Deena C. Bouknight – Contributing Writer
Last weekend, 10 hikers and two dogs were housed, fed, and honored in Franklin. Veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan are on a Warrior Hike on the Appalachian Trail and have since early March been honored and cared for at stops along the Trail by various veterans organizations. Franklin’s celebration of the Warrior Hikers included the giving of quilts.
The local chapter of VFW fed the hikers dinner Saturday evening. Then, at 1 p.m. on Sunday, the American Legion Hall hosted a ceremony, at which veterans were able to select a quilt made by quilters of the Smoky Mountain Quilters Guild for its Quilts of Valor program. Founded in 2003, the mission of Quilts of Valor “is to cover service members and veterans touched by war with comforting and healing quilts.”
Nationally, more than 214,000 quilts have been presented, shared Carlie Nichols, who established Quilts of Valor in Macon County back in 2008.
“It’s a big undertaking,” said Nichols, who explained that Quilts of Valor was started by a mother whose son was deployed in Iraq and which now includes 10,000 quilters making quilts for veterans. “We’re not about politics, we’re about people,” she added, pointing out that more than 1,000 quilts have been locally made and donated so far by members of Smoky Mountain Quilters Guild.
“This is a therapeutic opportunity to walk off the war,” shared Nichols of the Warrior Hike itself. “And the quilts are meant to be given to these veterans, all of which have been touched in some way by war. “
According to Warrior Expeditions, Earl Shaffer in 1948 told a friend he was going to “walk off the war” – meaning World War II – to heal from the sights, sounds, and losses he experienced while serving. Four months later, he became the first person to hike the entire length of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine, and what followed was the creation of outdoor expeditions, including Warrior Hike.
Nichols said she remembers vividly why she decided to make quilts for veterans.
“Friday [March 29] is Vietnam Veteran’s Day. I was a college student during the Vietnam War and know exactly where I was when I said to myself, ‘God forbid if anything like Vietnam happens again and I do nothing.’ I was not a hippie or a protestor. But what bothered me is that I did nothing. When 9/11 happened, I remembered my words. I could quilt, and I learned about the Quilts of Valor program. So I made one quilt and took it to the Guild and they asked me if I would form a local Quilts of Valor program. We started that locally in 2008.”
Nichols did not anticipate the response from Guild members. More than 50 volunteers participate.
“And this community has been so generous. We don’t go anywhere where people don’t give us donations, which cover the cost of shipping the quilts to the Warrior Hikers’ homes since they can’t take the quilts with them. I’ve lived in a lot of big cities, and no other place has supported their veterans like this area does.”
Nichols said most volunteers spend the numerous hours completing the laborious task of quilt making because “it’s a way for us to honor them for their service to our country. They are so appreciative of these quilts.”
Nichols explains that making a quilt involves quilters taking on different tasks “so no one has to do it all. Some quilters are so self-motivated … off they go. We supply some of the fabric, but quilters provide their own fabric as well. Each quilter might come up with a pattern, or basic patterns are provided. Local quilt shops have provided patriotic patterns, and local quilt shops have been very supportive in other ways as well.”
Nichols said that any quilter can become involved in the Guild and volunteer to make quilts for Quilts of Valor, which are presented annually to veterans hiking the Appalachian Trail and to other deserving veterans throughout the year.