Communication students honor military service veterans with ‘Quilts of Valor’

Quilts+of+Valor+Wichita+Coordinator+Martha+Smith+%28right%29+helps+Quilts+of+Valor+recipient+Debra+Alaniz+pick+out+a+quilt+Monday.

Quilts of Valor Wichita Coordinator Martha Smith (right) helps Quilts of Valor recipient Debra Alaniz pick out a quilt Monday.

Staff Reporter

Every semester for more than six years, students in Rebecca Nordyke’s communication classes take part in a special project.

In conjunction with the nonprofit Quilts of Valor Foundation, they contribute to making a special quilt to honor a military service veteran.

For the students in this semester’s interpersonal communication course, the quilts are a way to learn firsthand how doing good deeds affects themselves and others. On Monday, the class project culminated in a ceremonial presentation of quilts to veterans, draping them in a symbolic token of comfort and gratitude.

For Nordyke, honoring veterans is all about the service her husband, a Vietnam veteran, rendered to his country, and the way he was treated after his service.

“I remember when he came back, and people weren’t nice,” Nordyke said, adding that veterans at the time were all treated alike, no matter their role in the service. “I just wanted to do something to pay back people who served in the military.”

Quilts of Valor started 13 ago when a military mom, Catherine Roberts, sought a way to honor her son and the Army units he served with. Her idea to network quilt-toppers with machine quilters across the country turned into a grassroots effort to honor and comfort all returning service members touched by war with a tangible reminder of America’s appreciation.

In her presentation with Nordyke’s class Monday, Quilts of Valor’s Martha Smith explained the symbolism behind her organization’s healing gifts.

“When Quilts of Valor first started, Catherine wanted to give everybody who was injured a quilt,” Smith explained. “But not all injuries are external. As the foundation has grown, we’ve learned a lot more about our military and what happens to them and why they need to be covered for the things they’ve had to endure.”

When military service members return to civilian life, Smith said, they sometimes return from experiences that have changed them profoundly.

“They have had experiences that we cannot compare,” Smith said. “They’ve eaten strange foods. They’ve gone hungry. They’ve slept in strange places. Sometimes they couldn’t sleep unless they knew somebody was watching their back. They’ve eaten dinner with people who, the very next day, may have tried to harm them. They’ve lived in fear.

“As civilians, all we can do is say, ‘Thank you for your service.’ We thank them, and we cover them with our quilts.”

Three service veterans were honored with quilts at the presentation, though one, Kenneth Collins, was unable to attend.

Collins is the father of communication academic adviser Sandy Sipes, and was to be honored with the quilt made in part by Nordyke’s students. He served in the U.S. Navy as a pilot during the Korean War, during which he flew 26 scout missions. He will receive his quilt at a later time.

Senior criminal justice major Jerald Ashton was honored as a 14-year veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, the Kansas Air National Guard and the U.S. Army. He served during Operation Iraqi Freedom and is Sergeant-at-Arms for the WSU Student Veteran Organization.

Deborah Alaniz is a Butler Community College student who plans to study nursing at WSU. During her 21 years of service in the Kansas Air National Guard, Alaniz worked in varied positions and was deployed six times, only recently retiring from service.

For Alaniz, serving her country was as much for the students that honored her as it was for herself and for her family. Not only was she working to protect the freedoms they enjoy, but she was setting an example.

“I’m afraid that sometimes the younger generation doesn’t understand what’s involved in military service,” she said. “I want them to know their heritage. I want them to stand proud and not expect things to be handed to them, because anything worth having is worth working for.”

If nothing else, Nordyke’s students took away a little more respect for those who serve. Senior strategic communication major Sarah Kalitta, speaking for the class, said they felt honored to participate in the tradition of presenting veterans with quilts.

“Doing this made us all very happy,” Kalitta said. “It just gave us a special feeling.”

“This is really awesome,” Alaniz said. “Being recognized today was just wonderful. It made me very, very proud inside to have done what I did.”