February 2016
Homeplace & Community

A Quilt of Honor

 
JoAnn and Boyce Kelley were high school sweethearts who have been married 61 years. Both were deeply touched when they received the Honor Quilt.  

Inspired church members find a creative way to recognize a veteran.

Memorial Day 2013 was a very special day for Boyce Kelley. He donned his old Air Force uniform and headed to Springfield Methodist Protestant Church to be part of a service to remember those who had died serving their country and those who had served but had now passed on. The ceremony took on a somber tone as each name was read, followed by the single clang of the church bell.

After this, Kelley and the other veterans led the solemn parishioners from the sanctuary to an area beside the church where a sea of white crosses stood, representing veterans from the Sandflat Community who had served their country. Silently, each person moved to stand American flags beside the crosses.

All the living veterans stood at attention and saluted. Others in the crowd placed their hands over their hearts. Most bowed their heads in respect and gratitude for the sacrifices of these warriors. Parents pulled their little ones closer, and many of the old ones wept. No words were spoken; none were needed.

 
  The flags from the Memorial Day Service  at Springfield Methodist Protestant Church would be used by Kathy Ballard to make an Honor Quilt for the church’s oldest veteran, Boyce Kelley. (Credit: Missy Fendley)

The crowd lingered longer that day, as if to make sure the picture before them was forever preserved in their minds and hearts. The image of the red, white and blue flags wafting gently in the warm, spring breeze was unforgettable. Many visitors stopped to take in the sight and to pay tribute.

Kathy Ballard, the church’s secretary, had watched the moving ceremony and seen the face of Boyce Kelley, the oldest veteran in her community. She had seen the pride and the tears of this man who had dedicated his life to keeping his country safe, a man who loved God and his family, a man who had recently suffered great loss. She knew what the flags meant to him, and she wanted somehow to give something back to a person who had already given so much. That’s when she decided to gather the flags and preserve them forever for "Mr. Boyce."

Ballard did just that and set out to design a quilt that would reflect the patriotism, the dedication, and the loyalty of one man to his God and his country. It would take her almost two years to finish the top and monogram her special message, but still she never gave up. She said that she knew she had to do this. She kept her idea from everyone but two other church members, Faye Fendley and Doris Kelly, whom she has enlisted to do the quilting.

Kelley, a decorated Vietnam veteran, who served for 28 years in the U.S. Air Force, knew nothing about the secretive workings in his honor. Well-known and respected in Southwest Alabama, Kelley entered the service in 1952 and travelled all over the world. In fact, Kelley said he could not begin to name all the countries he had been privileged to visit.

 
Kathy Ballard, the church’s secretary, was touched by the moving Memorial Day ceremony and the face of Boyce Kelley, the church’s oldest veteran.  

Through the years, Kelley has shared his military experiences with churches, veterans’ groups and schools. One such story involved his first deployment at age 19. Kelley got to see the Sahara Desert for the first time. He was stationed in Sidi Slimane, Morocco, near the area where Rommel and Montgomery fought. He recalled that years after the battle, American soldiers would unearth abandoned trucks and tanks that had been swallowed by the constantly shifting sand.

Kelley laughed when he told about his four-year deployment to Roswell, NM.

"I never knew about the extraterrestrial incident that supposedly happened there," he said. "I learned about this after I left. I was watching TV, and the show was about this incident."

One of the things he did remember most about Roswell was the high wind rate. While there, at least three airplanes were lost because of the wind.

In 1969, Kelley was sent to Vietnam for a year. At that time, he was leading a combat support outfit. He recalls being under constant fire from rockets and mortars. He received the Bronze Star for exceptional bravery in combat while he served in that war. When he spoke of Vietnam, Kelley’s voice broke with emotion and sadness.

"It was a terrible war. It made me sad to see how some in our country treated our boys when they came back home."

 
  Boyce Kelley cherishes the Bronze Star he earned for service in Vietnam. Kelley also showed his special citation from President Johnson.

During the height of the Cold War, Kelley was part of the Air Force Security Service in Turkey. He remembered being with hundreds of other soldiers, monitoring the Soviet Union.

"Now, we use satellites for this," he explained.

Kelley married his high school sweetheart, JoAnn Hudson, in 1954 and raised a family of four while serving his country. His oldest daughter, Teresa, was born in the Panama Canal Zone, where Kelley and his family stayed for three years. The other three were born on military bases throughout the United States: Tom, in Shreveport, La.; Debbie, in Roswell; and Cindy, in Biloxi, Miss. Even though his children moved all over the world, all of them were able to graduate from their father’s alma mater, Thomasville High School. This was a source of great pride for Kelley.

 
Doris Kelly, left, helped to quilt the top made by Kathy Ballard. Doris and Faye Fendley worked together to hand quilt the top in a backroom of the church set aside for the Sunshine Quilters.  
   

Kelley retired in 1979 and returned to his home in the Sandflat Community. He attended Alabama Southern Community College, earning a degree in refrigeration and electricity. He worked with Sears for seven years and then went to work at the Thomasville Mental Health and Rehab Center where he did electrical maintenance. When this facility closed in the ’90s, he worked at Searcy Hospital in Mt. Vernon, retiring a second time in 1996.

After his retirement, Kelley continued to work with military causes and community organizations. He served as Vice Commander of the local VFW. He was also Commander of the Armed Forces Association for many years. He marched in parades and attended funerals, representing the military. He still speaks to various groups and organizations about a subject he is very passionate about – freedom.

"I am extremely patriotic," he explained. "Our strength lies with a strong military to defend our country. Freedom is not free. Somebody lost a life so you and I could be free. There has been so much suffering for our freedom, and so many people affected by this."

The passing of so many World War II veterans saddens Kelley.

"These guys saved our world," he said. "Being in the military is more than putting on a uniform. It’s swearing an oath and giving your allegiance to this country … so many never came home."

In November 2015, Ballard and other church members planned to present the honor quilt to Kelley at the Veterans’ Day program. However, he and his wife were on a trip to Florida to visit their grandchildren. The quilt was presented, instead, at the Adult Christmas Banquet in December.

 
  Boyce Kelley received the Honor Quilt from Faye Fendley, one of the two quilters who helped Kathy Ballard.

The heartwarming tribute touched all who were there. Kelley read aloud the monogram that Kathy Ballard had lovingly stitched on the honor quilt, "One Nation Under God."

"This quilt is the greatest gift I have ever received," Kelley said. "It represents what I represent: my country. I love this country, its flag and all the good it stands for. This quilt represents the hard work of people at my church and their belief in freedom. This cross represents my belief in God and my belief that He is, and will always be, the center of this country that I love. I pray we will always be ‘One Nation, Under God.’"

Carolyn Drinkard is a freelance writer from Thomasville. She may be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..