GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — Felipe Velazquez Maldonado, a U.S. Army veteran of World War II, was presented with a Quilt of Valor on Sunday in honor of his service 77 years ago.
The Quilts of Valor Foundation is active in all 50 states, and since 2003 it has made and awarded more than 250,000 quilts to veterans with the hope that they provide healing and comfort for their recipients.
“This is big for me,” Maldonado said.
He was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico, in 1925 and turned 95 in February. He was working at a diamond factory in Ponce when he was drafted into the Army in 1943. He trained initially at Fort Buchanan in Puerto Rico and then in Panama. He deployed to Hawaii as a radio operator and was awaiting the move into the Pacific Theater when the war ended.
He contracted pneumonia and spent time hospitalized in Colorado before returning to Puerto Rico. Maldonado was honorably discharged in December 1946 as a sergeant and received the WWII Victory Medal, the American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal, the Good Conduct Medal, six Overseas Service Bars and the Honorable Service Lapel Pin.
He met his future wife, Rosa Torres Vega, shortly after returning home. They married on Christmas Day in 1948 and were together for almost 70 years before she died in December 2017.
Maldonado retired from the weather bureau, where he had worked for more than 30 years, in Puerto Rico. He has a residence in Puerto Rico where one of his four daughters still lives, but for years he’s spent around six months annually visiting his three daughters who live in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Those three daughters were on hand for the Sunday morning presentation with one still in Puerto Rico joining via video call. The ceremony took place under a clear blue sky with enough breeze to fly the flags at Veterans Memorial Park. Also in attendance were a son-in-law, two granddaughters, their husbands and a great grandchild.
The presentation was made by Jane French, who is Ocean City’s liaison for the Quilts of Valor Foundation. She gave a short speech and had Maldonado’s daughters wrap the quilt around his shoulders as he stood beneath the memorial’s American flag.
French’s own father served in WWII, and she says honoring veterans is a necessary part of life.
“Any way we can honor them is just terrific,” French said. “I always tell them it’s meant to be used. I want them to throw it over the sofa so everyone that walks in asks, ‘Where did you get that?’ and hears about their service.”
Maldonado’s daughter Ivelisse Malcun says it means a lot when people stop to thank him for his service.
“Every time he goes out, he gets stopped, and that fills him with pride,” Malcun said. “He doesn’t hear well, and we tell him, ‘Hey, Papi, they just thanked you for your service.’”
For Maldonado, his service shaped who he became.
“You mature when you’re in the service,” he said. “You realize what’s important, and it helps make you a man. It helped me in the rest of my life.”
“I hope we can eliminate war in this world and live in peace,” he added. “I’m very proud to have served in the United States Army, defending the freedoms we have. We hope to continue enjoying them for the benefit of humanity.”
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