Badge of Honor

Sometimes the things we collect can bring us great joy. As a child, the soft teddy bears of our youth were lovingly arranged before bedtime. As an adult, the vintage record collection lining our shelf reminds us of our younger days. But local resident Judy Howard had a vision that her collection could bring more joy to others, than herself.

As the author of Thanking Our Troops—God Bless America Touring Quilts, her newly released book contains a collection of heart-warming stories which highlight the 200 patriotic quilts that toured the U.S. for the last 4 years, in honor of our
armed forces.

All profit from the books, as well as exhibit fees, are donated either directly to the families of fallen soldiers, or to non-profit groups who make quilts for wounded troops. The heroism held within these pages is woven between vivid images of meticulous quilt-work, accompanied by a graphic patchwork of tales from soldiers.

One story in the book highlights the valor of Edmond resident, Jack Hayes.

As he set up a cannon to defend an airstrip, North Vietnam Regulars burst from the rubber trees twenty feet away, guns blazing. Hayes spun around and returned fire before a bullet from an AK47 pierced his stomach and exited through his back. Medivac airlifted him to the Saigon Field Hospital where a Purple Heart, Bronze Star and V for valor were pinned to his uniform. Then the officials ceremoniously pulled a sheet over his head… pronouncing him dead. Hayes however, had a different plan.

He fought through the near-death experience, surviving a fractured back, and the Agent Orange that poisoned his organs. During the ensuing years, he endured countless complications from the 35 major abdominal operations to remove his stomach, appendix and gall bladder.

When asked how he survived, Hayes would humbly reply, “When storms and tragedy strike our lives, we can decide to be like a rooster who hides wet and shivering in the corner of the henhouse, and eventually dies. Or, we can rise above the storm on wings of an eagle to soar to new heights. I’ve chosen to live each day through God’s promised strength like the eagle.”

For what his family said might be his last birthday, October 17, 2008, Howard presented Hayes with a replica of a Civil War quilt with an appliqué of an American eagle holding an olive branch in its beak. This quilt held a storied past full of amazing tales, just like the life Hayes led.

The quilt was originally created by Mary Chenoweth, great-great-great grandmother of Kristen Chenoweth. She created it for her son, Benjamin, after he left for war in 1862. When he brought his family from Missouri in a covered wagon caravan to join the Oklahoma Land Run of 1889, the quilt followed. Their names, dates and family history were threaded on top, documented for future generations.  

That Civil War eagle quilt, which recently appraised for $8,000 to $12,000, adorns the cover of Oklahoma Heritage Quilts, and was featured in Howard’s other publication, Centennial Stitches—Oklahoma History in Quilts.

“When Hayes received his appliquéd eagle, he cried at the thought that someone would take the time to express gratitude for his military service,” said Howard. “Jack would curl up in his colorful red, gold and green quilt for comfort,” his wife Sue shared. When the pain became too intense to bear, he stroked the three-dimensional wings as if the eagle gave him energy to soar to a higher level of faith. Six months after his birthday, wrapped in his quilt, Hayes passed.

To him, the mighty eagle was the personification of American freedom, strength and bravery. When his spirits need lifting, Hayes traced the quilt’s embroidered “Thank You Jack” with his fingers to realize that his suffering for his country was not in vain, but documented in this tangible memorial.  

Hayes’ inspiring story is but one of many recounted in Thanking Our Troops—God Bless America Touring Quilts. To view a calendar of exhibit dates, or to learn more about how you can purchase the book, visit www.HeavenlyPatchwork.com

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