99-year-old Marine awarded Quilt of Valor

Before he was old enough to drink, Richard Kolodey had flown 100 missions as a gunner on a Grumman TBM Avenger — a dive bomber — in the South Pacific.

By the time he was 21, Kolodey was on his way home from World War II.

Friday, the 99-year-old Marine — once a Marine, always a Marine, they say — who lives in Slaughters, was awarded a quilt from Quilts of Valor, an organization founded in 2003, in a noon ceremony at Moonlite Bar-B-Que Inn.

Marsha Hardin, a Kentucky volunteer with the organization, said 382,765 quilts have been awarded to veterans in the past 21 years.

They are awarded, she said, not given.

The Quilts of Valor Foundation began with a dream.

Catherine Roberts’ son, Nat, was deployed in Iraq.

She says on the organization’s website, “The dream was as vivid as real life. I saw a young man sitting on the side of his bed in the middle of the night, hunched over. The permeating feeling was one of utter despair. I could see his war demons clustered around, dragging him down into an emotional gutter. Then, as if viewing a movie, I saw him in the next scene wrapped in a quilt. His whole demeanor changed from one of despair to one of hope and well-being. The quilt had made this dramatic change.”

That led to her founding the organization.

Hardin said she met Kolodey recently in a Madisonville restaurant and began planning Friday’s ceremony.

Kolodey, who grew up in Dallas, enlisted with his parents’ permission as soon as he graduated from high school at 17 — five months after Pearl Harbor.

After training, he was assigned as a gunner on a Grumman TBM Avenger, which carried three men — a pilot and two gunners.

And it carried a 2,000-pound bomb.

Kolodey flew his first combat mission over Guadalcanal in August of 1943, bombing a landing strip.

His group would shoot down 10 planes and sink 35 ships.

Kolodey said he was in combat for 13 months, flying a mission every three or four days.

“Once we flew nine missions in three days,” he said.

Although the planes he was in sometimes came back with bullet holes in them, Kolodney said he never had a scratch.

During those 13 months, he island-hopped through the Solomon Islands, helping secure them in America’s efforts to get close enough to Japan to bomb it.

“We lost 30% of our aircraft,” Kolodey said. “But the planes I was in always made it back.”

Flying all those missions created a lot of stress for the men.

But Kolodey said, “When you’re young, you don’t think about it as much. That’s why they want young men in combat.”

When Kolodey came home, he went 60 years without talking about his experiences.

He just put it behind him.

“Nobody even knew I was in the Marine Corps,” he said.

But one day he was invited to speak to a history class.

So, Kolodey spoke about his experiences that day and he’s continued to speak to students in several schools, including Owensboro Catholic High School, through the years.

Kolodey still drives himself everywhere he goes, including to Owensboro frequently to eat at Moonlite and Windy Hollow Biscuit House.

He’ll be 100 on Valentine’s Day, he said.

That’s something he would never have dreamed of when he was flying those combat missions 80 years ago.

Keith Lawrence, klawrence@messenger-inquirer.com