How a war-tested Army veteran made his first quilt…with a little help from his new friends
The Stitching Soldier
By Bob Ruggiero
Joanne Gore does not answer her cell phone while she’s driving. It’s normally tucked away in her purse, and it’s too much of a hassle – not to mention a safety concern – to pick up. “I don’t fool with it when it’s ringing. Ever.” she says.
But last December, something just told the longtime member of the Colorado Valley Quilt Guild and docent at the Texas Quilt Museum that this call was important, so she answered it. After pulling over to a safe spot first, of course.
On the other end was Julie Maffei, the Museum’s Manager. She said there was a visitor who Gore needed to meet, and perhaps help out with a little something. And Gore was happy to so do. “I have found it to be a great job because I’ve met people from all over the world there,” she offers. “Especially when they have the Quilt Festival in downtown Houston and busloads of people come out to La Grange.”
When Gore returned to the Museum, she was faced with an unlikely sight. It was a man holding a nearly-completed, one that he had made himself. But his background was in soldiering and policing, not quilting, and he needed help and guidance on finishing the project. Lucky then that for Bob Lietz of Columbus, Texas, he walked into just the right place at the right time.
Joanne Gore with Bob Lietz in front of his finished quilt
at the Texas Quilt Museum.
Lietz himself joined the United States Army in 1978, and the Chicago native’s career in the service took him to countries all over the world, along with stints in in Alaska, Hawaii, and Texas. In 1990, he was about to go to flight school to become a helicopter pilot when was deployed to Iraq to serve in both Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm with the 545th Military Police Company in the First Calvary Division. He saw combat on the ground, and he suffered from PTSD afterwards. Leitz left the Army in 1991 and spent the next 22 years as a police officer in Plano, Texas.
Bob Lietz’s family had a proud tradition of serving in the U.S. armed forces. His father was a veteran of the Korean War, and as a child, Lietz remembers his dad’s “Ike Jacket” cotton uniform hanging in the basement in a plastic bag. Corporal Richard Lietz didn’t talk much about his war experiences, but his son would later help him get ribbons he had earned but never received for his service. The son gave them to the father as a present for his 75th birthday. His father then pinned on the ribbons and moved the uniform…to an upstairs closet. He passed away a decade ago.
This got Lietz to thinking about his own uniform, and how he didn’t want it just stuffed out of sight for decades—nor just hanging as decoration in his “Man Cave.” His grandmother and mother were both avid quilters, creating them both out of necessity and as family heirlooms. Which led to the thought…why couldn’t he make his own quilt from his old uniform?
“I was lying in bed one night just thinking about it, and I couldn’t stop,” Lietz
says. “I wanted something that I had done that represented me. I had gotten my
wife a sewing machine years before, so there was one in the house. And I just went
He asked his mother for advice, and that also led him to the internet where he found a “Crazy Stitch” pattern that would form the basis of the quilt. He found and bought some fabric that matched the color of his uniform. Lietz was already familiar with the Texas Quilt Museum, as it was a yearly destination for him and his mother when she visited from Chicago. So he knew just where to go for some help with his project.
Upon returning to the Museum, Joanne Gore talked to him about his quilt, and she would appliqué some words onto the surface. Jo Knox would help with the layout. And a quilt teacher near his home, Nancy Lauderdale, was also a big help with the binding after he both hand and machine-stitched the quilt. Though Lietz admits that he didn’t want his work to compare unfavorably to her five and six-year-old students!
“What I’ve learned is that the quilting community is a family. I don’t care where you’re from, if you’re a quilter you can go and talk to anybody,” he says. “Quilters are incredible people, very open, and very fun.”
Lietz’s company insignia is on the center of the quilt, surrounded by pieces of his actual U.S. Army uniform and some matching fabric.Still, there was another group he knew would find out about the quilt, and they could be a bit harder to win over. “My buddies are the type that if they found out I was making a quilt, they would immediately revoke my Man Card!” Lietz laughs. “But the more I got into it, the more pride I took in it. And when it was finished and I did show it to them, they were impressed an amazed and thought it was cool I had used my uniform.”
Making a quilt also helped Lietz better handle an issue that’s been part of his life for a long, long time. “I’ve been dealing with PTSD for 25 years. The mental issues have pretty much faded away. There are still times that I get confused I don’t know where I’m at, but this definitely helped a lot,” he explains. “Making this quilt put me more at ease. It wasn’t so much as closing book on [the PTSD], but I think it taught me to fake it even better. This is part of my life, and I have to deal with it.” He also notes that PTSD is something his father likely also dealt with, and both men could relate – unspokenly – of what the other had been through. Leitz is also a survivor of lymphoma cancer, and hasn't needed a chemo treatment in five years.
As for Joanne Gore, she says she was proud to be part of the effort, even if she notes her contribution was small. “Another lady I was talking to called it ‘a Christmas miracle,’ and that’s what I’m saying too!” she says. “Even Bob’s mother said it was the work of angels!”
And when the quilt was complete? Lietz is not ashamed to say the sight let out a torrent of emotions, as the final project represented not only an artistic journey,
but a life one as well108. “I did get emotional, I will admit. It turned out better
than I thought,” he says. “I even cried a little. I never thought I’d get emotional
over a quilt!”
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