NOBLEBORO, Maine — The sewing machine hums as Pat Johnston stitches another square of her latest quilt — mostly red, white, and blue fabrics, in alternating strips and squares.
It’s a skill Pat Johnston says she learned from her grandmother and seems to have perfected herself.
“I’ve been quilting for 23 years, but 15 doing veteran quilts,” she said. Her desire to use quilts to honor Maine veterans has become, she says, a mission.
“I guess you say it makes my heart happy to do this.”
Pat doesn’t know how many quilts she’s made and given away over those years, but she has sewn eight this year alone. Each has a different pattern, some more complex than others. There is something about a quilt, she says, that makes people feel good.
“It's the only way I can give back. I appreciate my freedom and they’re the reason we are free. And that’s the reason I do it.”
With the eight quilts she made this year, and four made by friends, Pat held a ceremony in her backyard on Sept. 11 to give those quilts to the veterans.
How does she decide who gets them?
“I just find people,” she laughed.
Her husband Wayne, a Vietnam veteran himself, gave a more detailed explanation. He said she often meets veterans at fairs.
“This is how it will sometimes work out. I’ll wear my Vietnam hat and someone will come up to me and thank me for my service,” he explained.
“Come to find out, it's another Vietnam vet not wearing his hat, and I didn’t know that. And we will carry on a bit and she will come up and say, 'Have you ever received a quilt?'”
The list becomes varied. At this year’s ceremony, there were Vietnam veterans, some from the Gulf War or the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some served overseas, others stayed in the U.S.
Pat Johnston sees them all as deserving.
“They signed a blank check. Didn’t know where they were going and didn’t know if they would come back. And just in that sense, that’s why you deserve to have a quilt.”
There were smiles and tears and hugs. No matter where or when they served, the veterans all seemed grateful for the gift, and the thought behind it.
“To organize a group like this that are all patriots, and respect the flag and the service of people like me and the others here, is pretty neat,” John Ryan, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel from Boothbay, said.
Bridget Miller, an Air Force captain in the 1990s, says being recognized as a veteran, together with the others, has special meaning.
“Every time I see a veteran wearing a hat or shirt, I am grateful to have been a part of something bigger.”
For each of them, Pat Johnston’s quilt will be a reminder someone thinks their service matters.
Others will get that same message next year. Pat has already started working on a new set of quilts.