Showing posts with label Quilts of Valor. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Quilts of Valor. Show all posts

Friday, June 21, 2024

Community mourns loss of beloved Korean War veteran Walter Braley Jr.

By Ed Pierce

One of the humblest military heroes you’ll ever meet and a genuine friend to everyone who knew him has died at the age of 92.

U.S. Marine Corps and Korean War veteran Walter
Braley Jr. waves to parade vehicles driving by his
home in the Cornerbrook subdivision in Windham
on his 90th birthday on Oct. 10, 2021. Braley
died on Father's Day, June 16, at the age of 92.
Korean War veteran Walter Braley Jr. of Windham passed away peacefully at his home in the Cornerbrook subdivision on Father’s Day, June 16.

Born in Somesville, a village on Mount Desert Island in Maine, as the only child of Walter Sr. and Eva Braley, his family moved to Scarborough when he was 10 so that his parents could work in a shipyard there. He attended schools in Scarborough until he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1947 at the age of 17. Braley completed basic training at Camp Lejune in North Carolina and then was sworn in for active military duty by the late Maine U.S. Senator Margaret Chase Smith.

He rose to the rank of Sergeant in the Marines and was stationed at bases in Cuba and California and then was sent to South Korea during the Korean War. While in Korea, one of his duties was to patrol the DMZ, the no man’s land separating South Korea from its hostile North Korea neighbor.

“I walked across the DMZ before Donald Trump ever did a few years ago when he did so with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un,” Braley said. “I did it first.”

While stationed at Moffett Field in Mountain View, California, Braley was asked to transport up a fellow Marine to the base, and it turned out to be future county music superstar George Jones, who was just about to launch his recording career.

Braley said they became good friends, and he would accompany Jones when he would go out with his friends on weekend leave and perform songs in exchange for drinks.

Years later when Jones was in Maine to perform a concert, he introduced the audience to Braley and asked him where he had been since he last saw him in the 1950s.

“Right here,” Braley is said to have told him.

Because of an injury he sustained in Korea, Braley was discharged from the Marines at the rank of Sergeant and returned home to Maine. He found work with the Delaware Feed Grain Store, as a truck driver for Maine Egg, a dog groomer for Dutton Animal Hospital in Saco and then at the Animal Refuge League in Westbrook, a position from which he retired after 35 years of service. Braley was a longtime pet owner and served as a Maine State Humane Agent and an advocate for suffering animals.

Following his retirement, Braley spent time volunteering for the Bruce Roberts Fund and Meals on Wheels. As a veteran, he became active in Windham Post 10643 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion Field-Allen Post 148 in Windham.

He was a member of the First Baptist Church in Westbrook, holding various board positions and serving on other church committees.

On his 90th birthday in October 2021, a parade was held outside his home to commemorate his birthday and at that event Braley was presented with a Quilt of Honor by Cindy Beaulieu of the Quilts of Honor group.

“First we honor you for your service,” Beaulieu told Braley. “Second, freedom is not free, and we thank you for your service. We hope this quilt brings comfort to you as you are forever in our thoughts and in our hearts.”

Braley said receiving the quilt and having a parade in his honor was one of the most moving experiences of his lifetime.

““I just want to say thanks to everyone for coming out here today and recognizing me in this way,” Braley said. “You’ve made me feel appreciated and you can’t ask for more than that in this life. I’m deeply grateful and to all my fellow Marines, I say Semper Fi.”

Known affectionately to his family as “Junie,” Braley loved to hunt, fish, and spend time with his wife, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren at their camp on Thomas Pond.

Surviving Braley are his wife Nina, four daughters, one son, seven grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

Funeral services will be at 11 a.m. Saturday, June 22 at the First Baptist Church of Westbrook, 733 Main St. in Westbrook. A graveside ceremony with full military honors will be conducted for Braley at the South Gorham Cemetery on Burnham Road in Gorham. <

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. <