There was a certain glamour to the role Rich McQuarrie played for the Army’s Third Infantry Regiment, known as the Old Guard, before the fighting got serious during the Vietnam War. From 1961-63, McQuarrie was part of the presidential honor guard for John F. Kennedy. And though he got a closeup view of the president several times, that’s not the military service he remembers most.
What stays with McQuarrie every day was his role at Arlington National Cemetery “to see our veterans got a proper sendoff.” His job was to hand a neatly folded American flag to the next of kin of a deceased military member.
“I can’t tell you how many people I buried,” he said, his eyes welling.
McQuarrie’s stories are told in his wooden artwork, including a piece with a folded American flag. It’s part of the Military Veterans Art Exhibit at Scatter Joy Center for the Arts in Horsham. The show, at 305 Horsham Road, runs through July 21.
A portion of the sales from the artwork will be donated to Meghan’s Foundation, which helps veterans dealing with posttraumatic stress disorder.
“It’s two organizations working for the same cause,” said Holly Freed, vice president of the foundation’s board of directors. “It’s another example of veterans continuing to serve each other. That’s fantastic. Who better to do it?”
Bill Lessa, executive director of Scatter Joy, a creation of Kathy Davis Studios, said the relationship the organization has developed with the artists “is more profound than I ever would have guessed.”
He said the show was a way to “celebrate our veterans.” The stories, like McQuarrie’s, that are “underneath the artwork are fascinating. It makes it that much more special.”
Angela Riddle, of Buckingham, known as Army Sgt. Angela Cinalli during tours in Korea (200004) and Iraq (200607), said PTSD and a lack of care from the Veterans Administration left her family homeless for a time. “I can’t stand the thought of going to the VA,” she said, citing “frustration” and “a lack of help.”
Riddle enlisted in the Army because “I wanted to see the world and wanted to do what I thought was right. Now I’m fighting the guilt of an unjustifiable war.” After dealing with “constant mortar fire over my head” while in Ramadi, Iraq, Riddle said nowadays when a helicopter passes overhead while she’s home, she’ll grab her older son and run into the hallway for safety. “I’m now realizing how serious my situation is,” she said. Unfortunately, her son now beats her to the punch and tells her when a helicopter is approaching. “Now he’s dealing with it, too,” she said. “I realize how much I do need help. I’m finally admitting that. It’s not easy when you’re just trying to feed the kids.”
Riddle praised Meghan’s Foundation for “helping improve my life in so many ways.” She takes the foundation’s yoga and meditation classes, which are given free for veterans in several areas in Bucks County. “If it wasn’t for Meghan’s Foundation, I don’t know where I’d be right now,” she said. “I’m eternally indebted to them.” Since leaving the military, Riddle said she’s attempted artwork but never finished anything. “For this I did,” she said of her painting. “I wanted to show Meghan’s Foundation how much I appreciated their help.” Freed, the vice president of the foundation’s board of directors, said while the classes are not a substitute for medical attention, veterans learn techniques to deal with PTSD in a “selfhealing kind of way.
They learn breathing techniques, and tell us they can finally sleep after a class.” Freed said with 22 veterans committing suicide every day (a number quoted by the VA), “we’re another tool to help bring that number to zero.” Mike McAfee’s photography of nature’s landscapes is part of the exhibit. “I just like to capture beautiful things,” he said. “I think photography is magic.” McAfee served in the Air Force from 196670. He was never sent to Vietnam, where a number of his classmates lost their lives. “I would have gone,” he said. “Now I wish I had. I’m glad I served, I just didn’t get into combat.”
Neither did McQuarrie, a retired optician, who does woodwork “for my own piece of mind” and attends reunions of the Old Guard Association (OldGuard.org). He recalls JFK telling his unit after one event “Sorry to keep you guys up so late.” McQuarrie said, “I was going to say ‘Don’t let it happen again,’ … but I didn’t.” As part of the honor guard at Arlington National Cemetery funerals, he called the Scatter Joy art exhibit and the work of Meghan’s Foundation “wonderful.” “I think more people need to pay attention because when the parade is over everybody forgets.”
Mike McAfee, of Readington, N.J., stands in front of his photography work which is on display at Scatter Joy Center for the Arts in Horsham on Tuesday, July 7, 2015. The show, which runs until July 21, will donate its proceeds to Meghan’s Foundation to benefit veterans suffering from PTSD.
By Gary Weckselblatt Staff Writer – Bucks County Courier Times:| Posted: Tuesday, July 7, 2015 7:45 pm