MERRILLVILLE | A sea of red, white and blue quilts greeted World War II, Vietnam and Afghanistan war veterans Saturday at the Radisson Hotel at Star Plaza.
The veterans were there to receive Quilts of Valor, designed to honor and comfort service members who have been impacted by war.
They included 94 members of the Indiana National Guard 713th Engineer Company based in Valparaiso, who returned in October from a 10-month tour of duty in Afghanistan.
During that deployment, the unit lost six members in two attacks.
World War II veteran Robert Barnes, 89, of Valparaiso, and Vietnam veteran Richard Martin, 64, of Griffith, also received special quilts.
All veterans were individually presented with a quilt, which was wrapped around their shoulders. They also received a customized license plate courtesy of American Legion Post 94 in Valparaiso.
National Guard Master Sgt. Ben Joy said the six members of the 713th Engineer Company are remembered every day. Their deaths have had a lasting mental impact on the company.
“Not all injuries are physical, there is mental trauma as well,” Joy said. “This (quilt program) acknowledges that mental wounds are just as painful as physical wounds. It shows there are people out there who recognize their effort and sacrifice.”
Di Richards, Indiana coordinator with the national Quilts of Valor Foundation, said more than 70,000 quilts have been provided to troops nationwide since the program's inception in 2002.
Many of the quilts are given to members of the military soon after they are wounded, she said.
“As they are coming out of surgery, we lay a Quilt of Valor over them and the Purple Heart is laid over that,” Richards said.
There is a need for 80 quilts a week in Afghanistan alone, she said.
Richards said her organization is nonprofit and relies on donations. Each quilt costs between $200 and $250 to make, and money also is needed for overseas shipping costs, she said.
The quilts presented at the Radisson were made by about 100 local quilters, Richards said.
They include the Heritage Guild of Crown Point, Heritage Quilters of South Holland, Ill., String-A-Long Quilt Guild of Chesterton, Undercover Quilters of Crown Point, Threadbenders Quilt Shop in Michigan City, Bits ’n Pieces Quilt Shop in Crown Point, Dunes Country Quilters and Sew Be It.
Valparaiso resident Pat Atwell, of the String-A-Long Quilt Guild, said the quilters will continue to make quilts for returning troops.
“It doesn't stop here,” she said. “It's the least we could do for these soldiers who protect our country and keep us free.”
Atwell's father is Robert Barnes, who served in the Navy during World War II. Barnes also was the commander of the 113th Engineer Battalion at the Valparaiso Armory in the mid-1960s.
Vietnam veteran Richard Martin was accompanied at the ceremony by his wife, Susan, and children, Joe and Tammy.
Martin served with the Army's 1st Infantry Division and received the Bronze Star. He returned home from Vietnam at the age of 20, suffering from a 90 percent hearing loss.
Susan Martin said her husband was thrilled to receive a Quilt of Valor.
“It's wonderful because he was never honored when he came home,” she said.