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‘I Feel Like a Hero’: Honoring Acts' WWII Veterans

October 22, 2021

“We had no question about signing up – giving up our lives to save the world, not just the United States, but the world from Japanese and German oppression,” said Buck VanderWeele, a World War II veteran who lives at St. Andrews Estates, an Acts Retirement-Life Community in Boca Raton, Florida.

VanderWeele is one of more than a dozen WWII veterans awarded with a personalized patriotic Quilt of Valor handmade by eight resident volunteers. The Quilts of Valor represent a “comforting hug” and are presented to living veterans and active duty service members as acknowledgement and gratitude for shouldering the huge responsibility of defending our nation. It took about six months for resident quilters to sew these special tributes.  

“It’s amazing with all the work that was involved. I’m overcome by looking at it and studying it. It’s beautiful,” said Jack Sweeny, a resident who served in the U.S. Army and was stationed in Europe during WWII. “I enlisted on February 15, 1943. You felt embarrassed in those days not to serve in uniform.”

“I was only 19, just out of high school,” recalled Seymour Armms, another resident and WWII veteran who also enlisted in 1943. “Everyone was serving at that time.”

Armms served in the U.S. Navy and deployed to the South Pacific where he was an x-ray technician at a hospital.

“I know it was war time, but I was happy doing what I was doing because we took care of a lot of men who were hurt,” he said.

“Everybody was very patriotic, and everybody wanted to get overseas,” said Dick Kriebel, a resident who enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1942 and was stationed in Europe and Austria. “I’m very proud of that quilt and it has a place of honor in my house. I felt very honored. I felt like a hero.”

A Family Affair

The quilt presentation ceremony was an emotional day for Charlie Robinson, a WWII veteran who enlisted in 1943, the day after he turned 17. Robinson has a grandson currently serving in the Navy.

“My grandson was on one of the last planes out of Afghanistan,” he said.

Robinson’s grandson, Jarod Wenyon, was at the Kabul airport when suicide bombings killed 13 U.S. service members in August. Wenyon also received a quilt at St. Andrews Estates’ event.

“They called his name and he stood on stage next to me,” the proud grandfather said.

Two of St. Andrews Estates’ veterans fought in World War II’s Battle of the Bulge. Another resident recalled haunting memories of securing the Japanese city of Hiroshima after the atomic bombing. He took photos of the aftermath for the military.

“The bomb was tremendous. Not a house was standing,” said Bud VanLear, who served in the Marine Corps. “It was just white sand. It changed my thinking about war really, because the person who has the biggest bomb is going to stop it.”

Walking History Books

“Our Greatest Generation would do anything for freedom. When their country called, they went. Many came from immigrant families with great respect for our country,” said Jane Kimberly, a resident quilter who helped organize the effort to create thirteen unique quilts for veterans at the community. Two of her older brothers served in WWII.

“Our veterans are walking history books. We should be taking them to our schools and educating our children with the stories they have,” said quilter Judy Perry, who helped match resident veterans with their honorary gift. “It was incredible listening to these World War II vets and their patriotism. Their friends signed up, and off they went to fight for the freedom we have. They’re just remarkable.”

“My husband was a Vietnam War veteran and one of the things that haunted him was the fact that he survived and so many of his friends did not,” Perry added. “Survivor’s guilt: These men still live with this. The quilt, wrapped around them, is comfort and it’s also healing.”

Much More Than a Quilt

“Initially, we were just going to make a quilt or two for the Guild to distribute, but then we thought since we were making them—and most Guilds had stopped awarding Valor quilts due to the pandemic—why couldn’t we distribute them here? That’s when we started to explore how many veterans lived at St. Andrews Estates,” said resident quilting leader Carole Stephens. “The quantity was a pleasant surprise but also a daunting one that we knew we had to pare down to be manageable.  Since WWII vets are now a diminishing and therefore precious group we decided to start there. It’s been a rewarding experience.”

Residents began assembling the quilts with cut fabrics from the Guild, before creating their own patriotic pattern designs. 

“We all felt that this quilting experience—from following a pattern to creating our own patterns—was a beneficial mental health experience for us in addition to the joy of making the ‘comfort hug’ quilts for our veterans,” Stephens said.

St. Andrews Estates has nineteen World War II veterans at the community, with ages ranging from 91 to 98. The group plans to select more veterans for additional quilts in the future.