By Brian Walker, reporter for the Coeur d’Alene Press
Originally published on Jan. 3, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
When Robert Keller recognized the patriotic Quilt of Valor was made with his name to honor his service in the Marines during World War II, he smiled warmly.
“Wow,” he softly told Jerene Kindley, who made the quilt as a volunteer with the nonprofit Quilts of Valor Foundation. “God bless you.”
Keller witnessed the moment when the famous photo was taken of the raising of the U.S. flag on top of Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima.
He was honored by Quilts of Valor on Friday during a ceremony at Garden Plaza of Post Falls, Idaho, attended by Keller's family members, staff and residents. [Keller is currently a resident at Life Care Center of Post Falls.]
“This is yours, made especially for you,” a teary-eyed Kindley told Keller with a hug while presenting the veteran with the quilt. “Thank you for your service.”
The Post Falls woman said she was provided Keller’s name and service information through Quilts of Valor. She spent about a month making the quilt, one of 40 to 50 she has presented to area vets.
“They put their life on the line for our country,” she said. “I think they need a little recognition. When I see there’s a World War II veteran (on the nomination list), they go straight to the top of the list.”
After graduating from high school, Keller went to sign up for the Navy, but a Marine recruiter grabbed him before he could, said Mark Keller, one of Robert's sons.
On Iwo Jima, Keller served in a machine gun squadron in the Fourth Marine Division.
“Out of 13, he was the only one who survived,” Mark said. “He always felt guilty that he was the only survivor.”
Robert was part of a second wave of U.S. forces to engage in the 35-day battle.
He was near photographer Joe Rosenthal when the iconic photo was taken of five U.S. Marines and one U.S. Navy battlefield hospital corpsman raising the flag on the fifth day. The ceremonial second flag raising for the photo instantly became a symbol of the battle, the war in the Pacific and of the Marine Corps.
Mark said his father also found key Japanese maps blowing around the island.
“(The Japanese) were dug in and heavily fortified,” Mark said. “Dad turned the maps over to the command center and probably saved a lot of lives.”
After serving in the Marines, Robert, 88, lived in Coeur d’Alene and Spokane Valley. He met his wife, Florence, at the Farragut Naval Training Station during a dance.
His career was selling and servicing heavy equipment. He retired from Western States.
Kindley said she’s honored to make quilts for veterans such as Robert. She hopes the quilts will provide warmth and healing for veterans touched by war.
“I do it because there’s a need for it,” she said. “We need to recognize our veterans.”