LEXINGTON — Two area veterans received Quilts of Valor during the Dawson County Fair this year, with an evening presentation on Thursday, July 15.
Dawson County Fair Board member, MJ Hart, said they wanted to present Quilts of Valor to veterans who had been associated with the Dawson County Fair. The two recipients this year were Gary Reiber and Dale Biehl.
The Quilts of Valor Foundation began in 2003 while the founder, Catherine Roberts’ son Nat was deployed to Iraq. In a vivid dream, Roberts saw a young man in utter despair, then in the next scene, he was wrapped in a quilt, with a feeling of hope and well-being. The message she took away was quilts equal healing.
The first Quilt of Valor was awarded November, 2003 at Walter Reed Army Medical Center to a young soldier from Minnesota.
A Quilt of Valor is a handmade quilt that is machine or hand quilted. It is awarded to a service member or veteran who has been touched by war. The quilts must be a specific size, have a label with the required information, it must be awarded, not gifted and it must be recorded.
To date, 275,986 quilts have been awarded since 2003, with 2,633 coming in just the last month, according to the Quilts of Valor website.
The first recipient of the evening was former Dawson County Sheriff Gary Reiber, he served in the United State Marine Corps from 1968 to 1972, spending part of that time in Vietnam. Reiber served the county as sheriff for 41 years; he retired from office in January 2019.
The second recipient was Dale Biehl, who got a bit of a surprise. Biehl was drafted in 1963 and reported for basic training in 1964.
He served in the Army Special Weapons Service and still cannot talk about specific details to this day, as records are still classified. He was discharged and came home in December 1965.
The surprise for Biehl came when his granddaughter, Abbie Owens, daughter of Toby and Amy Biehl-Owens, revealed a secret. Owens had told her grandfather the quilt she was working on was for Gary Reiber, but in reality it was for him.
Glenda Parker did the quilting, while Owens put on the binding; Biehl was clearly touched by the gesture.
Keeping with the veteran theme of the presentation, speakers were on hand to tell the crowd about the Heartland Military Museum, Dawson County Area Hero Flight and work on the Lexington Veterans Pavilion.
Terry Lauby said in 1991, a permanent site for the museum was obtained at the Lexington I-80 exit and in 1998, a 16,000 square foot Visitor Center was constructed. It houses all types of military vehicles from World War II to the present, while displays include items dating from World War I onward.
Lauby recalled how persevering these vehicles are not only for the education of the public, but for the veterans themselves. He recalled an event in McCook where military vehicles were brought out and veterans who had been a little sheepish at first started interacting with each other and talking about their service history.
“These are not just metal, they are memories,” Lauby said.
Lauby said the museum is always looking for volunteers and in a sense, a person can travel without ever leaving Lexington by volunteering at the museum, 60 percent of their visitors come from out of state.
Dawson County Hero Flight committee member Max McFarland spoke about the history and effect the event has on veterans.
The first flight from Dawson County occurred in 2016 and they have been occurring regularly ever since, with one exception for 2020. McFarland said the trip allows veterans to see, “their memorials” over a three day period. To date 147 local veterans have made the trip.
Each trip costs around $60,000 but each of these trips has been paid for completely by donations, McFarland said the generosity of the Dawson County area allows them to keep taking veterans on these flights.
Three members of the Lexington Veterans Pavilion committee, Jim Bliven, Marge Bader and Larry Reynolds, spoke about the process and purpose of building a memorial to veterans in Lexington.
“American soldiers in combat die two deaths,” Bliven quoted, “their first death is on the battlefield when they spill their American blood on foreign soil. They die again when the people they fought for forget about the sacrifices they made.”
Bliven said he was wondering one day why the Lexington community doesn’t do something to memorialize veterans, and then realized he should do something himself. The initial idea was to named streets after veterans, but this idea grew into a full fledge memorial and community space.
The Lexington Veterans Pavilion will be located in Krikpatrick Memorial Park. Bliven said the cost of the facility will is around $800,000 and so far, $400,000 has been raised.
The pavilion itself will consist of an open-air amphitheater which will be open to the public for a variety of events including concerts, area acting performances, public rallies and other larger events.
Veterans will be honored with an educational walk surrounding the pavilion, each of the five military service branches will have their own monument with a statue. Each will feature a QR code for visitors, especially the younger generation, to access information and facts about each service branch on their smartphones, Reynolds told the crowd.
“We cannot forget those people who died in service to their country,” said Bliven, “no one should be left behind.”