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VFW honors Korean POW with Quilt of Valor

Korean War POW Tony Jurek smiles Friday after being presented with a Quilt of Valor by Veterans of Foreign Wars District 8 Commander Rich Chasse, District 8 Auxiliary President Jean Scholar, Cloquet VFW Auxiliary President Cindy Slater and Cloquet VFW Commander Aaron Johnson. Jana Peterson/Pine Journal1 / 2
National VFW Surgeon General Jim Tuorila presents District 8 Commander Rich Chasse of Cloquet the book "Korea Reborn" as part of the ceremonies Friday honoring the district officials during Loyalty Days. Jana Peterson/Pine Journal2 / 2

Tony Jurek probably yearned for a nice warm blanket over the three years he was a prisoner of war during the Korean War more than 60 years ago.

Still, the Kettle River native and Cloquet resident was delighted to be wrapped up in a Quilt of Valor Friday evening, the handmade red, white and blue quilt a gesture of respect for the veteran, who was at the Cloquet Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3979 with his wife, Marj.

"Thank you everyone," a smiling and typically modest Jurek told the crowd after Cloquet VFW Commander Aaron Johnson and Auxiliary President Cindy Slater draped the quilt around his shoulders, with help from district officials. "I didn't expect anything like this when I got conned into coming here. I'm sure there are many others just as deserving."

Jurek was captured by the Chinese when his unit, 2nd Engineer Combat Battalion, was overrun during the Battle of Kunu-ri, across from the Yalu River in the Korean Peninsula on Dec. 1, 1950. Of the 787 Battalion soldiers, 331 members were captured. Only 117 survived imprisonment. After the signing of the Armistice Agreement on July 27, 1953, it took one month before Jurek was released from captivity. He was officially released Aug. 27, 1953.

On Sept. 17, 1953, a crowd, estimated at 4,000 (most of them Cloquet residents) lined the streets of Cloquet Avenue to pay homage to SSgt. Anthony Jurek and Cpl. Jim Arnston. Both had been POWs for almost 33 months.

Friday's Quilt of Valor ceremony was organized by Junior Vice Commander Carl Schenk, who said the Quilts of Valor organization began with a dream of a soldier hunched in despair, dragged down into an emotional gutter. Then founder Catherine Roberts saw him wrapped in a quilt, his demeanor changed to one of hope and well-being.

Now the quilts — which are made to very high standards and with certain patterns — are considered the civilian equivalent of a Purple Heart award. More than 159,000 have been awarded so far across the country and Schenk said he has plans to award more Quilts of Valor all over the Northland.

Tuesday's ceremony was part of the Loyalty Day celebrations, and was followed by testimonials and some gentle roasting of the District 8 VFW Commander Rich Chasse of Cloquet and Jean Scholar, Auxiliary President District 8. The ceremonies were also attended by Thomas Hanson, Jr. Vice Commander of Minnesota, State Sen. Tony Lourey and Jim Tuorila, the national VFW Surgeon General. Tuorila presented Chasse with a copy of the book "Korea Reborn," as both he and Chasse served in Korea.