A former Fort Hood soldier and combat veteran received a well-deserved honor Tuesday when he was presented with a Quilt of Valor during a Harker Heights ceremony.
Leon Gunera, a veteran of the “Black Sunday” battle on April 4, 2004 in Sadr City, Iraq, was presented the quilt by local quilters Laura Winckel of Harker Heights and Emily Judkins, both of Quilters With a Heart.
Gunera was a tank gunner during that particular deployment.
“It’s pretty special — just the fact that there are people we don’t know personally who will go out of their way for us,” said Gunera, who now lives in Liberty Hill, about 45 miles south of Killeen. “Receiving something that will probably last me a lifetime ... I’m really appreciative of it.”
Winckel and other quilters produce the Quilts of Valor in a workshop behind Winckel’s Harker Heights home.
On the day of the battle, the soldiers of 1st Cavalry Division’s 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment came under ferocious enemy fire in Sadr City. That fateful day would become known as Black Sunday by the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division unit, which ended with the deaths of eight soldiers and 60 injured — the largest casualty count in a single day for the “First Team” division since the Vietnam War.
The attack began that day when a platoon from 2-5’s Charlie Company was ambushed. The platoon called for support and troops from B Company, 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment — a tank company which was incorporated into 2-5 — joined troops from 1st Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment and units from the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment — the unit 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment was replacing — responded with a quick reaction force.
“All I remember is it started out as a pretty normal day,” said Gunera, who now works for the U.S. Postal Service delivering mail in Austin. “Next thing I know, I just hear chaos and I run to the gate. I see vehicles driving in with people injured ... blood pouring from the backs of the trucks because there were soldiers in them, all shot up.”
Gunera said that everyone’s training kicked in, everyone knowing what to do. Later on he would be part of the effort to locate the missing Charlie Company platoon.
“I remember it was past midnight when we went out,” he said. “It was the first time I had ever been shot at.”
ABC News Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent Martha Raddatz later wrote a book about the battle titled “The Long Road Home,” which was turned into a mini-series with the same name by National Geographic and shot at Fort Hood. It premiered last November.
Another veteran of the battle, Timothy T. Perry, received his quilt on Saturday. On Sept. 8, more than 20 other local area veterans from the battle were awarded Quilts of Valor.
Judkins, who is new to making Quilts of Valor, said it was very special to present the quilts because her own husband, Capt. Matthew Judkins, is currently deployed to Europe with the 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment.
“A lot of (the recipients) have said that their medals were made in factories, but these quilts are made by people who truly care and appreciate what they’ve done,” she said. “I love making the quilts, knowing that they are going to go to somebody who has served.”
Every Quilt of Valor is different. Gunera’s quilt featured red, white and blue boxes with blue borders filled with white stars and a centerpiece depicting an eagle flying over a mountain with the American flag juxtaposed over it.
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