The “stage” was set at the Main Street Auditorium on a recent Saturday afternoon awaiting the presentation of 16 beautiful handmade quilts that were neatly folded on a table on the stage.
Volunteers were dressed in red, white and blue with different patterns of stars and stripes and excited families, including parents, husbands, wives, children and even grandchildren, filled many of the seats.
The event, hosted by the Myrtle Beach Shorebirds, was part of the nationwide Quilts of Valor program that has, so far, presented original, unique quilts to 242,485 servicemen and women, who have served during wartime, although it is not necessary that they actually had boots on the ground.
Only one of Saturday’s quilts went to a World War II veteran, who served in the U.S. Navy from 1946-1948 on the USS Providence and from 1951-1953 on the USS Wasp.
Organizers of the event estimated that the ages of the recipients ranged from about mid-30s to mid-80s.
Two of the 16 veterans scheduled to receive quilts didn’t make it to Saturday’s event and organizers promised to deliver their quilts. They were Michael Burch, who served in the U.S. Air Force from 1984-2011, retiring with 27 years of service in Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom and Haiti earning more than 30 medals.
The other recipient, who was unable to make the ceremony, was Robert Petty Kirk, a U.S. Army veteran, who served from 1952-54, with time in Korea.
The other 14 people scheduled to receive quilts were called to the front one at a time and, along with family members and friends, had their pictures taken with their quilts and then of the quilts being wrapped around their shoulders. When the person who made the quilt was present, she was also included in the picture.
The veterans who received the quilts were:
■ Neil Adams, U.S. Navy, 2000-2002;
■ Jacki Buckley, who served in the U.S. Navy from 1993-2001;
■ Brian Burdette, who served in the U.S. Army from 1981-1991;
■ William Dale, who served in the U.S. Army from 1963-1965;
■ Walter Dilworth, who retired from the U.S. Air Force after serving from 1968-1989 with a portion of his time in Vietnam/Thailand;
■ Edwin Hernandez, who retired from the U.S. Army in 1988, serving in Vietnam from 1966-1968;
■ Gabriel Hernandez Lopez, who retired in 2005 after serving for 22 years with time in Iraq;
■ Loubens Mardi, who served in the U.S. Navy from 1997-2001 with time in Afghanistan and Desert Storm;
■ Grady Nalley, who served in the U.S. Navy from 1979-1985;
■ William Orr, who served in the U.S. Army from 1980-2011, retiring after 31 years;
■ Robert Peirone, who served in the U.S. Air Force from 1979-1982, including Desert Shield/Desert Storm;
■ Herman Williams, who retired from the U.S. Marine Corps after serving from 1963-1991; and
■ Jeffrey Wingo, who served in the U.S. Navy from 1990-2006.
There was one Purple Heart recipient and one veteran who had earned a Purple Heart and Bronze Star. When someone has been awarded a Purple Heart, for being injured in the service, a purple heart is stitched onto the back of the quilt. Bronze stars, awarded for heroic action, heroic service, meritorious achievement or meritorious service in a combat zone, are acknowledged during the presentation, but are not marked on the quilts.
On Saturday, six of the quilts went to veterans of the U.S. Navy, five went to Army vets, two went to Air Force vets and one went to a former Marine.
Theresa Gaulker explained the quilts saying the Quilts of Valor program was started in 2003 by a nurse and quilter, who dreamed while her son was in Iran that demons were surrounding him, but a quilt that he wrapped himself in was comforting him.
There is symbolism to the quilts. For instance, the batting represents warmth and comfort and the backing represents family and community support.
Gaulker said the quilts come from the hearts, hands and tears of their makers and cannot be bought or sold.
So far 3,300 have been presented in the area of the Myrtle Beach Shorebirds, which ranges from the beaches to Conway, up to North Carolina, perhaps slightly into North Carolina, and up to Florence.
There are 350 area veterans waiting now for their quilts.
The Quilts of Valor is a nonprofit organization and no one earns any money from working with it. It is staffed completely by volunteers.
Tom Gaulker told the group assembled Saturday that there are two forces that are willing to die for them. Jesus died for their souls and soldiers die for their freedom, he said.
The quilts presented Saturday had been hanging in the Horry County Museum for two weeks before Saturday’s solemn presentation.