Vets blanketed with praise

NORTH PALM BEACH | St. Paul of the Cross in North Palm Beach paid tribute to local heroes and veterans during a late morning Mass on Veterans Day Nov. 11, with main celebrant Father Thomas Lafreniere, pastor.

Father Lafreniere greeted all attending the Mass that began with a procession to the altar. Two men in the lead carried large American flags, and once at the front of the church, the men placed the flags on each side of the altar, setting the tone of the day to pay honor to former service men and women, who have made sacrifices to help make America safe and free.

“Today is a special day,” said Father Lafreniere. “We are honoring our veterans in a very special way. We honor all of our veterans.”

At the conclusion of Mass, four veteran seniors were selected to be recognized. The men, all in their 80s and 90s, sat in a front pew, one with a walker for assistance and another with a cane. One gentleman wore shiny bronze metals.

The men were introduced one by one and then escorted to the front of the altar. Robert DiChiara, a former U.S. naval officer, served on an ammunition ship in World War II. Michael Fortunato served as an Army MP in World War II, and Robert Nankervis is a former U.S. Air Force communications specialist and served during the Korean War. Richard Locke served as an army medic in the Korean War.

“We thought this would be a very good idea to honor our veterans,” said Clint Johnson, honorable life member of the Knights of Columbus Council 12322. The council sponsored the recognition ceremony with presentations of red, white and blue “quilts of valor” handmade by six local women associated with the national Quilts of Valor Foundation dedicated to honoring service members and veterans touched by war.

“They pray over the quilts as they make them,” said Johnson, about the women who meet every Wednesday night as part of a quilting ministry out of a local Lutheran church. Johnson witnessed a presentation of their quilts to some veterans during an event he attended and brought the idea to St. Paul of the Cross. “Others might want to do this,” he said, hoping to pass the idea along to other parishes in the Diocese of Palm Beach.

Father Lafreniere blessed the quilts before they were presented to the four men. “Thank you, gentlemen, for your service,” he said. People in the pews stood and applauded, and many people were moved to tears adding to the parish’s gesture of appreciation.

Father Lafreniere asked all veteran men and women attending Mass to stand. Applause went up again, paying honors to the former service men and women and showing tribute to them for their service to the country and its people. Father Lafreniere held his hands high in the air and offered his blessings over them.

The four honorees were also presented with a certificate from Quilts of Valor Foundation with a special message: “The Quilts of Valor Foundation wishes to recognize you for your service to our nation. We consider it a privilege to honor you. Though we may never know the extent of your sacrifice and service to protect and defend the United States of America, as an expression of gratitude, we award you this quilt of valor.”

William Sodan, Knights of Columbus district deputy and member of the Florida State Council, was on hand for the Mass and presentation. “We invited people throughout the state,” he said. “We invited Knights and veterans. We very much support our veterans.”