SIDNEY, Neb. (AP) — In the eyes of the surviving veterans, rank has no meaning.
All that remains are emotional wounds to heal and stories to remember.
Staff Sgt. Ronald Eugene Bales was killed in action on April 15, 1971, at age 24 as a member of Company D, 2nd Battalion, 501st Infantry of the 101st Airborne Division.
Bales died, as did many soldiers in the Vietnam War, caught in an ambush while trying to save a fellow soldier's life.
Though the war did not end in victory, Bales' sacrifice and the sacrifices of 53 others in his unit — more succinctly named the Delta Raiders — have not been forgotten or devalued.
To the contrary, their deaths have forever woven the lives of their families and those of the surviving Raiders together — much like a quilt that bears their names.
Laura Lee Burr of Chappell, Neb., recently completed the quilt as a tribute to the 54 Delta Raiders who were killed in action between 1968 and 1971. The quilt will be auctioned in October during the Raiders' next reunion, in Lockhart, Texas.
Burr began working on the quilt with her husband, Bales' brother Bill Burr, in 2008.
While the road to its completion had nowhere near the perils Bales and Bill Burr faced during their tours in Vietnam, it certainly had its share of obstacles.
The Burrs had most of the quilt designed by December of 2008 when Bill Burr died in a car accident.
Bill Burr had served two tours in Vietnam and was set for a third when news of his brother's death came.
In the early 1980s, a group of surviving Delta Raiders organized the first reunion intended for all surviving Raiders, their families and the families of their fallen fellow soldiers.
Bill Burr first attended the reunions with his mother. His wife later joined him, and has kept up the practice.
With the death of two loved ones now tied to it, Laura Lee Burr put the unfinished quilt away, unable to summon the spirit to finish it.
“I kept trying to get it out and finish it up, and I couldn't do it,” she said. “One day I thought ‘I'm going to try and finish it up, try to get a little input on how to finish it up.' ”
That's when she decided to seek advice from the workers at Enduring Stitches in Sidney.
A few months ago, Laura Lee Burr went there and received advice and encouragement, she said, from owner Diana Larson and assistant Mary Sue Suit.
Larson and Suit also donated their time and materials to do the quilting, adding finer details like stars stitched throughout as well as an airplane and an eagle complementing the red, white and blue border of stars and stripes.
The quilt contains 20 squares with patriotic embroidery and phrases set below the Raiders' company designation, and on each side lists 27 names of Raiders killed in action along with the dates of their deaths.
And when it sells at the reunion auction in October, its proceeds will continue that work by helping to pay for future reunions.
During the entire weekend, Laura Lee Burr said none of the Delta Raiders wear their rank. In fact, it's rarely mentioned, foregoing formality in the interest of unity.
The auction and a memorial service highlight the two-day reunions, which have been held all over the country.
While the auctions are a time of enjoyment and laughter, Laura Lee Burr said each memorial service carries an equally powerful tone of reverence and remembrance.
The service reaches an emotional height when each of the 54 Raiders killed in action are called by name, and a surviving Raider or family member then carries that soldier's dog tags to the front and hangs them on a board.
“When they put it on, you'll see the men saluting,” Laura Lee Burr said. “Everyone's crying.
“The love that you see and the hugging and the tears when they see each other at a reunion — it's just amazing, the love that they have for our country. You can't go away untouched. No one can go away untouched.”
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