Local veteran surprised by special honor

GUERNSEY--Richard Ibarra’s military service ended nearly 60 years ago.  His years were served honorably in the Air Force, and with so many others who donned uniforms and defended our freedoms, it was done because they believed it was worth doing—for themselves, their families and their country.  The thanks they received was appreciated but never expected. But as America has finally come to realize, their willingness to serve on our behalf can never be overstated.  And although it is a debt we likely cannot repay, our efforts to do so should never fall short. 

Last Friday morning, that message was personally delivered when Richard answered a knock at his door.  And though he had no idea what was about to happen, the service that Richard Ibarra so freely gave so long ago was now noted in a most unique and symbolic way.  Through the special work of a dedicated group and a nomination by his daughter Shirley Morgan of Denver, Richard joined the ranks of veterans who have been honored by the Quilts of Valor Foundation. He is one of 192,433 recipients of a handmade quilt that is funded, made and presented by the foundation.  Quilts of Valor began in 2003, largely through a situation founder Catherine Roberts experienced during the time her son Nat was deployed in Iraq.  Roberts had a dream about a young man who was in the depths of despair.  As the dream progressed, suddenly the young man was wrapped in a quilt and his demeanor had completely changed and the message Roberts came away with was that quilts equaled healing.  With the name in mind, Roberts determined how to administer the program, the standards the quilts would need to meet, and how they would be presented.  Most importantly, Roberts wanted to be clear that a Quilt of Valor would say to its recipient: “Thank you for your service, your sacrifice and valor in serving our nation in combat.”

Roberts would be happy to know that her vision of that professionalism is indeed carried out when a quilt is presented.  Despite that it is often presented in the presence of just a few people, it is done in the manner that honors each veteran and makes them feel special.  Richard noted that the representative who brought his quilt Friday was extremely respectful and he described how she presented it with the qualities of a ceremonial event, even though it was in a very small and personal setting.  “I was so impressed with the way she spoke and how she did everything,” said Richard.  “It is truly a wonderful honor and I really appreciate it.  The quilt is beautiful and it is easy to see that whoever made that quilt is very talented and worked very hard.”  

The first quilt was presented in November of 2003 at Walter Reed Army Medical Center to a young soldier from Minnesota who had lost his leg in Iraq.  From there, the movement spread across the country and the mission grew to include any soldier who had been touched in any way by war.  The Quilts of Valor Foundation is made up of members from all over the country.  Anyone is eligible for membership and there are several levels.  The quilting is done by teams of volunteers.  The foundation has a website and complete information about the group may be found at:  https://qovf.org

It was 1952 and he was just a kid out of high school, a proud graduate of Sunrise, Wyoming.  Built on the backs of the miners who pulled tons of iron ore from the sedimentary rock formations known as the Hartville Uplift, Sunrise was a company town and the place Richard Ibarra and his family called home. 

But despite its rural locale, even tiny Sunrise could not escape the reality of worldly conflict and for Richard, his brothers and many other young men in Sunrise, when the call came to step up and serve their country in uniform, they answered.  With the despair and destruction of World War II still on the collective mind of America, turmoil had erupted in Korea and tensions were building between the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and the United States.  It was capitalism versus socialism and the constant undercurrent of disdain each held for the other was palpable, making military preparedness a priority should a showdown erupt.   

For Richard, that duty of preparedness was carried out with four years in the U.S. Air Force.  An Airman First Class, Richard learned the skills necessary to keep America’s aircraft maintained and ready. 

His first assignment was in Goose Bay, in the eastern Canadian providence of Labrador.  It was built in 1941 by the Royal Canadian Air Force.  It was initially used as a landing and refueling stop for the Atlantic Ferry Route, but when World War II was imminent, a military airport was built on the property.  Richard spend a full year doing maintenance of bomber aircraft.  He vividly recalls that the weather reached extremes both summer and winter.  “We would have knee-deep snow in the winter but by July, it would be completely melted and it would be hot, hot, hot.” 

His next assignment was in the United Kingdom where Richard was stationed just outside of London.  He spent about 18 months in the UK, performing the same duties he had been doing in Canada.  Even though it was a full 10 years after the end of World War II, Richard said the damage from the bombings remained visible.  He described it as “scary and very sad”, saying “even though they were able to rebuild, you could see how bad the damage had been.”

From the UK, Richard came back to the States, winding up in Fort Worth, Texas.  After his discharge from active duty, Richard came home to Wyoming and served in the Air Guard Reserve for an additional four years before he received an honorable discharge. 

Richard could easily be described as typical of his generation when it comes to discussing his military service.  His quiet demeanor as he talks about his experiences reveals how deeply important the mission was, and though the conversation is absent of personal accomplishment or told in grandiose terms, there is a measure of pride that comes through in his words.  It is even more evident when he speaks of his two brothers who also served in the military.  Brother Joe Ibarra, a member of the U.S. Army, spent most of his time in Italy and Germany during World War II.  As Richard puts it, “Joe was in some of the real hot spots during that time.” 

Younger brother Ben also served in the Army, spending his time in Korea and Viet Nam.  Richard notes that he is especially proud of Ben’s rise to the rank of Master Sergeant in just four years.  “He worked hard to achieve that.” 

Photos of all three brothers in uniform hang in Richard’s office to this day, young faces that reflect a time when so many were called to defend what America stood for, then and now.  Somehow you just know they would do it all the same if they were asked again.  It is the essence of what Caroline Roberts wanted to recognize when she founded Quilts of Valor.  Richard Ibarra couldn’t be a better representative.    



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