KILLEEN — Quilters with a Heart, the local chapter of the Quilts of Valor Foundation, presented about 20 veterans with homemade quilts to recognize their service during a ceremony at the First United Methodist Church Killeen on Saturday.

The event was held on the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and was a tribute to the service members who have served in the Middle East and Afghanistan during those 20 years.

Laura Winckel, group leader for Quilters with a Heart, said the response to the announcement of the 9/11 anniversary effort had been overwhelming.

“Because of this outpouring of interest and support, we have decided to award quilts of valor throughout September, as a tribute and in the memory of those who gave their all for our freedoms,” Winckel said. “And to honor those who have and will continue to defend the freedoms we enjoy in the greatest country in the world.”

Winckel said she wanted to thank the veterans for freedoms like gathering and recognizing military members for their service.

“I can’t do that in all countries all over the world. But I can, because of all the work and all the sacrifices you’ve made,” Winckel said. “I believe most of the country thanks you for everything that you have done and sacrificed for all of us.”

Winckel said the top of the quilt’s colors and shapes represent the communities and individuals. The center of the quilts symbolizes the hope that the quilt will bring comfort, peace and healing to the recipients. The backing represents the strength of the recipients. Finally, the stitches represent the love, gratitude and tears of the quiltmakers.

Winckel thanked the veterans for taking time out of their day to allow her and the Quilts of Valor community to express gratitude for their service.

“Thank you all from the bottom of our hearts,” Winckel said. “This is just a small thing we can do for all of you.

“These Quilts of Valor are meant to be utilized … to give you comfort,” Winckel said.

Winckel is no stranger to the kind of comfort the quilts can bring those who are suffering. She is a military spouse who had non-combat post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Quilting helped me heal after the devastating loss of my 3-year-old daughter,” Winckel said. “I know that the healing power of quilting is not unique to me. Many veterans, active-duty members, military spouses and fellow quilters in our community have shared with me that quilting helped them heal crippling grief, anxiety and depression.”

Winckel said quilting improved their moods, mental health and helped them to be able to thrive again.

Retired Staff Sgt. John Braun was a recipient of a Quilt of Valor. He spent 23 years in the U.S. Army serving with unites like the 3rd Infantry Division, 1st Infantry Division, 1st Armored Division, and III Corps.

Braun said he was nominated for a Quilt of Valor by his neighbor Jean Shine, a local realtor and civilian aid to the Secretary of the Army.

“I received a phone call from Laura on the phone, and she goes ‘Hey, Mrs. Shine nominated you for a quilt,’ and I was like wow, this is something I’ve never heard of before,” Braun said.

Braun said he spoke to Shine and was told by her that he was “worth it” and that he was a “good guy, always helping out.”

Braun said he became emotional following the nomination.

“I actually, believe it or not, busted a tear,” Braun said. “I thought, ‘Wow! What an honor. You know, instead of just being some guy who’s just out there and no one really pays attention, it’s nice to be noticed. This is like the day I retired.”

Retired Col. Hank Perry, former Fort Hood garrison commander and III Corps chief of staff, said he was also nominated to receive a quilt by Shine.

“I’ve heard of the organization (Quilts of Valor), and I know what they’ve done in the past,” Perry said. “I know that they put together just beautiful quilts to honor those who have served and defended our way of life, and it’s very much appreciated.”

Perry said having the quilt presentations on 9/11 was especially poignant.

“Being the 20th anniversary of 9/11 today, it’s an emotional day, a day of reflection for me to think about the career that I’ve had and the opportunity to serve our great country with some wonderful people who have sacrificed it all,” Perry said.

Perry said he was also reflective of his father’s service, his father-in-law, uncle, grandpa and his wife’s grandfather’s service. He said he has a son who is currently serving on active duty and a daughter who is going through the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis to serve in the U.S. Navy or the Marines.

“So, I’m very reflective of service and what it means to serve this great country of ours, especially on a day like this,” Perry said.

Perry said military service is not something a service member does alone, but that the family members also serve.

“We may deploy and assume some of the risks, but it’s the time away and separation from family that is also part of our service,” Perry said. “So, I’d like to say thank you to the Quilt of Valor Foundation for recognizing all these patriots that are here in this room.”

Winckel said the organization would continue to present Quilts of Valor throughout September as long as Quilts of Valor are available.

Winckel said anyone could nominate a veteran, become a member of the group or offer donations. For more information, contact Laura Winckel at quilterswithaheart@gmail.com or 254-681-8239.

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