Edward James Vincek was raised on a dairy farm in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. He had to grow up even faster when the U.S. Marines brought him to Norfolk during World War II.
“I would have been drafted so I decided to join the Marines,” Vincek, 94, said during a Roth family union Nov. 24 at the Grassfield Ruritan Club. “I was just one of the boys,” he added modestly.
On a day that also became a surprise celebration of his military war-time service, his recollections were sharp.
After training at Parris Island (S.C.) and Camp Lejeune (N.C.), Vincek was assigned to his first duty station – the Marine Barracks at the NAS Norfolk. He served as a gate guard, among others, restricting entrance to the ordnance area where bombs, depth charges and torpedoes were stored.
Pvt. Vincek fought at the Battle of Iwo Jima with the 5th Marine Division, 28th Marine Regiment, 1st Battalion, Company A. The historic five-week battle involved three Marine divisions and encompassed some of the bloodiest fighting in the Pacific. According to records, the Medal of Honor was awarded posthumously to 27 sailors and Marines who fought there.
American casualties were staggering. More than 6,800 were killed. Almost 20,000 were wounded. Vincek, miraculously, was not wounded in the fighting.
Joe Rosenthal’s iconic photograph of six Marines raising the American flag atop Iwo Jima’s Mt. Suribachi became a national symbol for American patriotism. It inspired the U.S. Marine Corps Memorial in Arlington.
After the fighting concluded on Iwo Jima, Vincek was sent back to Hawaii where troop ships were being loaded in preparation for the invasion of Japan. All six Marine divisions were being assembled to assault the island of Kyushu.
Two atomic bombs brought the war to an end.
“We finished loading ships and sailed on to Japan,” Vincek said. “We were the first troops into Sasebo. I was there for six months. They sent us to a big airfield in the mountains. We got rid of bombs and destroyed aircraft.”
Vincek was promoted to corporal before being discharged from the Marine Corps in Bainbridge, Md., in April of 1946.
While it has been 72 years since Vincek served in the Marine Corps, his family – and his countrymen – have not forgotten.
Vincek, who married Mary Roth of Deep Creek in 1946, was presented with a Quilt of Valor during the reunion on Shillelagh Road.
Eddie and Mary raised a family in the area. He worked for Globe Iron Construction Company in Norfolk for 42 years. When he retired in 1988, he was the plant superintendent. Vincek is the last living charter member of the Grassfield Ruritan Club. The couple delivered Meals on Wheels in Chesapeake for many years.
Sisters Gloria Cooley and Mary Davenport – Vincek’s nieces – came up with the idea of honoring their Uncle Eddie with the Quilt of Valor. Vincek’s son – Edward Vincek Jr. – provided them with the necessary details to file the paperwork with the national QOV Foundation.
According to its website, the mission of the foundation "is to cover service members and veterans touched by war with comforting and healing Quilts of Valor."
“I contacted the Grateful Threads [the Elizabeth City chapter of the Quilts of Valor], Cooley said. “I asked them – if I could make the quilt and get everything to them – would they finish it and do the presentation. ... That’s how it came about.”
Cooley sent the quilt top to Grateful Threads. They put the back and batting to it and sent it to their long-arm quilter. Maureen Durant of Grateful Threads bound the quilt and attached Cooley’s presentation label to it.
“We’ve been anticipating this for the last three or four months, and we’ve just been so excited about it,” said Sarah Hagood with Grateful Threads.
The three layers of the quilt are symbolic, said Grateful Threads volunteer Maureen Durant. The top layer with its colors, shapes and fabrics represents the communities of individuals. The batting – the filler and center – represents the hope that the quilt will bring warmth, comfort, peace and healing to the recipient. The backing signifies the support of others. Together, the layers symbolize the strength of the recipient and the support of his family, community and the nation.
“Each stitch that holds the layers together represents the love, gratitude and – sometimes – the tears of the maker,” Durant said during the presentation to Vincek. “We do this in a ceremony. ... “They receive it just as they would have received their ribbons or medals while in the service.”
Her words sounded very general-like.
“It is our pleasure to present a Quilt of Valor to a man who stood tall with a ramrod straight posture that leaves little doubt that he is a Marine,” said Durant. “The gentleman who is receiving this Quilt of Valor epitomizes all of those who have volunteered and sacrificed to stand up for the United States of America. Eddie Vincek, will you please come forward.”
Vincek – still ramrod straight – stepped forward with his cane in hand to receive his award.
“This was all a surprise,” he said. “I had no idea that all of this was going to happen.”
For information on how to donate to or request a Quilt of Valor, visit www.qovf.org