SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – Joe Vella, South Plainfield’s  ’98-year and a half’ year old World War II veteran, was honored Tuesday night by Chaumont Post 243 of the American Legion and presented with a handmade quilt honoring his service to this country. 

Created by volunteers with the non-profit organization Quilts2Heal, Inc., the quilt is adorned, on one side, with a 1940s photo of the United States Navy veteran as well as images of his ship and medals. The other side features a patriotic red, white, and blue star pattern. 

“I would like to thank the women who put this quilt together [and] I want to thank the legion for hosting this ceremony…” said Vella, also extending thanks to his family and special guest Debbie Boyle who were among those in attendance. 

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An entirely volunteer-based nonprofit, Quilts2Heal began in 2012 from an effort to provide comfort to the families of the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy in Connecticut. Participants hail mostly from Connecticut and Leland, NC and, today, the organization is focused on providing comfort, healing and warmth to victims of tragedies and natural disasters through the gift of high-quality, handmade quilts. Recently, the organization began making quilts for World War II veterans. 

“They make quilts to help with the healing process [but] their secondary project, which they began about a year and a half ago, is making quilts for World War II veterans,” said Post 243 Adjunct Richard Doerr, noting that his sister Patricia Faulkner resides in North Carolina and is a spokesperson for Quilts2Heal. “We were talking back in September and when she asked if anyone in our post was a World War II vet I immediately thought of Joe.”

Vella served with the United States Navy as a Chief Petty Officer and, during World War II, fought with the fleet in the Okinawa Gunto Campaign, Eniwetok and Saipan and was awarded the Navy Letter of Commendation for Heroism. Following his active duty commitment, Vella went on to serve 37 years in the U.S. Naval Reserve. 

“Joe is a member of the ‘greatest generation.’ He volunteered to serve in World War II [and] he continues to serve by participating in the Chaumont Post 243 Scholarship committee and the VFW Post 6763 Patriot's Pen middle school essay competition, which is part of the VFW national competition. Joe has also spoken at South Plainfield schools for Veterans Day programs,” said Doerr. 

“Joe Vella has served his country well as have thousands of veterans that we honor. He talks in detail about protecting the country he loves,” added Boyle. “It was an honor for Joe to receive the beautiful ‘quilt for healing’ [and] I am so proud to know Joe and be a part of his life.”

Following the quilt presentation, Vella shared details about his personal life and experiences in the military to those gathered. “We had some fun, there was a lot of bad stuff and you guys did this wonderful thing for me,” he said. “I’d like to thank you all and wish you all a Merry, Merry Christmas.”

Vella and his late wife raised their family in Clark where he was also the founder and chairman of the town’s Gran Centurions. He a New Jersey Commander of the former Grasselli Veterans Post and a Junior Vice Commander of VFW Post 673 in Jasper, IN. Prior to relocating to South Plainfield seven years ago, Vella and his late wife resided in Toms River where he served as director of the Greenbriar Woodlands Community Association.

“We are very proud of him and it is such an honor. They truly are the ‘greatest generation’ and there are so many few of them left. We are very proud of him,” said Vella’s daughter Barbara Young, who along with her husband, Al, and brother and sister-in-law Joe and Diane Vella, attended Tuesday night’s ceremony. 

“I can’t get over how patriotic South Plainfield is and how good everyone has been to him. He is always telling us that everyone here treats him like a celebrity,” added Young. 

“I am so pleased the legion took this opportunity to honor my father  and I want to thank them,” said Vella’s son, Joe, adding that his dad is 'extremely proud' of his military career and loves to share his stories with others. The honor of receiving the quilt, said Joe Vella, is sure to make the list.

"He will ride the honor of receiving this quilt for some time and will be sure to show it off to anyone – whether it be the person from Meals on Wheels, the mailman, the garbage collectors," said Joe Vella. "Whoever it is, he is going to tell them about it. It’s a wonderful experience for him."

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