World War II veteran honored with quilt of valor

An area World War II veteran received a surprise award at the Onalaska Care Center Wednesday.

Through the Quilts of Valor Foundation, volunteers presented 96-year-old Robert J. Cole of Bangor with a handmade gift.

The non-profit organization has awarded quilts to more than 160,000 veterans across the country since 2003. Their mission is to offer comfort and healing to those touched by war.

Cole of Bangor is a World War II veteran, serving in the Army from 1940 to 1945. He now lives at the Onalaska Care Center.

“It’s very emotional,” Cole’s daughter, Candice Warhanik said as she was flipping through her father’s book of war photos. “I’m very honored to be able to share this.”

Quilts of Valor volunteers David and Rita Champion didn’t know Robert before the meeting Wednesday.

“I always get choked up,” David said.

“Yes,” Rita said, “you do get choked up.”

The couple presented the quilt to Cole, with five generations of his family members watching.

“It’s a great honor for him, and I’m very, very happy for him today,” Warhanik said.

Several volunteers for the group Quilts of Valor, including David and Rita Champion, combine efforts to craft the quilts.

“They had said the wait may be some time because they hand-made the quilts, but … there’s less and less of the World War II veterans, of course,” Warhanik said. “They were very prompt, and it was a great organization.”

“It’s always a nice feeling,” Rita said. “They’re always so appreciative, and it’s just such a small thing to do for someone.”

A quilt may look small in comparison to the selflessness of a veteran’s sacrifices, as most things do.

“They left their jobs and homes, and went over and fought in war for us to have freedom,” Rita said. “(We’re) very appreciative. I wish we could do more.”

However, it’s the thought and intentions behind the hours of stitching and layering, that come together to create a whole that’s much greater than the sum of its parts.

“It’s wonderful,” Warhanik said. “It’s a blessing.”

“It’s great!” Cole said.

For more information on applying for a quilt of valor or on volunteering, visit this website.