Friday, January 22, 2021

Neighbor to Neighbor: Stitches of Appreciation

Quilts of Valor

George Baney, a Vietnam War veteran who served in the Air Force for 21 years, had seen fellow military veterans become emotional when they received quilts from Happy Valley Quilts of Valor. His wife, Gloria, is a member of the group, and the members volunteer to sew quilts that are presented to veterans who are nominated through a national organization.

George Baney could see the appreciation on their faces and in their eyes as the members draped quilts around them at ceremonies over the years.

This past August, in a gazebo at the Centre Hall Lions Club, it was Baney’s turn to be honored for his service.

“It means a lot to me for the simple fact that I know how much love has gone into it,” says Baney, who served from 1969-1990 with a tour in Vietnam from 1970-1971. “I do appreciate the amount of work the ladies put into quilts for veterans. It’s amazing the work they dedicate to it.”

Almost 500 veterans like Baney have received a quilt from Happy Valley Quilts of Valor since 2015, when Centre Hall residents Carolyn Foust and her husband, Stephen, formed the local group of the national Quilts of Valor Foundation. Their mission: honor local veterans and bring comfort and healing to them, she says.

The group has expanded from its small beginnings of monthly sewing days during which members gathered at the Fousts’ home. The membership outgrew her house, and the group of 80 now meet at the Centre Hall Lions Club. Even as the COVID-19 pandemic limited the members’ ability to meet for sewing days, they have carried on, with members sewing at home and holding socially distant presentation ceremonies, like that for Baney.

In 2019, the group honored 176 veterans with quilts, and in 2020, they still managed to honor 82 veterans.

“Military service is well respected in my family – revered, actually,” says Foust, who has a long line of family members who have served in the military, including her husband, father, father-in-law, brother, and a grandson. “We founded this organization as a way to give back and honor so many veterans for their service and sacrifice. It has been an incredibly rewarding experience for us.”

Quilts are stitched with red, white, blue, and gold patches. They’re meant to be used as lap quilts, typically measuring 80-inches-by-60-inches.

Foust says community donations from individuals, businesses, and organizations make it possible to buy the fabric. The group’s members complete all the quilting themselves – from cutting the patches to sewing the patchwork together, sandwiching the quilt top, the batting and the backing, and finishing it off by stitching the layers, then binding the edges. She estimates a quilt takes 10-15 hours of work to complete and the materials cost $250, even with donated fabrics.

‘Doing my little bit’ 

Baney signed up for the Air Force in January 1969, after graduating from Bellefonte High School in 1968. After basic training, he went to Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas and then to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland.

From Andrews, he was sent to Phan Rang Air Base in southern Vietnam for what was 363 days over 1970-1971. He worked on C-123s, a cargo aircraft that also sprayed Agent Orange.

Baney says his tour in Vietnam was “by no means as rough as the Marines or the Army had.” A close call, he says, was when the Vietnamese military fired a rocket that narrowly missed his barracks, though he was working on a flight line at the time. His roommate, with whom he alternated shifts, slept through it.

“I was proud that I was able to serve the country by doing my little bit,” Baney says. 

After Vietnam, he returned to Andrews, where he worked as a crew chief, a flight mechanic, and in his last three years there, in maintenance control for the presidential squadron at the base.

From Andrews, Baney went to Plattsburgh Air Force Base in New York. He was the non-commissioned officer in charge for the administrative section of the squadron.

He retired from the Air Force in 1990 and returned to Centre County. He went on to work for the U.S. Postal Service in Bellefonte, first as a carrier and then the head window clerk. When he retired from the Postal Service in 2012, he had served in the federal government for 42 years.

‘I get goosebumps every time’

Foust says Vietnam veterans like Baney are the ones most touched by the quilts, because of how badly they were treated by the public when they got back to the U.S. in the 1970s. 

“It’s not uncommon for us to see guys break down and cry,” she says. “It’s a very touching ceremony. I get goosebumps every time.”

Gloria Baney says she wanted to honor her husband after having seen numerous presentations. She says he picked his colors and the design. 

That day in August, the Quilts of Valor group presented quilts to Baney and 21 other veterans in two socially distanced ceremonies.

“It was very exciting to see everybody there and all of the veterans,” Gloria Baney says. “They would give all their stories, what they did in the military, how long they were there. It’s very heartwarming to hear.”

George Baney says a Korean War veteran was near him when they took a group photo. “I told him how privileged I felt,” he says.

While the pandemic has slowed down Happy Valley Quilts of Valor members’ ability to present the quilts, Foust says it hasn’t slowed down the group’s productivity. There are 25 veterans with quilts in the works, she says. And the 500th veteran to be recognized could occur later this month.

“Every stitch is just a way for our members to say how much they appreciate each veteran’s service and sacrifice,” Foust says.

Veterans can be nominated to receive a quilt through the Quilts of Valor Foundation website, qovf.org.