The morning included a brunch served to the veterans, their families and friends, dignitaries and members of the quilting group. And after a welcome by Sassy Stitcher Janice Beebe, the National Anthem and Pledge of Allegiance led by Aaron Conner, and invocation by Sylvia Green, "America, the Beautiful" by Wayne Dunkin and a few words from Stitchers facilitator Betty Todd, each of the Quilts of Valor recipients was introduced and lovingly wrapped in a patriotically themed quilt by the team of quilters who made his gift.
The WWII veterans were Samuel A. Skelton, Frank Phillips, William Edward Olsen, Charles E. Johnson and William L. Summersgill.
Skelton, 96 and in a wheelchair, was not able to attend the ceremony, so his daughters, Arlette and Maryann, accepted it for him. This veteran joined the Army Air Corps in 1938 and was stationed in Hawaii as an airplane mechanic for 5 years. Perhaps his most memorable experience was jumping out of his Jeep into a ditch to avoid enemy fire. "I'm not a hero. I just did what I was sworn to do. It was my job," he said. Until recently, Mr. Skelton played guitar in his church.
Frank Phillips was in the Air Force, serving in the South Pacific in WWII. A musician who plays the piano, Mr. Phillips was in the Bill Lagman Band for many years following the war. He still plays in a group called "The Sentimentals." He attends Cottage Hill Presbyterian Church. His quilt was presented by Judy Phillips.
William Edward Olsen graduated from Murphy High School in 1943 and enlisted in the U.S. Navy when he was 18. As a gunner on a Landing Craft at Normandy, he landed at both Omaha and Utah Beaches. He was stationed in England, then aboard a destroyer behind the line invasion at Brest, France and finally in the Philippines. Mr. Olsen returned to the States aboard the Queen Mary April 9, 1946. He spent his civilian career with Alabama Power Company. He went to Washington D.C. on Honor Flight #6.
Charles Johnson served in the U.S. Navy during WWII and said that one thing he learned from his years in theservice was "Don't ever take life for granted."
William Summersgill enlisted in the U.S.Marine Corps in 1943 and was stationed in the Philippines, laying wire for telephone lines. His battalion was sent to China, where Mr. Summersgill said he personally witnessed the signing of the Japanese surrender. In civilian life, Summersgill was Scoutmaster for Boy Scouts of Whistler Troop #3 for 16 years, a very memorable experience, he said. He now plays golf 3 or 4 times a week.
Mr. Summersgill went to Washington D.C. on one of the Honor Flights. Upon his return, he received an envelope full of cards from school children in Mobile, Bayou La Batre and Baldwin County. He visited every school and classroom, speaking to each child who had written to him. He said that those visits did him more good than going on the Honor Flight.
Two of the veterans honored served in both Korea and Vietnam--Jack Caldwell and Wilbur Reneau.
Though Caldwell was unable to attend the Quilts of Valor presentation, his wife Janie accepted for him. Caldwell was in the U.S. Air Force for 23 years, serving in Korea in 1951-52 and in Vietnam in 1968; his health has been affected by exposure to Agent Orange, which he said fell "like rain." Of his military service, Caldwell said, "If I were younger, I'd do it again; I was just serving my country that I love."
Wilbur Reneau joined the Navy in 1953 when he graduated from high school. He was assigned to the ship Samuel E. Moore and sailed to Korea; they were hit and came back to the U.S. for shore duty. He asked to return for service in Vietnam, spent 9 months of training at Quantico, Virginia and became a Navy Seal. Of the war and jungle warfare, Reneau said that "Every man living wanted to quit, but the Lord directed me." Among other awards, he earned a Medal of Honor and a Military Service Award, and in his hometown of Alexander City, he is on the Wall of Veterans.
Five men who received Memorial Day Quilts of Valor served in the Vietnam War. The were James D. McInvale, Vernon Coleman Sr., James W. McAdams, Willie M. Law and John V. Drude.
Jim McInvale was in the U.S. Army, drafted in January 1968. He served 13 months in Vietnam with the 2nd Platoon, 12th Infantry, 25th Division. His job was flying in a helicopter, seeking out enemy fire from the jungle with 3-5 lift offs a day. He received 13 medals for his service. At home, McInvale worked for the railroad and retired after 31 1/2 years. He is dedicated to the service of others, being a 32nd Degree Mason, a Scottish Rite member and a Shriner. He lives in Creola with his wife Dianne.
Vernon Coleman Sr. served with the Army in Vietnam where he was an amphibious truck driver. James W. McAdams Sr. of Wilmer joined the Navy in 1965 and served 4 years, some of that time in Vietnam. He attends Charity Chapel Assembly of God Church.
Willie M. Law graduated from Blount High School in 1968 and joined the U.S. Army. He served a year in Vietnam in the artillery that backed up the 3rd Marine division with fire support. "When I watch shows about Vietnam on TV, it still brings tears to my eyes, because some came back in body bags," he said. Mr. Law retired from FedEx after working there for 40 years.
John Drude served in the U.S. Navy for 20 years, having joined the service in 1959 as an airplane mechanic. He was aboard the USS Ranger for 2 years and the USS Enterprise Aircraft Carrier in the Gulf of Tonkin in the South China Sea. While aboard the Ranger, they made the very first strikes into Vietnam, he said. Drude received several medals and retired from the Navy in 1986. He wore his dress uniform to the Quilts of Valor ceremony to honor the women who made them.
At the end of the brunch, recognition ceremony and Quilts of Valor presentation, the Sassy Stitchers presented Mobile County Commissioner Connie Hudson with a beautiful baby quilt for her year-old granddaughter, Annabel. CHMRSCC Foundation Board member Bess Rich thanked the Sassy Stitchers for their work on the Quilts of Valor, the veterans for their service to their country and the guests for attending the ceremony. CHMRSCC Director Ashley-Nicole Flowers invited the seniors to return for other programs at the Center. And Wayne Dunkin concluded the event with an American Trilogy.