Fred Rom may be 103, but his quick sense of humor has yet to fade.
After being honored by Quilts of Valor this week, the centenarian proclaimed that he would use the quilt — not just display it — despite the “terrible weather we have down in the South.”
“That’s supposed to be a joke, you know,” he said, just in case.
Rom joined seven other World War II veterans to gather at Sun City Carolina Lakes in Indian Land to receive the honor from the Quilts of Valor Foundation.
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The Carolina Lakes Quilters hand-stitched the patriotic quilts with red, white and blue patterns — some with “United We Stand,” “Heroes,” military symbols, and other true-blue American themes — and presented the quilts to the men. The recipients range in age from 89 to 103.
“We consider it the highest award that a civilian can present to a veteran in thanks for their military service,” said Harvey Mayhill, a project specialist with the Quilts of Valor Foundation.
In 13 years, the foundation has presented 144,000 quilts, and no two are the same.
“It is a journey of love and a group effort to get a quilt made,” said Willa Thiele, one of the Carolina Lakes Quilters.
At Wednesday’s ceremony, Rom was joined by privates, all the way to major generals.
One recipient, 97-year-old Stewart Marshall, a staff sergeant in the Army during World War II, received a long-delayed Bronze Star and eight other awards last month.
“You’re not big enough to wear all of those,” Mayhill told Marshall with a laugh before wrapping the quilt around his shoulders.
Most of the men stood as the quilt was displayed first to the audience.
When Rom took the stage, he said “remember my age” jokingly to the veterans as they helped him to his walker.
“I feel pleased by the recognition of our efforts, not in a boastful manner,” said the New York native, who in his lifetime has met Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King Jr., and witnessed the Hindenburg disaster in 1937.
The Army master sergeant served overseas for nearly three years, but missed deployment to Europe after falling ill with pneumonia at age 21. He joked that the European weather may have killed him before battle, if he had deployed.
Mayhill hopes the veterans will use the quilts.
“We don’t want them to put them on the shelf as an award, just sitting there collecting dust,” he said. “We want them to use it, so over time, when they wrap themselves in the quilt and they take it off, war demons might go away with it, some of their hard thoughts from the war.
“Because there are thousands and thousands of stitches in each quilt, and each quilt stitch is a stitch of love.”
Quilts of Valor recipients
In addition to Rom and Marshall, these World War II veterans received a Quilt of Valor this week:
▪ Donald Apgar
▪ Frank Arnone
▪ Kenneth Dohleman
▪ Julius Farber
▪ John Khare
▪ Gilbert Robinson
▪ David Tyson did not attend the event, but members of the foundation delivered his quilt after the ceremony.