Bill Harris wrapped his arms around Sauk County Veterans Benefit Specialist Kathy Kent and rested his chin on her shoulder. They held that embrace for a few moments.
“God bless you,” Harris said, then turned to Sauk County Veterans Service Office Tony Tyczynski, who covered the Baraboo man with a quilt of honor.
“This quilt is gonna remind me how much these people love me,” Harris said. “It’s an honor to have served. It’s an honor to have been a part of securing our safety as a career.”
The quilt represents an all-encompassing message of love and hope on behalf of the community at large, in his eyes.
Harris was one of two Vietnam War veterans from Baraboo gifted a quilt of honor Saturday morning at the People Helping People headquarters in downtown Baraboo. Rod Werner also graciously received a quilt of honor.
Giving the quilts was a symbolic gesture to help comfort both veterans from psychological and physical damage they suffered in Vietnam, Tyczynski said.
Both Harris and Werner are integral volunteers in the Baraboo community and the nonprofit organization People Helping People, Tyczynski said.
Harris presides over some religious events and leads the local People Helping People organization. He also works with people with a criminal justice background to help offer compassion and guidance. He says he doesn’t judge anyone based on their past.
Werner frequently gives to food pantries in Baraboo. He often buys brats or other foods to help feed people. He said it feels nice to help others.
Tyczynski said he loves working with area veterans to give back to them and repay their kindness.
“It truly is a privilege,” Tyczynski said. “That desiring to give back and help others in need. They’re very giving of their time and resources.”
Janette Lynch handcrafted the two quilts of honor over the course of a year. Her son and husband both served in the U.S. military, and she said it makes her happy to help veterans however possible.
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Harris and Werner never ask for favors, making them the perfect people to receive a gift symbolizing appreciation from their community in return, Lynch said.
“It’s a good feeling,” Werner said.
But that feeling of love and appreciation is not when many Vietnam War veterans experienced upon their return from the war.
Werner, 70, remembers the very first thing he did after disembarking the airplane in 1971 was to change out of his Marine Corps uniform and put on civilian clothes.
“People didn’t like us at all,” he said. “There was no celebration. No parades. It was a tough time for everybody.”
Nearly 58,000 U.S. soldiers never made it home from Vietnam. Tens of thousands more came back scarred and broken. Some died years later of disease after being exposed to Agent Orange. Others died of suicide, unable to cope with immense remorse and depression.
In the last few decades, the push to recognize Vietnam War veterans for their service feels late, Werner said. But the appreciation is noticed, and it runs both ways, he said.
Plus, receiving the quilt of honor reflects also on the many soldiers who didn’t come home. Their sacrifices mean something, and the quilts are a testament to that.
Harris, 66, said he is thankful every day that God chose him to shed light on the world by being truthful and kind to other people.
“We’re making it the best day ever,” he said. “Because yesterday is gone and tomorrow is not yet here.”
So many things in the world are broken, Harris said, and it is up to community members to set the best example they can for their children on how to love and cherish one another. Being involved in charities and serving as a minister in the Christian community are a couple such ways to set that good example, he said.
He’s mindful every day of the men and women who served in various wars and suffered in their own ways.
“We all got scarred,” Harris said. “But there is hope.”
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