The gesture recognizes their service and sacrifice.
Two Plant City veterans who live at Grace Manor were honored for their service during a Quilts of Valor ceremony last week.
The recipients, Sergeant Joseph DeMello, Jr. and Staff Sergeant Gregory Irizarry, served their country with distinction, and their sacrifices were acknowledged with beautifully crafted quilts.
Tammy Arnold, a local quilter and Florida state coordinator for the Quilts of Valor Foundation, said her group made each quilt in patriotic colors of reds, white and blues to present to the men. A Quilt of Valor has a three-part message: first, we honor your service; secondly, we know freedom is not free and the quilt says, “Thank You for your sacrifice” and thirdly, these quilts are meant to offer comfort.
A retired veteran herself, she said presenting the quilt to the veterans is heartwarming. “I get so emotional every time we present a quilt,” she said. “It makes my heart sing and I love doing this.”
DeMello proudly served in the United States Marine Corps from Nov. 16, 1948 until Aug. 15, 1952 as an infantry rifleman in the”Two Five” Dog Company at Camp Pendleton, California. His battalion sailed from Camp Pendleton to defend the Pusan Perimeter as part of the famous “Fire Brigade.” He was wounded during the first battle of the Nakdong River in Korea, was sent to Japan to recover from his injuries and then returned to Korea to fight in the second battle at the Chosin Reservoir where he received frostbit on his hands and feet. DeMello has been awarded the Purple Heart Medal, Korean Service Medal, Marine Corp Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Presidential Unit Citation with two bronze stars as well as many other distinguished awards and designations.
Irizarry served in the United States Army from Nov. 15, 1954 until May 1979 in the Military Occupational Specialty or MOS 13E Cannon Fire Direction Specialist. After boot camp at Fort Dix, New Jersey, he was stationed in Arkansas and Germany. After a short break in service, he joined the Florida Army National Guard in Lakeland and worked the weapons cage in the Armory until his release in May 1979. He has been awarded the Army Achievement Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, Overseas Service Ribbon, National Defense Service Medal and other distinguished awards and decorations.
Both veterans appreciated the quilt. “It’s very nice,” said DeMello, a Korean War veteran who can still recall his years of service as if it was yesterday.
“I got wounded on my 19th birthday, it was so many years ago, 72 years ago,” he said.
His stories could fill a book, of the camaraderie of other soldiers who would become like family, of meeting Hilda, who would become his wife, on his first day home, of being invited to the White House and meeting meeting President and Mrs. Truman and Sarah Churchill, daughter of former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
Since Arnold’s Quilts of Valor inception four years ago, they’ve awarded almost 500 quilts. This year, they’ve already presented more than 22 quilts to veterans.
She said her group is always looking for volunteers to help them honor more veterans. There are many ways to get involved, including quilters (especially longarmers) to donate their time to make quilts. Monetary donations are also needed to purchase supplies to make the quilts.
For more information about how to donate or to nominate a veteran for a Quilt of Valor visit qovf.org.