The memory of a Vietnam veteran’s reaction from a decade or more ago is still fresh in Marianna Hilz’s mind.

Hilz was speaking of the first of many Quilts of Valor that she has sewn and quilted over the past 10 or more years.

“The first one I made was given to a Vietnam veteran,” she said. “He cried and said it was the first time he’d been thanked for his service to his country. From that moment, I was hooked on the project.”

The project to which she’s become so attached started with a simple question: “What can I do to help them for their service to our country.”

Now retired, Hilz does not have an exact count of the total number of Quilts of Valor she’s sewn and quilted over the past decade, but the number is substantial.

“I’ve got 23 made up right now,” she said. And she’s still working to make more.

At 8 a.m. on Saturday at least four — maybe six — Quilts of Valor will be presented to local veterans during a ceremony at the Pottawattamie County Veterans Affairs office located at 623 Sixth Ave.

“We have the presentations kind of early so we’ll be done in time for people to go to the Veterans Day Parade,” she said. “We’re going to have coffee and cookies for those who are there.”

Last year’s Quilts of Valor were a collaborative effort between Hilz and her next door neighbor, Sue Widfeldt.

“Sue sewed the quilts last year, and I did the quilting on a quilting machine that my husband purchased for me while I was recovering from cancer,” Hilz said. “I’m hoping that she’s hooked on the project.”

Last year, Widfeldt presented Quilts of Valor to U.S. Army veteran Irvin Mass, who was also honored as one of the grand marshals of the Veterans Day parade, and to Carol McKinley, mother of U.S. Navy veteran Michael Dean McKinley. McKinley was serving on the USS Kitty Hawk in 1985 when he was seriously injured after being electrocuted.

Like Hilz, Widfeldt termed the quilts “a tangible sign of our gratitude for your service.”

Hilz said the quilts are usually twin-bed size but 55 by 60 inches is the smallest they can be made.

“They have to be big enough to be wrapped around the veteran when they are presented,” Widfeldt added. “Some of the veterans are in wheelchairs, so they are sized accordingly.”

Hilz estimated she’s made 70 or more of the Quilts of Valor over the past 10 years.

“I try to make them with patriotic fabrics, and the service branch is sometime incorporated into the design,” she said. Hilz pays for the materials herself.

In addition to the quilts she’s made for presentation to veterans, Hilz has made blankets for the Muscular Dystrophy Association and the American Cancer Society.

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