Brittney Raby – Staff Writer

After leaving out of Springer Mountain, Ga., on March 21, a group of 10 hikers representing all branches of the United States Military made their way in to Franklin as part of the 2016 Warrior Hike. The group of combat veterans began arriving in Franklin last week and were treated to a dinner at the VFW on Friday and a community lunch on Saturday at the American Legion Post 108.

“We want to welcome each of you to Macon County and are proud to have the chance to serve you,” said Macon County Commissioner and Vietnam Veteran Gary Shields. “We want you to know that you are always welcome here in Franklin and we are here to help welcome you home in any way we can.”

Since 2013, hikers making the nearly 2,200-mile journey along the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine with the annual Warrior Hike have been welcomed into Franklin and thanked for their service to our country. At each visit, the Smoky Mountain Quilters Guild presents the veterans with Quilts of Valor as a small token of appreciation for their service to the military.

“The grateful quilters of Western North Carolina wish to present this Quilt of Valor to you,” Carlie Nichols, SMQG member said as she read a letter that each veteran was given along with their quilt. “We want you to know how much we appreciate your service to our country and realize the sacrifices you and your family have made for us. May this quilt provide comfort to you in time of need and pleasure for years to come. We continue to remember all those who fight and labor for our freedom and pray for their safety both here and abroad. Thank you for keeping America free.”

The mission of the national quilt program is to cover all service members and veterans touched by war with wartime quilts called Quilts of Valor. The foundation is not about politics, it is about people.

“One special moment that overshadows them all was when I was gifted a ‘quilt of valor’ by the local quilting guild,” said Travis Seal, a veteran with the United States Army who served from 1996 to 2014. While serving in the Army, Seal served as a CH-47D pilot. “Those women poured their souls into these quilts and they were all beautifully made.  I was truly honored and humbled to be gifted one. Franklin is unlike any place I have been before. The people have great pride in their hospitality, patriotism, and friendliness. I will never forget Franklin and they have raised the bar for every other town I visit.”

Travis is hiking the trail along with his brother Thomas Seal who served as a pilot in the army from 1996-2015. Both veterans were more than impressed with their visit to Franklin.

“When I first stepped off the trail and on to Winding Stair Gap I was eager to make my way into Franklin,” said Travis. “The town’s hospitality to hikers is known up and down the trail. As a matter of fact, we received some awesome ‘trail magic’ at Winding Stair before ever reaching the town. Once in town I was often recognized as a hiker, must be that worn out and dirty look, and people would offer to do the most incredible things. We had our clothes laundered for free,  numerous offers for rides around town to conduct ‘hiker”errands, and an overall warm welcoming from everyone we met. One of my best experiences in Franklin was meeting with the local VFW and American Legion. They were comprised of some of the finest people I have ever met. I have no doubt they would welcome me into their homes if I returned and I would do the same for them if they visited me.”

“From the time we showed up in Franklin we were greeted with open arms and warm smiles,” said Thomas. “Being my first visit to North Carolina, I wasn’t sure what to expect but I quickly felt like one of the community. From the wonderful folks at the VFW to the kind and generous people at the American legion the people of Franklin made my for a great first impression and experience.”