Like so many other Vietnam veterans, Mike Morrissey didn’t feel the same love upon returning home as others serving in more recent conflicts. More than five decades later, a group called Quilts of Valor changed all that for the longtime Double Oak resident.
Thanks to one friend named Debbie Coates who nominated him and another – Connie Keller – who employed her craft, he was among six men presented with personally-made quilts in October 2020. The event took place at the home of Sherry Neu, president of the Lone Star Broads Quilts of Valor chapter, in Bolivar near Sanger. Ironically, the group conducted its first meeting just before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the country – and its get-togethers – last March.
“I thought it was pretty neat,” said Morrissey, a 76-year-old Galveston native who has lived in Double Oak with his wife Carol since 2000. “Nobody had ever done anything for us like that.”
It capped a journey that started when he enlisted in the Army in 1966.
“I got into the Army because I wanted to fly,” he said. “When I went to the Air Force they said you couldn’t fly unless you had a college degree. The Army back then needed helicopter pilots and they would take anybody who could pass the test and I passed it.”
After serving one year in Vietnam, he returned to Texas at Fort Hood, leaving the military in 1971 when the war was winding down and didn’t need many helicopter pilots. In 1979, he joined the National Guard Reserve Unit in Grand Prairie that needed Chinook helicopter pilots.
Never thinking he’d go back to war; he was activated in 1991 for Operation Desert Storm in Kuwait where he served for five months. Then in 2003 he was reactivated for six months as part of the effort to hunt down Saddam Hussain in Iraq.
By 2005, he decided war was a young man’s game and he retired from the military for good. In between and afterwards, he worked as a certified safety professional in the loss control departments of various insurance companies before retiring in 2011.
Most quilts made for people like Morrissey typically involve a team effort working by hand or aided by what’s called a longarm machine. Some Quilts of Valor members create the tops – called piecing– while others sew the three layers together. A third group binds them around the edges to finish them. On rare occasions one person will do it all.
Many of the volunteers – including Neu – were involved in the Denton Quilt Guild where they learned about Quilts of Valor. In the two years since, about 15 active members – who live mostly in Denton, Decatur, Dish, Justin and Gainesville – have made about 50 quilts.
“I love it. I am so passionate about it,” said Neu, adding many veterans get emotional when they receive the quilts.
The Denton-based Red, White and Blue chapter led by Barbara Angels makes quilts for those who complete the Vet Court program – about 25-26 annually. Through other nominations, the 10-14 active members made 34 in 2020 and are on track for nearly 50 in 2021.
Among those Red, White and Blue made was for Bartonville’s Roberta “Tutu” DuTeil, who received hers from the Women Veterans of America in January as part of the town’s surprise celebration of her 99th birthday. She served in the Navy during World War II.
Angel has been with the Denton Quilt Guild for about 15 years and Quilts of Valor for about four years. Red, White and Blue works on its projects twice monthly at the Vietnam Vets chapter facility in Aubrey. It also partners with the Texas Veterans Hall of Fame where it presented a quilt to retired Army Colonel James Wheeler at its third-annual induction ceremony on Nov. 13.
Kim Harrell co-leads another area chapter called U.S. Sew with Argyle’s Naomi Perry. Their group has about 25 women producing about 30-50 quilts a year plus pillowcases and meets monthly at the Old Craft Store in downtown Carrollton.
The Quilts of Valor Foundation was started in 2003 by Catherine Roberts of Seaford, Delaware, whose son Nat was serving in Iraq. One night she had a dream about a young soldier sitting alone at the edge of his hospital bed surrounded by war demons. In the next scene, she saw his whole attitude change when wrapped by a quilt. The message she took away was “Quilts = Healing.”
So she gathered a group of volunteers to donate their time and materials to make quality quilts to thank nominated veterans for their service regardless of branch. Since then more than 286,000 quilts have been made and presented nationwide.
Some quilts include decorations related to the veteran’s career. Others feature favorite colors and wording like Morrissey’s which has Texas included multiple times. Some chapters – like U.S. Sew – keep a stockpile of quilts handy for when they are needed while others make 1-2 at a time.
At the formal presentations, each veteran is called by name, read their backgrounds and wrapped with the quilt which includes a label featuring the name of the quilter(s) and name of the recipient.
While the Quilts of Valor has certain criteria every chapter is to follow, it does allow each individual group the flexibility to employ different tactics that work for them.
How do chapters find nominees to honor?
“You just ask one person and they’ll tell you about 10 people,” Neu said. “There’s plenty of people that need them and want them.”
Angel estimates with between 45,000 and 50,000 veterans living in Denton County, there always are people available to receive quilts. To nominate someone or donate money or materials, visit qovf.org.