BELMAR, NJ — Kyle Rizzitello surprised her husband on Saturday with something even better than a birthday party.

With family, friends, neighbors and the entire Belmar Council gathered in front of their home, Daniel Laing received a visit on June 22 from two unexpected guests: Representatives of the Quilts of Valor Foundation, who awarded the Vietnam War veteran with a specially made quilt to acknowledge and recognize his military service.

“Welcome home,” said Anne Carreiro, who was accompanied by Llawayne Wagner, both of Middletown. “We have not forgotten you. You stepped up and answered the call.”

Sign Up for E-News

With those words, Laing was presented with the red, white and blue patchwork quilt and wrapped himself with it — as cameras snapped all around to capture the “once in the lifetime” moment.

“This is a surprise. I never expected this,” said Laing, who served as a Navy corpsman, attached to the Marines, during the Vietnam War from 1969 to 1973.

In fact all along, Rizzitello has been telling him that she was having a gathering of family and friends to celebrate her 65th birthday. “I never thought she could pull off something like this, but she did,” he said, drawing smiles and laughs from the crowd of about 50 people.

It was Laing’s son who is credited with beginning the Quilts of Valor process. He contacted the Winterset, Iowa-based nonprofit group to nominate his father in order to thank him for his service, Carriero told the gathering.

Before presenting Laing with the quilt, she explained the foundation’s mission to offer veterans and active service members touched by war with comforting Quilts of Valor.

The nonprofit organization was founded in 2003 by “Blue Star” mom Catherine Roberts. With a son deployed in Iraq, she felt "10 seconds away from panic 24-hours a day, every day."

During that time, she had the idea of comforting veterans with quilts. Since then, more than 221,000 quilts — made by thousands of quilters throughout the country — have been awarded to “cover warriors” from all conflicts, including World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. .

As for Laing, it’s been nearly 50 years since he’s provided care and treatment to his brothers-in-arms on the battlefield. But that crucial caregiving role has provided the backbone for his career in civilian life. For the past 43 years, he has been a registered nurse at Riverview Medical Center in Red Bank.

TAPinto Belmar/Lake Como is Belmar and Lake Como’s only free daily newspaper. Accredited by the New Jersey Press Association, it is the official electronic newspaper of both municipalities. As a locally owned news organization, TAPinto through its advertisers is able to publish online, objective news 24/7 at no charge. Sign up for its free daily e-News, and follow it on Facebook and Twitter.

Download the free TAPinto App!  Click here for Android - Click here for iOS to get news as it is happening.