Quilters work their magic of transforming pieces of fabric into a thick, patriotic quilt of red, white and blue for veterans completing an Honor Flight Nevada trip to the nation’s capital.
Receiving a quality hand-sewn quilt with their stitched name and branch of military service overwhelms many veterans who spend three days visiting monuments and memorials built in their honor. Marsha Strand, who started the Comstock Lode Quilters for the Quilts of Valor Foundation in December 2014, received inspiration for the project based on what the Oregon program does for its returning veterans.
When Strand’s father took an Honor Flight in September 2014, the returning veterans to the Portland International Airport each received a quilt.
“How wonderful it was to see my father receive a quilt,” she said. “My father (who had his 98th birthday on Saturday) was completely broken up.”
Strand, who has lived in Dayton for 14 years, then put a plan in action to do the same thing in Nevada. First, she contacted six friends who were equally enthusiastic because at the time, Honor Flight Nevada conducted two flights annually with about 75 to 80 veterans.
“I said we could do that,” Strand recalled. “We had several flights a year, about 70 quilts. We said we could do that without any problems.”
The following year, though, challenged her Comstock Lode Quilters, who come from Dayton, Silver Springs, Smith Valley, Carson City, Fallon, Susanville, Calif., and other communities.
The number of Honor Flights out of the Reno-Tahoe International Airport doubled because of two sponsored flights, one in June of that year for Vietnam veterans. Honor Flight still takes four trips each year and hosts a December luncheon for veterans either too old or ill to fly; instead, they each receive a quilt after the Reno luncheon.
Along with seeing the smiles on veterans’ faces also comes the tears.
“I have a letter in my bag that will make you cry, one from a Vietnam vet,” Strand said.
She mentioned part of the letter: “After Honor Flight, we got home, I sat down and put the quilt around me.”
The vet also revealed to Strand his brother, who was also in combat in Vietnam, was killed in action. Strand said one female veteran told her in another letter all the quilts were priceless.
Making the quilts takes a network of at least 30 or more quilters who work from home or meet several times a month in Reno to help each other sew the patterns. The quilters don’t receive funds from Honor Fight Nevada for their material but raise funds through raffles, quilt shows and donations.
Janice Hubbard became involved with the Comstock Lode Quilters last year.
“I’m proud of all my quilts,” she said. “Each is very special and unique. I’m touched by their hugs, the crying.”
Carson City quilters Joanne Booth and Nina Snyder waited for the veterans when they arrived Sunday from their four-day Honor Flight trip. Booth, a Marine Corps veteran, flew on an Honor Flight and received a quilt when she returned. It caused her to reflect on her own quilt making.
“I’ve made quilts, cut out patterns, and made quilt cases,” Booth said. “The men tear up and that tears me up.”
Snyder said her husband took a previous Honor Flight.
“It’s a way of paying our veterans back for what they did for all of us,” she said. “It’s my way of saying thank you. I enjoy doing this because I enjoy quilting.”
Tom Spencer, president of the Vietnam Veterans Association 388 in Carson City, waited near the main entrance for the latest Honor Flight veterans to arrive. When he took a flight three years ago and returned near the baggage area, he was surprised to receive a quilt.
“It was a nice quilt, very pretty,” he said. “It’s specifically made for you.”
Navy veteran Victor Loesche of Topaz Ranch Estates, a naval aviator in Vietnam, said receiving a hand-made quilt was wonderful.
Yerington veteran Nicholas Condos took an Honor Flight in 2017 during the Veterans Day weekend. He never expected receiving a patriotic quilt.
“That was unbelievable,” he said. “I never expected it or the bag to keep it safe. These ladies did a beautiful job. I support each and every one of them for their support.”
Receiving a quilt left Carson City veteran Don Bird speechless.
“I don’t know what to say … my name’s on it. I’m just overwhelmed,” he said. “Thank you to this community for doing this.”
Jon Yuspa, executive director of Honor Flight, said the quilt reception is an honored part of their homecoming to the Reno-Tahoe International Airport.
“They’re emotional, energized, they’re done with the flight, they’re saying we’re done with the flight and we’ll pick up our luggage,” Yuspa said.
But one more surprise awaits the veterans — when the quilters hand them the quilts.
“They wrap the quilts around them, see their names and branch of service, and then that’s when it really hits them,” Yuspa said of the effect from the entire Honor Flight trip and homecoming.
Sadly, though, Yuspa said when a previous Honor Flight veteran dies, many times the family unfolds the quilt and places it on top of the casket.
Quilters of all ages enjoy making the veterans smile after their journey ends. Priyasha Landry, 12, a seventh grader at Billinghurst Middle School in Reno, sews together presentation bags for the quilts and also sews for children who have cancer.
For many scores of veterans who return to Reno, she writes a note to them.
“Thank you sooo much for serving our country. I hope you had a great time in Washington,” she writes. “I had people buy cookies for me to donate to soldiers and veterans like you. I really hope you enjoy your cookies and pillow cases that I sewed just for you.”