When Steve Felts was growing up in Los Angeles, he never would have guessed that being drafted by the U.S. Army would take him to Vietnam, Germany, Korea and eventually Delmont.
Likewise, fellow veteran Diane Merlock would never have guessed that a spur-of-the-moment kiss in an Army maintenance pit would lead her to reconnect with Felts several times over the decades and eventually agree to marry him.
On March 20, Merlock will present her fiancée with a Quilt of Valor in recognition of his military service during a ceremony at the White Valley AMVETS in Murrysville.
The pair first met while stationed at an Army base in Hanau, Germany in 1981, when Merlock needed repairs done to her high-powered mobile radio system, or "RATT rig."
"He was in battalion maintenance, working down in a maintenance pit, and I don't know why, but I blew him a kiss," Merlock said. "He told me to come down into the pit and give him a real one, so I did."
As military coworkers, Felts and Merlock were not permitted to date, but they did become fast friends and take several trips together.
When Merlock was transferred to Washington, D.C., in 1983, Felts came to visit after he left Germany a year later. She was stationed in Arizona later, and Felts came to visit then as well.
"I was going to ask her to marry me, but for some reason I pulled over to the side of the road and talked myself out of it," he said.
After that, they lost track of one another until last year.
"I was living in South Carolina, and I found a 'military locator' page on Facebook," Merlock said. "I posted who I was looking for, and not long after the woman who ran the group sent me a list of numbers."
Once she reached the right Steve Felts, the pair picked right back up where they'd left off.
"I came (to Delmont) in November, and Steve said I'd have to ask him to marry me," Merlock said. She did.
"I told her, 'Probably,'" Felts said with a laugh.
See their story in the video below:
Shortly after they reconnected, Merlock nominated Felts for the Quilt of Valor. She herself is a Quilt of Valor recipient and belonged to the organization when she was part of a quilting group in South Carolina.
"It's meant to sort of wrap the veteran in warmth and love," she said. "Because, especially with combat veterans, they've gone through a lot and some have had a hard time with it."
The Quilts of Valor Foundation began in 2003 with Catherine Roberts of Seaford, Del., whose son had been deployed to Iraq. Roberts decided to begin working in partnership with other quilters to create high-quality, handmade quilts for veterans returning home. The first Quilt of Valor was given to a Walter Reed Army Medical Center patient in November 2003. Since then, more than 182,000 quilts have been presented to veterans all over the nation.
At tonight's ceremony, Merlock will present the quilt, fold it in half and drape it around her fiancée.
"I'm so thrilled that we've been able to get back together again," Felts said. "And for her to do this for me, I'm completely honored and overwhelmed."
Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-2862, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @MurrysvilleStar.
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