Quilt of Valor presentation

World War II veteran Robert Cole, center, is presented with a Quilt of Valor on Aug. 23 David, second from right, and Rita Champion, far right, of Porcupine Quillting. Admiring the quilt were Cole’s daughter and great great-granddaughter.

Pat McKnight for the La Crosse Tribune

When Robert Cole dove into what he thought was a foxhole to escape shelling as an infantryman in World War II, he probably didn’t foresee a future where he would be comforted decades later with a special quilt.

Cole was presented with a Quilt of Valor at his current residence in the Onalaska Care Center in Onalaska. The handmade quilt was given to Cole during a special presentation Aug. 23.

A Sparta native and former Bangor resident, Cole enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1940 and was deployed to Africa and Europe. He was part of the invasion of North Africa, and from there, he went on to Sicily, Italy and France.

“We did a lot of walking,” said Cole. “I went because it was my duty.”

His daughter, Candace Warhanik, requested a QOV for her father after seeing a television segment about the program. She says her father didn’t talk about his adventures during the war until a few years ago.

“He landed behind the enemy lines at the Anzio Beach in January 1944,” said Warhanik. “He served 550 days of combat in the Third Infantry Division. He was awarded the Bronze Star, 10 Battle Stars, four Bronze Arrowheads and the Croix de Guerre with Palm.”

It was at Anzio where Cole found refuge from the shelling in the hollow. However, it turned out the pit wasn’t a foxhole.

“I jumped in a hole and woke up and saw it was a grave,” said Cole, “and I was glad to be there.”

Along with his memories, one of the mementoes Cole brought back from the war is a Nazi flag he acquired when U.S. troops entered Nuremberg, the birthplace of the Nazi party.

Honorably discharged in 1945 when the war ended, Cole returned home, finding employment at La Crosse Footwear. Now the patriarch of five generations, the 95-year-old Cole is among the last of “The Greatest Generation,” that lived through the Great Depression and World War II.

Quilts of Valor Foundation is a non-profit with a mission of honoring physically or psychologically wounded service members by covering them with a handmade quilt.

Started by Catherine Roberts of Seaford, Delaware, in 2003, after she dreamt about her son who was stationed overseas, the concept has spread across the country and has entered the international sphere.

More than 5,500 veterans have been honored with a quilt. The quilters make the quilts to honor the 25 percent of veterans returning home who suffer from a physical or psychological wound.

Individuals or groups can make a Quilt of Valor; non-quilters can support the movement through donations of materials or money.

Karen Demaree of Platteville, the maker of Cole’s quilt, learns about potential recipients through requests made on the program’s website.

“Each QOV is unique and may take anywhere from three months to a year to complete,” said Demaree. “The volunteers in Wisconsin have awarded over 650 quilts over the past three years. As state coordinator, I have made a lot of Quilts of Valor from many patterns. Any quilt pattern can be made into a QOV, just think red, white and blue.”

Rita Champion of Porcupine Quillting on Brice Prairie awarded the quilt made by Demaree. Champion has been involved with the QOV, having made several QOV herself and stitching quilts made by others with her long-arm quilting machine.

“We usually get two to four to finish a month,” said Champion. “I got involved with Quilts of Valor a few years ago and it is wonderful awarding the quilts.”

Anyone wanting a quilt made for a veteran can nominate the service member by going to the QOVF website at https://www.qovf.org.

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