Dianne Collins appreciates the freedom military veterans provide. She wanted to express that appreciation and decided to thank one, just one, for his service and sacrifice.
On Friday, Collins presented an American flag-themed quilt to retired U.S. Army 1st Sgt. John Edwards, who served 27 years.
“This is beautiful,” Edwards said over and over as he gazed as the quilt at Slightly Different, the Grovetown restaurant he and his wife, Cheryl, run. “To receive something as nice and as personal as this, it kind of makes me sensitive.”
Collins said she designed and sewed the quilt by hand as an appreciation gift through Quilts of Valor, a national foundation that organizes the gifts of gratitude for veterans.
“There’s something special about John,” Collins said. “He’s a real hero.”
In his career, Edwards served five deployments in Operation Desert Storm, two to Afghanistan and two to Iraq. He returned from his last tour of 13 months in Afghanistan in October 2010 and retired in November 2011.
“I was going to do 30 years, but that last tour ... it was a monster,” said Edwards, who said he suffers from post traumatic stress disorder and has trouble sleeping.
Collins said she met Edwards at the restaurant about two years ago and the pair became friends. She decided to make the quilt for him in late summer 2012.
“Every day I woke up thinking about it and it switched from making a quilt to ‘I’m free and it’s already paid for,’ ” Collins said through tears.
“That was a big surprise for me. I said this is not about making a quilt. This is to open my eyes and make me more appreciative to all our veterans have given.”
Edwards said Collins involved him in the quilt-making process by asking his opinion about the design.
As a big supporter of the military, Edwards kept telling Collins to make the quilt for someone else, maybe a young soldier.
But the heartfelt gift brought Edwards to tears.
“It’s a good feeling,” he said.
He plans to display the quilt, which Collins hoped he would use.
The two hope their shared experience encourages others to thank a veteran.
“I think we both … wanted that from the beginning,” Collins said. “If we can inspire other people. Just go next door to your veteran, take him fishing, cut his grass, do something. Just say a plain old ‘thank you.’ ”