Friday, March 5, 2021

Quilts of Valor recognize trio of local ‘Greatest Generation’ veterans

Members of the Maine Quilts of Valor organization presented
quilts to three local veterans honoring their military service
during World War II and the Korean War. Shown from left with
their quilts are Korean War veteran Jerry Black of Standish, 92,
World War II veteran Carroll McDonald of Windham, 96, and 
World War II veteran Bob Miehle of South Windham, 98.
Eagle Cane also presented during special gathering in Windham

By Ed Pierce

Members of the “Greatest Generation” fought to protect America from tyranny and oppression during World War II and the Korean War and their bravery, sacrifices and valor are shining examples of what patriotism truly means. On Wednesday morning, a special gathering at the Windham Veterans Center showed heartfelt appreciation to a trio of local veterans over the age of 90 who gave unselfishly to help preserve our freedom.

World War II veterans Carroll McDonald, 96, and Bob Miehle, 98, both of Windham, and Korean War veteran Jerry Black of Standish, 92, were awarded Quilts of Valor for their service to our nation and McDonald, who celebrated his 96th birthday on Monday, March 1 was honored by American Legion Field-Allen Post 148 with the presentation of a special Eagle Cane for his time as a U.S. Army Air Corps P-51 pilot.

Donna Brookings, the Maine State Coordinator for Quilts of Valor, told those gathered for the occasion that the organization was founded in 2003 by the mother of a soldier deployed to Iraq. She had an idea that a quilt could be given to veterans who have been touched by war as a means of comfort to them.

The idea took off and there are now Quilt of Valor chapters in all 50 states, including Maine. Each Quilt of Valor is a quality handmade quilt made of three distinct layers.

According to Brookings, each quilt’s colorful top featuring unique shapes and fabrics representing the many unique communities and individuals of America, with second underlying filler area representing warmth, comfort, and peace. The third backing layer symbolizes the strength of each recipient of this honor and the support of each family, the community, and our nation. Each stitch in the quilts holding all the layers together represents the love and gratitude of the person who made them. 

In presenting the quilts to McDonald, Miehle and Black, Brookings told them there were three reasons they were being awarded these Quilts of Valor.

“First, we honor you for your service in the United States military. We honor you for leaving all you hold dear and to stand in harm’s way in a time of crisis, protecting us from the effects of war,” Brookings said. “Second, we know that freedom is not free. The cost of freedom is the dedication of lives of men and women like you, and this quilt is meant to say thank you for your sacrifice. Third, these quilts are meant to offer comfort to you, and to remind you that although your family and friends cannot be with you at all times, you are forever in our thoughts and our hearts.”

Brookings said since its inception, Quilts of Valor has now presented more than 268,000 quilts nationwide and will continue to do so for as long as veterans continue to serve America.

American Legion Field-Allen Post 148 Adjutant David Tanguay then awarded McDonald with a handcrafted Eagle Cane to recognize his contributions to the nation as a World War II veteran.

The Eagle Cane Project originated in Oklahoma and was introduced in Maine in 2008. Woodcarver Jack Nitz of Tulsa, Oklahoma launched the Eagle Cane Program after watching an ABC News television segment in 2004 about post-Sept. 11 veterans. Nitz, who served in the Navy from 1948 to 1957, said he realized there was "a little something" that he, as a woodcarver and cane maker, could do to let injured veterans know they had support from people in their community and to also honor them for their service. The Eagle Cane program has now spread to 32 different states, including Maine, and is a collaborative initiative that awards quality hand-carved personalized Eagle Head canes to deserving veterans in recognition for their service to the United States.

On Veterans Day in November 2020, Black received an Eagle Cane and Miehle also received one during a special parade in South Windham in recognition of his 98th birthday on Jan. 25.

During Wednesday’s festivities, McDonald and Miehle said that they both attended Windham High School and they graduated together in the same class in June 1942.

McDonald was born on a farm in South Windham and said for as long as he can remember, he was interested in learning to fly and airplane.

“When I was about 4-years-old, I heard a bi-plane flying near a school and was fascinated by it,” McDonald said. “The sound of it going up and down and buzzing all around stirred my interest and it never left me when I was growing up.”

Knowing that he was about to be drafted, McDonald volunteered to join the U.S. Air Army Air Corps as long as he could train to become a military pilot.

In 1943 he was given a commission as a 2nd Lieutenant and sent to an Army flight school in Alabama and then for training as a P-51 pilot at Page Field in Fort Myers, Florida. He received his flight wings in 1944 and spent the remainder of the war in Fort Myers flying P-51s, a long range, single-seat fighter-bomber used during World War II and the Korean War.

“I joined because it was an opportunity to be well-trained and a chance to fly every single day,” McDonald said. 

Following his active-duty discharge in 1945, he attended business school using the GI Bill and in 1951 while fulfilling his military commitment in the U.S. Air Force Reserves, was promoted to the rank of 1st Lieutenant.

He returned to Maine and joined the U.S. Post Office as a rural postal delivery driver, a job he worked for 32 years, delivering mail in South Windham and on River Road until his eventual retirement. He joined the American Legion’s Field-Allen Post 148 in 1951 and served as Post Commander and performed many other jobs for the group through the years.

After his retirement, McDonald also logged more than 20 years delivering Meals on Wheels to area seniors for 20 years and is a regular at the Weekly Veterans Coffee every Wednesday at the Windham Veterans Center.

“I’m very appreciative to everyone for recognizing me in this way and remembering my birthday,” McDonald said.  

Miehle also grew up in South Windham and was drafted in the U.S. Army, serving through 1945 in the U.S. Army’s European Theater in England, France and Germany. He worked as a T5 Signal Corps Early Warning Radar Operator tracking enemy aircraft and German V-1 buzz bombs. He went on to own and operate Patsy’s store in South Windham for many years and volunteered as a fireman at the South Windham Fire Station.   

Black served in the U.S. Navy for four years during the 1950s and the Korean War and following his time in the military, he attended Gorham State Teacher’s College and became a teacher. He taught shop, drafting and woodworking for many years at Falmouth High School before retiring and was awarded a trip to Washington, D.C. to tour the military memorials there by Honor Flight Maine. <    

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