “OMG look at those quilts,” and we were off and running. There were over 200 people in the room and so many were standing trying to see and yelling ‘look at that’. All had their phones out taking pictures. I darn near got trampled by some of the wives.

We had the quilts stacked in alpha order with the assembly line handing them to my brother Lou who would call out the name again and I would shake their hand as I went down the line. So many looked me straight in the eye, thanked me and I would reply that it is OUR honor. I’m thinking to myself, these men are heroes and I’m lucky enough to be in the same room let alone be hugged and kissed by them. It was so worth coming here and to be able to see these men, some frail, some strong, but the spirit they had was unbelievable. When we had given to the last veteran, Flo went out and got a quilt for Maryann, Joe’s wife, who had been an Air Force nurse in Vietnam – she had the strongest handshake.

The whole room was so crazy with noise. The crew gathered in front of the podium as the whole room clapped and yelled then they all started coming up in line hugging each one of us, shaking our hands, and thanking us. Some of the crew left the room they got so emotional. The whole time we were awarding quilts I didn’t see tears but when they walked away, the tears began. One lady said we made a 4 Star General cry like a baby.

When we got in the car I asked all 8 of be quiet until we got on the freeway. This crew can be one loud bunch. As soon as the car got on the freeway ramp, I said, “Ok guys, hit it, you can talk.” They all started at once telling me what they had heard, what people said to them. We shared so many stories and Cyndy, our photographer, was blown away. She said, “Gail, I’ve done many groups but the emotion was unbelievable. I had no idea. Thank you for asking me.” When we got back to the house, we all sat around the table and I asked them to please write down three things someone said to them or of something they experienced.

Carl wrote: ‘I can’t believe that you have done all of this for us.’ ‘What did we do to receive this gift?’ From a wife to Carl – ‘we have been to several of these POW reunions and this is the most wonderful thing that has been done for my husband and his comrades. The quilts are just beautiful and so meaningful. Thank you, thank you.’

Debbie wrote: ‘You came all the way from California to do this?’ ‘How did you find the cases? They are perfect.’ ‘This is the best thing that ever happened to me.’ Red vest lady – ‘this means the world to my husband.’

Flo wrote: ‘I can’t believe all the work you did.’ ‘This is the most wonderful gift I have ever received and I have received a lot but this is the most wonderful.’ Flo also wrote ‘we got hug after hug from the POWs and their wives. I heard OH’s and Ahs as each quilt came out. The crowd was so very enthusiastic; I’ve never seen a presentation become so excited.

Lou wrote: ‘No one has ever done anything like this for us. Thank you.’ ‘All these quilts are different and so beautiful. Thank you.’ The quilts are so beautiful and one of a kind; you can feel the love in each one.’ I know how much work goes into quilts and they are beautiful.’ ‘Can’t believe you did this.’

Toni wrote: ‘I will cherish this forever.’ ‘I can leave this for my children and grandchildren; it’s like an heirloom and his wife replied, treasured heirloom.’

Rita wrote: ‘You ladies are so amazing for what you did for our group. It is an honor to meet all of you and be able to thank you for your work.’ Rita said, imagine they were honored to meet us and it was us honored to meet them.

Wish I could tell you how much this means to me. I can’t thank you enough, tears rolling down his face and I got a big hug. Then a wife came running up to me and said those are amazing quilts, thank you but I gotta get back so I don’t miss any. I just want to see them all.

Among the POWs there was a Calaveras born local boy who graduated from Calaveras High. When he came up to me he said he couldn’t believe you all are from Valley Springs. We took pictures with him and I asked if we could send it to our local news. He said sure, you will put me on the map.

This was an experience of a lifetime for all who got to be a part of it. I hope through the pictures and video you will all feel a part of it. We could not have completed what we did without each one of you. To the long hours everyone put in, you all be proud – Quilts of Honor done good!

Miss Betty, they went nuts over the cases and kept asking how we did it. One guy even said he would have just loved the case and then we gave him a quilt that is over the top.

I know we will never forget the feeling in the room that night. One POW said he could feel the love in the quilt and could feel the love in the room.

I can’t thank the crew or our Quilts of Honor family enough for all your work you continued to do. You make me proud and I am blessed to be able to lead you. The crew will be glad to get home but I know they feel blessed to have been a part of such an honored event.

Stay tuned as we continue to heal one at a time. God bless,
Gail

 

 

Event Day

We decided to take it slow today and spent the morning enjoying the house and the view of the river. We all took our turns watching the birds. I happened out on the deck by myself and I heard what sounded like a water spout. When I looked out, there was a dolphin. I got so excited and yelled at everyone. Soon all of us were watching the water. Debbie, Flo and I went down onto the dock but Flo had to climb to the top of the ladder they use for big boats.

Then we decided to go for a ride. We had seen signs for Savage Bayou Wildlife Refuse so Carl, Debbie, Flo, Rita and myself all jumped in the car. Since we have been here, we stop often and talk to locals and we always find out good stuff. It was a nice little walk but not what we expected either. Rita and Debbie got me on a gravel frontage road – remember I’m driving the BIG NCIS car – and the road dead ends so I gotta made a u-turn with marsh on one side and lake on the other. Of course I did it – I used to drive a 5 ton wrecker in the Army but that was 40 years ago.

We dropped Carl off at the house – think he had enough of our side trips. We went across the bridge and stopped at a place called Crazy Bar. We all had to make a restroom stop – wait till you see the pictures of the bathroom. I almost died laughing. You stepped up to a cement platform the toilet was on and the door was a shower curtain. The painted pictures on the wall were a riot. What an experience! We started talking to the only 2 people in the bar and found out all kinds of things, so next time, we will be in the know.

We are now sitting in a room basically hiding from the NAMPOWS. We will go in for dinner, sit at a table together and change right after dinner.

All I can say about tonight is we are so blessed to be able to do this. You will see a few pictures but they are just a few to let you see a little of what we experienced. It was almost like pandemonium after the first 5 quilts came out. We all said we have never experienced anything like it – they were so appreciative of what we do. Cyndy took an awesome video of how the guys felt. She will be working it so we can all see some of it. Debbie was taking still shots and got some good pictures also. It took 8 of us to do or job – I am so proud of our QOH crew. They were absolutely on the money with getting the quilts in order so we could present. We actually did over 85 quilts in 40 minutes. I got more kisses and hugs more than ever. The crew is still amazed at what a night we had.

So, for tonight, God Bless you all. To all of our quilters and piecers back home, thank you for all you did to make this mission complete.

We will post more soon,
Gail

 

Day 4 – Day Tour

We woke up a little slower today. I looked out at the water – it was so calm and no winds. I got my coffee and soon I was out on the dock chasing an egret and a pelican trying to take a picture. I finally got one of the egrets, he was small but I got to get so close, I was so excited.

We were scheduled to be in town by 10:00 am to sort out Quilts and get ready for tomorrow (Friday). The staff at the Renaissance have been fantastic. They kept our quilts safe until we arrived and were able to unload them. The crew got right in and double checked names and pulled the quilts for the recipients who were not able to attend. In the end, we had a total of 84 quilts and we had brought extra just in case. So, we will need to ship home about 20 quilts and some extra stuff. We were all discussing if we should try and drag them in duffels or ship and how can we ship, and where is FedEx. I decided to go to the desk and ask where the nearest FedEx was. I was talking to the desk clerk when this young man walks up, looks at me and my shirt, and says, “I’m a veteran and all you do I’ll take are of this.” I asked what service and he replied Army Iraq veteran. I told him to come with me and so he could see what we had. We headed for the room that they had set up for us. As I walked in I announced to the crew that I had an Iraq veteran and they knew I was going to give him a quilt. We quickly grabbed a quilt and presented. His name was Bryan and as we talked to him he told us he had deployed three times to Iraq. We all said wow. Bryan couldn’t believe what he saw with all the quilts. He said he would take care of shipping and boxing them up and we were all thrilled – that took a load off getting them shipped home.

While we were working, the Renaissance had coffee and beignets made fresh so the crew brought some for all of us to eat while we worked. They were the best we had. It took us a while but we were organized soon and headed to the French Market in the French Quarter.

Now that was an interesting place but very clean down there and some interesting arts and crafts. Then we were off to find pralines since they make them here and of course we had one of each. Then we went to lunch at Monty’s Southern New Orleans Food – we all enjoyed it. Definitely different food but everything is fried – bet you could get clogged arteries living around here. The group then split up – some went to Harrah’s and we got on our favorite trolley car and went to the Garden District to see the mansions. They have broken brick sidewalks from big oak trees. The trees are beautiful. We saw Sandra Bullock’s house and John Goodman’s house. We jumped back on our trolley to head back to see the Christmas tree lighting in Jackson Square. We were riding the trolley back when all of a sudden it stopped and they told us to get out of the car and go to the next car – that was a lot of fun – it could only happen to us. We finally figured out that the trolley system and we’re about to go home.

We got to see the Christmas tree lighting New Orleans style. It was nice with music playing – can’t believe Christmas is almost here.

While riding the trolley, we did see two of our quilt recipients on the trolley – we could tell from their lanyards. If only they knew we would be honoring them the next night.

We finally got home, late again, and now are having a Board meeting. Will try to blog some tomorrow but it may be short. We will tell a little of how it went.

God bless and stay tuned . . . . . . . .
Gail

 

Day 3 – New Orleans

We started the day with breakfast made by Chef Carl as we all gathered around the table. We had a slow morning until my contact for our Event called and said he wanted to meet at 2:00 pm. So we loaded up our NCIS car and headed for town. We decided we had time to tour the Garden District so we parked the car and decided we would play real tourist and ride the streetcar. You buy a $3.00 ticket, ride all over, and get off where you need. We were lucky to arrive at the first stop where they were changing drivers so we made friends. His name is Terrance and he gave us the scoop but guess what, we didn’t get it. We rode down the line to the Garden District which took so long we only had like 15 minutes to walk around, got back on the car and rode back to make our meeting. We said, well that was nice – at least we were sitting down and not walking. Carl and Rita took a cemetery tour and met us back for the meeting.

We got to meet up with our contact and met the staff of the hotel. We went over our list so everyone was on the right page. We met the President and so far, there are only two people that we know of that know what we are doing. We did present one quilt today to the head of Military Planning Reunions. He was very surprised and really liked it. I will tell you to keep on quilting. We have been requested to do some awesome work.

We were at our meeting longer than expected and when we finished, we were all starving. We had dinner at Mulate’s, southern food – fish, yuk. Thank God they had hamburger steak which me and brother Lou had. It was a good place. Then we decide to go to Pat O’Brien’s so the gang could get the famous blue drink so back to the train we go but we couldn’t catch it. Everyone was almost running when Debbie gets to the car and the driver looks out and stops. Guess who it was – our Terrance. He opened the doors and said there are my peoples – boy was he happy. We ride down until our street came up, got off and heard some great music. The place we were going was just too far and I couldn’t walk it so Debbie, Flo and I got back on the train and headed back to the car. Boy we saw about 4 blocks of light, music and crazy people. It was something.

I am writing this sitting in the NCIS car waiting for the last of the crew to get their butts in the car. We have an appointment tomorrow with the group and hopefully we will see New Orleans. So here is the injury report – Lou has blisters on his feet and Debbie has spurs on hers – the walking is taking a toll on us old folks.

We started home and we had 8 motorcycles fly by us at 80 miles an hour – scared the heck out of us and not two seconds later we stop dead – red light and sirens everywhere then smoke. We drove through it after a 10 minute wait. The smoke was so bad we had to cover our mouths.

Now it’s 9:40pm and they are in Wally World again – hope we get home tonight safe and sound.

But, our night wasn’t over. We left Wally World to come home, got in the house and we headed to the kitchen to have ice cream. As I went to the sink to wash my hands, out comes the biggest moving bug. I screamed and Rita and Debbie came over to see why I’m screaming and then they screamed. Then, around the corner comes Toni screaming. Now you have 4 screaming women and one big bug. Rita had to take a picture and Debbie just stayed in place, not even a flinch. To the rescue comes Brother Lou – he kills the bug, puts it down the disposal and it splashes in his face. Oh boy, what a night.

We are excited to finally get close to our event so stay tuned . . . . . .

God bless and prayers to all at home,
Gail

Today I decided to go off course. When I found out my Army Band Director was one and a half hours away, I asked the crew what they all wanted to do. Carl, Debbie, Flo and Rita all said they wanted to go with me so we jumped in the car and off we went.

Our house has a beautiful view and we had looked at the bridge but we had never crossed it. Well, today our drive took us left across the bridge towards Gulfport, Mississippi. We got to see houses on these huge columns and water everywhere. As we were driving we saw a sign that said Swamp Tours. We all said we would stop there on our way back. The drive was beautiful but one thing about Louisiana – the signs for streets just aren’t anywhere. Thank God for GPS and no U-turns again today.

We got to Gulfport and the first thing we see is the beach and white sand. We were all happy. We pulled into the Armed Forces Retirement Center, got our badges and headed to meet Diana, a Navy veteran sister who is friends with Bernice Goldstein known to us band members as Goldie. I was excited to see her as I knew I was coming for all our sisters who couldn’t go and visit. Our Women’s Army Band has a very strong bond and when one is sick we all care. She told me she was trying to get strong because she wants to come and direct the band even if it’s a little. She raised her arms to show me she could direct.

We talked about Quilts of Honor and she was so happy to meet the QOH crew. She kept thanking us for what we do. When it was time to go, we took many pictures. She is so frail and it did make me cry when we walked away which I never do but Goldie is a fighter – she has that Army spirit just like her band. The whole crew walked up to her, took her hand and said what an honor it was to meet her. Goldie replied, “I’m honored to meet you.” We all said what a gift we got to be able to do this.

The Armed Forces Retirement Center was beautiful. I can’t say enough how big and clean it was. They have a park, beach, walking trail and a chapel and their own exchange. It was amazing. The sad thing is that there are 501 veterans who live there, both men and women. They don’t have any organizations making them lap quilts, wheelchair bags or anything homemade. Many don’t even get visitors. One veteran was on a walker with a seat and he had a stash of candy. He handed it out to all the ladies as we walked by but wouldn’t give one to Carl.

We drove out of there right across the road to the beach. The girls had to put their feet in the water and walk in the sand. Carl and I were the smart ones – we left our shoes on. Carl found the shell of a stingray and was scaring Flo with it. Rita had to be the first one in the water. Sometimes it’s like I have 6 kids but it’s always fun and never a dull moment. The sand was so white, the water wasn’t very clear and the girls said it was cold. There wasn’t anyone on the beach – if it was California, it would be packed.

We left there and decided to go do the Swamp Tour. It was so great! We saw wild boar, alligators, egrets, gray heron, turtles and raccoons. The bayou was beautiful and seeing homes on the water was really cool. The swamp was spooky but fun and our guide, Jules, was cool and let us take many pictures. Rita had to have a picture with an alligator and she went the extra mile and got down to the alligator’s level. Now if I would have done that, I couldn’t have gotten back up. It was a great funny photo.

We ended our day at Wally World for toilet paper – pretty critical when you run out with 8 people and 5 bathrooms. We had dinner and as I write this, they are all around the table talking and laughing and telling about their day.

I will say an extra prayer tonight for those close to my heart that they know I am thinking of you. We will be in New Orleans tomorrow and am sure we will have more adventures so stay tuned. . . . . . . .

God bless,
Gail

New Orleans – Day One

Today we all decided to go to the WWII Museum. We wanted to know more about the history of our WWII veterans. We started down our long road to town – we are on Venetian Island in a Big house with 5 bedrooms and 5 bathrooms. There are 8 of us staying here and boy do we have the stories. Last night we were all trying to get to bed as we had been up since 3:00am when I hear commotion in the kitchen. Tony is screaming and Carl is beating on something. I walk over and look and there is the biggest cockroach I ever saw. Of course I said something and here comes Rita and she screams. Finally Carl puts the bug down the garbage disposal which made Debbie scream, “Why did you kill it in the kitchen – we eat there.” Poor Carl, he couldn’t win and here he was the savior. Then, this morning everyone is coming out of their rooms and one says my shower was cold so I took a spit bath and another one says she only had a stream of water. I’m thinking it’s going to be a long week.

When you travel with me I’ve always said, when it’s time to go you had better be in the car or I’m leaving and I always give them the time we’re leaving. This morning the time was 8:00 am. We get to our NCIS car and there are 8 of us so we are full up but I’m missing one – Cyndy. She said she was upstairs, came out and everyone was gone – you don’t fool around when you give a time and everyone laughed – that’s how it is with Gail.

We finally got into New Orleans through the French Quarter, which really wasn’t the route, but we finally got to the WWII Museum with no u-turns. Everyone enjoyed the Museum. You can’t see it all in one day – there are 4 huge buildings – we only saw 1 ½.

We walked for miles around the French Quarter and only saw a little of it. First stop was for beignets and coffee where Rita picked up on a waiter and they got engaged – that was quite interesting. The picture shows we all enjoyed them – Rita had powder everywhere and Debbie had it all over her face and shirt. You can’t take us anywhere.

We sat down on a bench to rest when a gorilla came up to us and decided to play, take pictures and swing his butt at us. They have some crazy people around here. We even saw a poodle painted three colors with pompoms. Then we went for a carriage ride all through the French Quarter. It was fun except when the horse gave us whiplash on the stop and go. We saw the most beautiful Catholic Church, the oldest in the United States. We decided we would stay until dinner and walk the riverfront but lord it was a long way. We are old and our feet, knees, and backs were dead tired by the time we got to the riverfront. Our laugh for the evening was Rita with the butt bin in the park. We made it back home in time to start our Board meeting working on Quilts of Honor Business which we all enjoy.

It has been nice to have Cyndy along. She has gotten some great photos of us and doesn’t miss much. You never know what kind of picture you might see so we better look out. We have laughed until we cried at the stupidest things but we all love each other and enjoy what QOH does.

Enjoy – until tomorrow – God bless

Gail