Tucked away in the small village of Waterville, a master quilt maker resides, following her heart’s dream of honoring specific combat soldiers who have touched her life and soul. An active member of Quilts of Valor, the national group of men and women who create handmade quilts as tribute to our nation’s veterans, the lady decided to branch out on her own, and started a group called Quilts of Honor.
Criteria for receiving one of the specialty red, white and blue quilts is highly selective. The first category is particularly noteworthy, because the soldier, sailor or airman lost his or her life in the service of our great nation during combat. Subsequently, the quilt is presented to the parents/spouse. The living recipients of a Quilt of Honor are service members who have personally touched our quiltmaker’s heart because of their courage, high level of integrity and sacrifice of self and family for the United States of America.
The quiltmaker with a quick smile and quiet demeanor is Colette Herrin, a U.S. Army veteran with two tours of service. One tour was with the 9th Division, Fort Lewis, and the second with 8th Army headquarters in South Korea.Colette is a decorated veteran in her own right, serving as a specialist fifth class, the equal rank of sergeant, for some of our highest-ranking military staffs. Her awards include, The Joint Service Commendation Medal, The Army Good Conduct Medal, The Women’s Army Corps Service Medal and The National Defense Service Medal. A significant note about Colette’s career in the Army: She was selected to serve on the White House Military Protocol Office staff in Washington, D.C.; she declined the assignment in order to support her husband Tom’s military career, and to raise their three children.
I’m a retired U.S. Army major who was chosen a living recipient for Colette’s 2017 Quilt of Honor. My wife Paralee and I traveled to Waterville to receive a specifically designed Quilt of Honor, plus a Quilt of Friendship in honor of my wife and the support she has given me over the years. Colette relates when she designs a quilt for a chosen recipient; embedded are identifiable markers as a testament to the person’s bravery and courage. To honor my service, which includes 11 battlefield decorations from combat in Vietnam, Somalia and Iraq, the highest award is embroidered at the top of the quilt. Stars are sewn in 3D denoting Purple Hearts, and four more stars to signify the wars and battles I was involved in during 32 years of service. For those of us with an untrained Quilter’s eye, 5 miles of thread was used in making Jim’s Quilt of Honor and based on a pattern Colette found and altered.
The story of Colette and her husband Tom’s friendship with my wife and I began in 1975 when we all were stationed at Fort Lewis. However, as assignments happen in the Army, trails go different directions and contact was lost until Paralee found Colette on social media in 2016. As the two friends reconnected, Colette learned of the many events during my Army service, all over the world, and it was time pouring from a bottle. Needless to say, Colette was profoundly touched by all that happened in our lives, resulting in the decision to create the Quilts of Honor and Friendship.
As the story continued to unfold, Colette learned of other events and accolades paid to me through the years. For example, I was one of the first three soldiers selected to parachute with the Mexican Army’s Parachute Brigade and I hold the honor of wearing Mexican Senior Parachutist wings.
Upon conclusion of my Army career, and a second career as a school administrator, Paralee and I retired to my hometown of Medicine Lodge, living quietly among the Red Hills of southern Kansas, where I spend time writing and enjoying family, friends and our dog, Charlie. A retirement well earned.
James T. Soper is a retired U.S. Army major.