By Maddy Vitale
When a Quilt of Valor was wrapped around Vietnam veteran Ronald DelOrefice he felt honored, emotional and appreciated.
“I was elated,” the 71-year-old Sea Isle City resident said. “I felt a little embarrassed but elated. I am still very emotional about it.”
DelOrefice, who was drafted in August of 1966 and served in Vietnam from January 1967 to January 1968, rose to the rank of Army sergeant in the 25th Infantry Division. His main duty was field radio operations for his platoon while stationed in Cu Chi, Vietnam.
He was injured in combat. “I had a head wound,” he said.
He received a combat infantry badge and a Bronze Star.
But what he remembered most about his return home was the lackluster welcome by his country.
“I just came home,” he recalled. “That was it.”
On Tuesday, during a City Council meeting in Sea Isle, DelOrefice was presented with a quilt by Liz Barrett, who belongs to the South Jersey Quilts of Valor Foundation.
In front of a room filled with his loved ones, including Joan, his wife of 48 years, and their longtime friends, DelOrefice stood before the crowd.
The quilt, Barrett explained, is given to veterans who are nominated as a way of honoring and comforting military men and women “touched by war.”
Prior to wrapping the quilt around DelOrefice, Barrett said, “Now, what I am going to do, I’m going to wrap you up.”
Then they hugged.
The audience applauded and gave DelOrefice a standing ovation.
“Most veterans, especially combat veterans, are a bit standoffish about awards,” DelOrefice said. “But I was so happy.”
DelOrefice said his friend, Tom Curry, who has a summer home in Sea Isle City, nominated him for the Quilt of Valor.
“We went to the Sea Isle Veterans Day Ceremony and one of our friends received a quilt,” he explained. “Tom said to me, ‘Ron, did you ever get one of them?’ I said no.”
DelOrefice found out at the end of December that he would be receiving a Quilt of Valor.
He said he was humbled.
After serving in the military, DelOrefice was in law enforcement for 30 years. He retired as a sergeant in the Lower Merion Police Department in Pennsylvania. He and his wife have two sons and four grandchildren.
Barrett, 72, of Upper Township, who, along with about 50 other Quilts of Valor members, create special quilts for each veteran, said she is often moved to tears during the ceremonies.
She noted being able to present a veteran such as DelOrefice a quilt is very special to her.
“When we get the Vietnam guys, the tears flow,” she admitted. “They were the guys who never got the welcome home. They didn’t get the parades.”
On average, the foundation members make about 100 quilts a year that are presented to veterans around South Jersey. Many of the nominations come from VFW and American Legion posts as well as Sea Isle Mayor Leonard Desiderio’s office.
“When the veterans get the quilt, the wives are walking on air. It is a wonderful feeling and very heartwarming for me,” Barrett said. “I say it is like my ice cream and cake. It is just such a feel-good experience.”
The retired Dennis Township elementary and middle school teacher became involved with the South Jersey Quilts of Valor Foundation 10 years ago.
Barrett wants to make sure veterans are recognized for their sacrifices.
She does it in honor of her late father.
“My dad, Joe Barrett, was in the U.S. Army Air Corps in World War II. He was a master sergeant. I do this in memory of my dad and the men and women who serve their country and make our lives possible.”
For more information about the Quilts of Valor Foundation visit www.qovf.org/state-coordinators/new-jersey/