Hero Quilts presented to South Bay Vietnam Vets

Project founded to comfort recent war veterans expanded to include vets from earlier wars

by Donald Morrison

Only one thing comforted Lieutenant Daniel Massey after he was injured while serving in Iraq. It was 2009, and he’d been left temporarily paralyzed from injuries sustained during a mortar blast in Basra. He wasn’t sure if he’d ever walk again. 

“I came back from one of my procedures and on my bed was this blanket,” Lt. Massey said. “There was a note. ‘To Lieutenant Dan Massey, you’re our hero, thank you very much for your service to our country.’ and I just started bawling.”

The blanket Massey was a handmade quilt, made by American Hero Quilts, established in 2004 to support soldiers injured while fighting overseas. The quilts are sent to Madigan Hospital at Joint Base Lewis McCord, other Warrior Transition Centers in the US and directly to bases in Afghanistan and Qatar. 

Daniel Massey and John Nash with an American Hero quilt during a quilt presentation at Polliwog Park on Feb. 16. Photo by John Perchulyn

A group of South Bay Vietnam Vets were honored with their own American Hero Quilts in a ceremony held during the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 53 monthly meeting at Polliwog Park in Manhattan Beach on Tuesday, Feb. 16. 

The quilts are meant to properly honor Vietnam Vets who returned home after serving in a war many Americans didn’t believe in. 

“I saw how hurt these Vietnam Vets were to have not really been welcomed home,” Lt. Massey said. “And I said, ‘how can I help these guys?’ Then I remembered my quilt.”

Massey attempted to locate the maker of the quilt that helped save his life by calling the Wounded Warrior Battalion at Fort Lewis. From there, he was introduced to Sue Nebeker, founder of American Hero Quilts located in Washington State.

Nebeker and her husband felt a call to action in 2004 after witnessing the beginnings of the war in Afghanistan. They wanted a way to honor returning troops that made them feel valued and cared for, so they bought fabric and put signs up around their town looking for volunteers.

To date, they’ve given out more than 30,000 quilts and have grown to include more than 800 volunteers.

“I can’t tell you how many grown men have collapsed in my arms weeping,” Nebeker said. “So we’ve used the metaphor of hugs, because it’s such a tiny thing but it’s all I can think to do.”

Nebeker has since begun making quilts for wounded veterans and veterans from earlier wars as well. The demand has only grown.

“We were trying to figure out what we can do because we remembered Vietnam,” Nebeker said.  “And we remembered how the men were treated and we were worried that would happen again.”

John Nash is one of the veterans who was honored with a quilt at Polliwog Park. He was drafted to serve in the Vietnam War in the late Sixties, and was a sniper team leader for the 101st Airborne Division from 1969 to 1970. 

“When I got drafted I thought, ‘I’ll do my duty for my country,’ because that’s how we were raised,” Nash said. “I served with honor.”

Nash heard stories about U.S. soldiers getting spit on and harassed after coming home from Vietnam. After he returned, he didn’t feel comfortable sharing his experiences with anybody and had trouble finding a sense of belonging.

“I never really was able to talk about it for 10 years,” Nash said. “There was so much turmoil and so much animosity and the anti-war movement was going on. I didn’t feel free to talk about it.”

Nash was drafted to serve in the Vietnam War in the late Sixties, and was a sniper team leader for the 101st Airborne Division from 1969 to 1970.

Getting the quilts to the Vietnam Veteran’s of America South Bay Chapter 53 was partially made possible by the newly founded South Bay Friends of Veterans. The group was created by Gary Swayngim only four months ago on the NextDoor app, as a way to create community among the veteren population in the South Bay. 

“We wanted to be the bridge to help out the local community here in the South Bay,” Swayngim said. “That’s how it started and since then we’ve begun helping other nonprofit groups.”

Since September, the South Bay Friends of Veterans has led toy drives and donated baby blankets and Valentines Day cards to various communities. It’s grown to nearly 70 volunteers and hopes to continue connecting veterans groups with veterans in need. 

Nebeker said in 2011 she began sending quilts to soldiers overseas. She was able to minimize cost by sending 100 at a time for about $800. Nebeker never thought she’d be making quilts for this long. 

“This has been going on for almost two decades now,” Nebeker said. “And every time I think ‘well, it’s time to quit,’ something happens that makes it so that’s not possible.”

Following are the  names of the 10 veterans who received quilts at the Polliwog park ceremony:

• Greg Reynolds, US Army, Specialist 4th Class, 11B10 Infantry.

• Daniel Whitman, US Army, Specialist 4th Class 4/31st 196LIB American Division, Purple Heart.

• Ron Daily, US Army, Specialist 4th Class 3/47th 9th Infantry.

• John Nash, US Army, Specialist 4th Class, 101st Airborne.

• Richard Valot, US Navy Seabees, Naval Support Activity.

• Steve Mandel, US Army, 92nd Assault Helicopter, 67N2F.

• John Perchulyn, US Army, PFC, Machine Gunner.

• Arnie Goldstein, US Army, VN.

• Lewis M Kallas, US Army, MOS 11D4B, Armor Intel Spec, Bronze Star, Wife Carol Kallas received posthumous.

• Ron Burkluned, US Army, MOS.

• Leila Thomas, US Army, MOS – Medic. ER

 

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Written by: Donald Morrison

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