There wasn’t a parade to welcome Sgt. Jerry Zeman home from his military service in the Philippines and Korea back in 1946. There wasn’t a party to thank him for the months he spent in the Army back then, but on Friday he was surprised with a show of appreciation for his service that he will remember every day for the rest of his life.
When Zeman, who served in the 11th Airborne, 187th Parachute Infantry Regiment, arrived at the Bee Hive in Montesano, he thought he was just going to a lunch to celebrate a friend’s birthday. But, after he was seated, Sharon Pittsley presented him with a quilt of valor.
Pittsley lives in McCleary and is one of thousands of individuals around the United States who have participated in the Quilts of Valor program.
Quilts of Valor was started in 2003 by the mother of a soldier in Iraq who wanted to show gratitude to those returning from the deployment. Pittsley’s sister Janice Zellers, who lives in Napavine, first heard about the Quilts of Valor from watching a television program about individuals sewing the quilts and she decided to begin working on a few quilts. She was asked to present a quilt to a veteran from Aberdeen last year and she asked Pittsley to come along and soon her sister was hooked on the program.
“I have made quilts for more years than I want to say,” Pittsley said. “My brother was in Vietnam and you know what it was like when they came home, the boos, the hisses, the slurs. We don’t want that. We want them to be praised for serving.”
When one of her friends saw Pittsley making a quilt for a veteran a few months ago, she asked her if she would make a quilt for Zeman.
There was a time when Zeman, who had to borrow a rifle for his first patrol when he arrived on the island of Luzon in the Philippines in 1945, wasn’t even sure he would return home to Montesano.
“The first thing that happened was a Japanese machine gun opened up and it was cutting the leaves right above our heads, but we were in a low spot. My friend said, ‘Don’t look up. Don’t stand up. Pretty soon somebody will take care of that machine gun.’ I could see the holes in the leaves just above our heads.”
It took one look at Pittsley’s face as she unfolded the red, white and blue quilt to show Zeman the quilt to see the joy she took in every stitch. Zellers said making the quilts isn’t really work at all.
“I am proud to be an American and I am proud of those who have served,” Zellers said. “You don’t count the hours of joy that go into them or the labor that goes into them because it is a blessing to us to be able to do it.”
The quilt is much more than a few pieces of cloth to Zeman. It is a beautiful thank you note. He said he plans to put the quilt on the back of a couch so he can see it almost every day.
“It is something so unexpected and that I really appreciate,” Zeman said. “It is a thank you for my service. It is something that I will look at day after day and think of this moment. It is the nicest thing that ever happened to me in appreciation of my service.”
Zeman has been married to wife Evalou for about 66 years. He has one adult daughter, Joyce Powers, the long time office manager of The Vidette.