While “The Greatest Generation” continues to fade away with time, a community effort to recognize those still here on South Whidbey occurred Thursday afternoon in Freeland.
Around two dozen World War II veterans were honored with quilts at Maple Ridge Retirement and Assisted Living Community. A few others from later wars were also recognized. The quilts were constructed by Quilts for Veterans, a Whidbey Island community group numbering in the dozens and dedicated to honoring veterans in the community. Twelve vets attended the presentation held in the activity room, while eight more quilts were personally delivered to others unable to make it by members of Quilts for Veterans.
Coordinator Anita Smith said the quilts were specifically made for individual veterans over the past year and crafted by eight to 14 people. Embroidered on each of them were the date the quilt was made and a message that read, “This quilt was made by many quilters who gave fabric, time and love in gratitude for your service.” Next to each quilt were framed pictures of individual veterans and a short description of their service.
Men and women from the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, National Guard and the British Army’s Auxiliary Territorial Service received quilts, which were ceremoniously draped around their shoulders to the applause of those in attendance. Many of the veterans’ faces, such as 93-year-old Marine Corps veteran Ron Wadsworth, lit up upon receiving the quilts. While some of the veterans remained seated during the presentation due to their age, Wadsworth excitedly stood up and let Smith drape the quilt over his shoulders.
Wadsworth was stationed on Okinawa during his three years of service in the Marines. He was honored to have been recognized.
“It means a lot, a great deal,” Wadsworth told The Record after the presentation. “We fought a good battle and we’re enjoying a good life.”
Smith said Wadsworth’s youthful spirit showed through during the presentation.
“That was really neat,” Smith said. “You get to see the young man kind of coming out of it. Even though they’re in an older body, the young man is standing or sitting there and you touch their memories in the past.”
Thursday’s presentation was the continuation of a tradition that first began in the Civil War when women made quilts for soldiers, Smith said.
“We’re doing this out of love and appreciation for these people who have served this country,” Smith said. “We don’t want them to be forgotten.”
Another veteran honored was Web Halvorsen, a half-track commander with the 6th Armored Division who fought in the Battle of the Bulge. Halvorsen said it was the first time he’d been honored in such a way as he was on Thursday.
“Real, real privileged,” said Halvorsen, 98, when asked by a Record reporter what he thought of being recognized.
Halvorsen didn’t make it through the war unscathed. He was shot in the chest by a sniper on Jan. 13, 1945 in Bastogne while trying to clear his jammed M1 Garand; his rifle malfunctioned due to below-freezing temperatures after firing a few shots that were intended to hit the sniper.
“It felt like being hit with a baseball bat,” said Halvorsen, who spent the next six months recovering in a series of hospitals and eventually lost part of his right lung.
Halvorsen left the European Theater with a Purple Heart, a French Medal of Honor, four Bronze Stars and an Infantry Combat Badge.
“I think the greatest day of my life was when I was able to put on an American uniform,” Halvorsen said. “I didn’t want to be left out. I wanted to do what I had to do for this great country.”
Former Marine Dan Babbitt, 83, was also honored. Babbit served five years in the Corps in charge of 4-4.2” mortars and maintaining .50 caliber machine guns. After receiving his quilt, Babbitt told the crowd that the Marines helped pay for his education at the University of Illinois. He then thanked everyone in attendance and those who made the quilts.
Quilts for Veterans meets regularly the first Wednesday of each month from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Deer Lagoon Grange in Langley. For those interested in contributing, contact Smith at email@example.com.