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Joseph Marchina, a Vietnam veteran, received a quilt made by his grandson's third grade class through the Quilt of Valor Foundation.

COLD SPRING – Third grader Joe Marchina, of Maud Abrams School, had a secret - one he was thrilled about and couldn’t wait to tell. He kept it until the big day came Nov. 25 at the school.

His grandfather was being recognized for his military service, with a Quilt of Valor that Marchina's class helped create through the Quilts of Valor Foundation.

Marchina's grandfather, Joseph Marchina, served in Vietnam, from 1967 to 1968, with Bravo Company 1st Battalion 7th Marines, and again in Desert Storm, from 1990 to 1991, with the New Jersey National Guard 253rd Transportation Company, based in Court House. Now, Joseph Marchina was being honored for that service by a class of third graders.

“I knew I was coming here to speak about veterans and the rough times I and they have gone through,” said Joseph Marchina, “but I never expected this. I was very surprised and very, very honored.”

Quilts of Valor is a non-profit foundation, whose goal is to cover all physically or psychologically wounded service members with a freedom quilt, honoring them for their sacrifices.

“The foundation is totally donation driven, and we use the highest quality fabrics, so these quilts will last for generations,” said Kathy Tweed, a quilter, and mother of a son who served in Iraq.

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Joseph Marchina smiles during Kathy Tweed's proclamation reading Nov.25, when he was recognized for his service in the Marines.

So far this year, 2,000 quilts have been distributed in the nation, and a total of 239,381 have been awarded since the foundation was formed in 2003.

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Kathy Tweed displays a quilt given to Joseph Marchina and by his grandson Joe's third grade class through the Quilt of Valor Foundation.

At Maud Abrams, third grade teacher Eileen Oleksiak-Hall’s class sewed, decorated, and signed the squares, which were sent to a professional quilter, who stitched them together to form Joseph Marchina's quilt.

Oleksiak-Hall’s parents, Alice and Kasimer Oleksiak, served in World War II, and for 12 years, she has taken her class to the Veterans Day ceremony in Cape May. Her goal is to be able to connect and impress upon her students the importance of not only volunteerism, but to teach them about honoring those who served in the past, as well as the present, and enlighten them.

“When we look at what went and is going on with this world, like World War II, the Vietnam conflict, and now the students in Hong Kong, I want them to know they are extremely lucky to live here and are free to have that voice,” said Oleksiak-Hall.

During the ceremony, Oleksiak-Hall and Tweed mentioned how difficult it was for those serving, and just as painful returning home, a fact Joseph Marchina knows well.

“I enlisted right out of high school, and saw over 65 fellow soldiers killed, some right in front of me,” said Joseph Marchina. “Some of us came home, but the war never leaves you. Vietnam was a useless loss of lives.”

His wife, Denise, whom he met upon return, remembers the first time Joseph Marchina met her parents. “A jet flew over the house, breaking the sound barrier, and Joseph (Marchina) hit the floor in panic,” she said.

Joseph Marchina said he meets with veterans weekly. “We all went through the same trauma and it helps to be with those who went through what you did.” He also plans to help build a museum to honor those who died.

South Jersey Quilts of Valor meets every first Friday of the month at the Cape May-Lewes Ferry Terminal, and welcomes volunteers, whether it be sewing, quilting, or simply supporting the organization.

For more information on Quilts of Valor, go to www.qovf.org.

To contact Jennifer Kopp, email jkopp@cmcherald.com.