Last month, Ralph and Wallean Biederman welcomed family and friends into their Turlock home for what they thought was a regular gathering. Little did they know that it was a surprise party, kept under wraps with the help of the Veterans Of Foreign Wars Turlock Post 5059, to present Ralph with a unique gift.
It was a large, red, white and blue quilt, stitched by family friend Becky Kelley. Representatives from the Turlock VFW draped it around Ralph, making him an official recipient of the Quilt of Valor.
The quilts are made and presented to American armed forces veterans through the Quilts of Valor Foundation. The project was founded in 2003 by Catherine Roberts, whose son, Nat, had been deployed in Iraq. She explained that the idea for the project came from a dream she had where a quilt had comforted a veteran who was emotionally impacted by war. Since starting the foundation, Quilts of Valor have stitched and presented over 318,400 quilts to veterans across the nation.
Ralph and Wallean, both 86, admitted they had never heard of the project, and that the small ceremony came as a complete shock.
“I was just blown away,” Ralph said. “We are very proud of it, and even more so, honored. It really is an honor.”
“We were all shocked. We didn’t know all this was happening,” Wallean added.
Ralph enlisted in the United States Navy in January of 1956. He chose the Navy for the simple fact that he wanted to be a bit different. Growing up on a small farm near Denver, Colorado, the home of Lowry Air Force Base, there were plenty of Air Force members around. The Army was also nearby at the military base in Colorado Springs. As for the Marine Corps., they were a bit too “heavy duty” for him.
He served as a diesel mechanic on the USS Helena (CA-75) till December of 1959, the early years of the Cold War. The ship’s home port was in Long Beach. Ralph and his colleagues predominantly scoured the seas between China and Taiwan, and when tension rose for about a week in 1956, they were docked at Pearl Harbor.
Aside from the camaraderie he shared with his colleagues at the ports and over the ocean, Ralph’s fondest memories include making stops in Tokyo, Japan and Hong Kong, China. In Japan in 1957, he spent the Fourth of July in front of the Imperial Palace. As for Hong Kong, he described the city as being busy 24 hours every day.
Perhaps the thing he noticed most about the people in each of the countries was that they showed respect and that there was no hostility felt between the service members and the residents. It was an experience that proved that folks have more in common with each other than they think, despite some differences in culture and governments.
Ralph’s name is stitched on a corner of the quilt alongside his branch, his position, the years he served and the ship he served on.
“It’s a beautiful quilt and it was great to have received it,” Ralph said.
“As you can see, there’s a lot of labor that went into this,” Wallean said. “And it was a labor of love.”
Per tradition, the quilt will be passed down to Ralph’s children and grandchildren. They were all in attendance so that they could share the story of the quilt to future generations of the family.