Tears of pride, patriotism and peace trickled down veterans’ faces Wednesday afternoon as the Southwest North Dakotans were gifted quilts to honor their sacrifice and to comfort them with a small token of warmth.
The Missouri Quilts of Valor honored 13 veterans at the Stark County Veterans Pavilion. The Quilts of Valor recipients included U.S. Army veterans Ronald Holz, Gerald Hoff, Jerrel Gullickson, William Kohler, Patrick Mischel, Myron Duttenhefer, Richard Brauhn, Lee Rebsom, L. Bruce Jessen and Brian Benesh; U.S. Air Force veteran Theodore Renner and U.S. Navy veterans Leland Brand and Melvin Mayher.
At 19 years old, Kohler, of Dickinson, formerly of Glen Ullin, was drafted into the U.S. Army 187th Airborne where he and his unit would “jump behind enemy lines.” Kohler, who is a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion, served as a combat fighter, artillery fire and night patrol from December 1951 to December 1953.
Of those who served in the company Kohler was assigned with, only about 50% survived, he said. One night, Kohler was sent to resupply his unit and pick up additional ammunition. When he got back, he learned that an enemy artillery strike had claimed his entire squad of 20 men.
“We were on the front lines most of the time, and the biggest thing I can remember is one day when I was called to do a volunteer job ... I (remember) artillery hitting really hard and I waited and waited until it was all solved. When I got back, all the (men) that I was with were dead,” Kohler said.
Immediately, his job was to identify the remains before being attached to another unit. As gruesome as that day was, he had to muster the courage and continue on — his faith with God guiding him.
Though Kohler, 89, has plenty of wounding memories from that time, his service in the U.S. Army intrigued his desire to travel, with 12 trips to Europe, and a few to Korea, Japan and Hawaii. To the Dickinson and surrounding communities, Kohler is known as “2 Dollar Bill,” as he likes to randomly hand out $2 bills and even handed one to the Pope during a trip to Rome.
Missouri River Quilts of Valor Group Leader Arlene Meissel said that giving these quilts is a way to give back to those who have sacrificed so much to protect what is important to Americans. Each quilt is handmade and takes over 100 hours to complete, but Meissel noted that it doesn’t compare to what all of these veterans have done for our country.
“It’s a small token of appreciation for what they have done. It’s not even enough to say thank you but at least (it’s something) that gives them warmth, comfort and healing and it’s just what we do to say thank you,” Meissel said.
As each veteran approached the podium to receive their patriotic quilt, a warming feeling of gratitude and appreciation filled the room.
“I really think it was good,” Kohler said, about the Quilts of Valor presentation. “I think about the 19-year-olds that died that day. That’s all I think about and almost everyday, I think about those men because they were my age — 19 ... It’s hard to believe that.”