Rockin’ a Hard Place: Yards of gratitude to make you feel warm, loved and appreciated

This is a tale of valiant service lovingly stitched together with grateful appreciation.

William Carroll was born in Oak Harbor and graduated Oak Harbor High School with the class of 2000. A little over a year later, the terrorist attacks of 9-11 occurred. As he watched the death and destruction on television at home, he became incensed.

“I said to myself somebody is going to pay for this and I am going to help do that,” he said. Soon thereafter, he enlisted in the Army. Over the next six years, he served two lengthy tours in Iraq as a staff sergeant in the infantry and saw more than his share of a terrible war, a good part of the time near Mosul where the terrorist activity was strong.

Since leaving active duty in 2008, he has remained a drill sergeant in the Army Reserve.

Marvin Reed, a retired Oak Harbor High School teacher, has known William Carroll since he was 15. “He always had the heart of a warrior and it shows,” Reed said.

But when he came home to Oak Harbor, his warrior heart was sometimes disheartened. Like many returning veterans from the horrors of Iraq and Afghanistan, he continues to suffer bouts of post-traumatic stress disorder because of everything he experienced.

“You go from 120 to zero overnight,” he said. “In the war zone, your heart is pounding and the adrenaline is rushing and the only people you know you can trust are your fellow soldiers.”

But when he came home he wasn’t sure how to adjust or whom to trust, and that made “normal civilian life” often a struggle. Fortunately, he has had professional help to cope with his PTSD. The war’s memory is never far away, but he has moved on. He works full time and shares his life with his sweetheart, Tanya Gardner, who currently serves in the Navy.

Last week, something very special happened to William Carroll that caught him off guard and almost speechless. Surrounded by friends, family and Tanya, he was swathed in a brand new “Quilt of Valor,” made especially for him by an organization that creates them as a visible means to honor veterans affected by war. William’s sweetheart Tanya had nominated him for a quilt several months ago, while she was far away serving in Bahrain.

Quilts of Valor is a national organization that has been around since 2003 and has now made and awarded about 300,000 quilts. The Northwest Washington local region, organized in 2015, has made and awarded about 600 quilts. Quilts of Valor are awarded without regard for whether the veteran served in combat or in some other role. The purpose is simply to recognize valiant service for the nation.

“Most of the quilt-making is done at home using fabric and other materials paid for by donations from other organizations or individuals.” said Kathey Bates, team leader for the local region, officially named the North Olympic Peninsula Quilts of Valor group with about 25 members.

The quilts are made at no cost to the veteran or the person who nominated them. Each quilt has about nine yards of fabric, usually in some version of red, white and blue, with batting, backing and thread, and costs about $300 to make. William Carroll’s quilt was made by Oak Harbor resident Colleen Jones.

“The quilts are a quiet but tangible gesture of gratitude for the service veterans have given our country,” Bates said.

And, as he was wrapped in all that warmth and love his new quilt provided while his family and friends applauded, William’s warrior heart looked to be very much at peace.

Harry Anderson is a retired journalist who worked for the Los Angeles Times and lives in Central Whidbey.

Harry Anderson