Cole museum quilt honors 709 who served at Dow AFB

Posted April 26, 2009, at 9:08 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 12:21 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — With more than 200 vehicles and an exhibit of countless military items, Cole Land Transportation Museum is pretty much chock-full.

But when the museum opens at 9 a.m. Friday, May 1, visitors will be mesmerized by a new addition — a large quilt made to honor Dow Air Force Base and those who served there.

The red, white and blue quilt in the Tennessee Waltz pattern — all 10 feet by 13 feet of it, has a home on a wall at the Cole museum.

As conceived at the 2005 reunion in Bangor, the quilt was going to be small, something to raffle to help the Dow Air Force Base Reunion raise money to inscribe aviators’ names on the Wall of Honor at Dulles Aerospace Museum in Washington, D.C.

Nancy Gruman of Florida volunteered to make the quilt, which prompted reunion commander Roger Holmes, now deceased, to ask whether “everyone’s names” could be embroidered on the piece.

After a good amount of research, 709 names were inscribed onto the quilt.

“It was my husband Dave’s idea to locate various other emblems to enhance the quilt,” Nancy wrote in a description of the project. “Cliff Sanderson provided pictures of the squadron patches and the KC-97 aircraft that we had professionally digitized. Others we created ourselves or found on commercial embroidery sites.”

The quilt also includes the lyrics of “High Flight,” the beloved poem by World War II aviator John Gillespie Magee that begins, “Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth.”

The pattern of the quilt combines a star block with a snowball block to give the illusion of movement, Gruman explained. Each name block took 45 minutes to embroider, while special blocks took a few hours.

The Tennessee Waltz pattern is also called the “54-40 or Fight” pattern, representing the slogan James Polk used during his presidential campaign in 1844.

The numbers stand for “54 degrees, 40 minutes north latitude. This was the Oregon Territory border that was subject to dispute with Great Britain,” Gruman said.

She called the quilt “a labor of love.” Once it was done, Mary Swanson of Florida did the actual quilting. Sanderson, Dick Chipman, Ed Reynolds and Roy Martin were among other reunion members involved with the project.

“It was an honor and a privilege to be a part of this project,” Gruman said. “I hope that when others see this quilt, they will understand and appreciate the pride and love I felt when I made it. This quilt is dedicated to the men who served, and to those who now serve our country.”

Putting the names on the wall at the Dulles museum turned out to be too expensive, so the reunion group instead installed a plaque at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio during the 2006 reunion.

But the quilt itself is in Bangor. The inscription on the wall next to it reads: “This quilt was made by Nancy and Dave Gruman of Florida. The quilt commemorates the flying crew members of the 71st and 341st Air Refueling squadrons and the 4060th Air Refueling Wing stationed at Dow Air Force Base 1955-1968. The quilt was purchased at auction by Mrs. Virginia Massucci of Connecticut. It was Mrs. Massucci’s deepest wish that the quilt be displayed at the Cole Museum.”

And so it is.

Cole Land Transportation Museum will be open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. May 1-Nov. 11 at 405 Perry Road, Bangor. Military veterans are interviewed by youngsters in the spring and fall through the Ambassadors for Freedom Program. For information, call 990-3600.

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