CALLOWAY COUNTY — Theresa Schroader is like most people when it comes to quilting — she enjoys doing it and making the people who request works from her happy.
She did not have major aspirations in mind. Oh, she has had many people tell her that her works are good enough to be entered in the annual American Quilters Society show in Paducah, but, up to now, she has yet to put an entry in the event.
However, that is not to say that she would not be interested in being part of a major project, and that is exactly what happened last year. One of her previous customers decided Schroader should be the one to handle a quilt memorializing a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient from the Korean War, and that work will soon be displayed in none other than perhaps the most recognizable museum in America — the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.
“I’ve had people ask me, ‘Theresa, do you ever enter the show in Paducah?’ I say, ‘No, my work is not good enough for that.’ Now, here I am, and I’m into something way bigger than that,” Schroader said of the work that honors U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Ronald Rosser, who earned the Medal of Honor for his efforts in Korea during the early 1950s. It is believed he killed dozens of enemy soldiers and allowed many fellow soldiers from his unit to escape to safety, some of whom he carried himself after being wounded, during the early 1950s at Ponggill in bone-chilling cold.
Rosser, who died last year at the age of 90, also earned the Combat Infantry Badge, Gilder Badge, Master Parachutist Badge, Pathfinder Badge, Parachute Rigger and Army Recruiter badges as well for those efforts. He also received the Purple Heart for his war wounds. One publication has even named Rosser as one of the world’s deadliest combatants of all time.
This was the man Rosser’s daughter, Pam Lovell of Bumpus Mills, Tennessee, wanted memorialized in a quilt after he died. So, having had Schroader create quilts out of T-shirts for other family members previously, Lovell came to the conclusion that it should be the Calloway County quilt maker who should be obtained for this mission.
First, though, Schroader said Lovell asked her to make a visit to the Tennessee home where Rosser had resided during his last several years. She had things to tell the quilter, as well as show her.
Schroader said she was not ready for what followed.
“It was unbelievable,” she recalled Monday. For about 2 1/2 hours, Lovell told Schroader the stories of what her father faced, driven by the memories of his older brothers who had died at the hands of the enemy in Korea. Then, she showed her the contents of a safe.
“There was box, after box, after box of his medals. These were his real medals. I got to touch the Congressional Medal of Honor. I got to hold the Medal of Honor of Korea he was given. It was surreal. You start thinking to yourself, ‘I got to really hold the Medal of Honor! I can’t believe I’m standing here holding this guy’s stuff!’
“Honestly, it was bigger than meeting the President of the United States himself.”
Ironically, Schroader said Lovell had told her that she and her father had been in Washington to speak at an event attended by President Donald Trump about six months before Rosser died.
Adding a bit of theater to the visit in Bumpus Mills was the distant boom of artillery fire that evening that could be heard coming from the nearby U.S. Army Base at Fort Campbell. It seemed appropriate, considering the monumental task Schroader was being asked to undertake, in honor of a true American hero.
“It made me want to say that I didn’t want to do it. Before we went over there, she didn’t tell me everything that was involved, especially the part about this eventually going to the Smithsonian,” Schroader said. “I started asking myself. ‘Oh my gosh! Can I do this?’ I worried myself sick that I wouldn’t do that quilt justice. I couldn’t just do a regular T-shirt quilt this time; I had to do something really special.”
But Schroader took the job, then began planning. Once she began stitching, it took about three weeks for the work to come together, featuring everything from the many T-shirts Rosser had obtained from numerous reunions with other Medal of Honor recipients, to the medal itself, to a photograph of Rosser in a suit and tie.
The moment of truth came on Veterans Day at an event of which Schroader has come to be the star attraction, a ceremony at the Miller Courthouse Annex in downtown Murray where a quilt honoring a group of Calloway County veterans who are no longer living is officially unveiled. The 2020 ceremony was the fifth to feature a Schroader quilt.
The tearful, but joyful reaction from Lovell was all Schroader needed.
“It was pretty big,” she said. “I haven’t talked to Pam lately, but I imagine she’s going to hold on to it for a little while. She wants to cherish it for a little while before (sending it to the Smithsonian).”
“I’m really excited,” Lovell said that day at the Annex. “I had some of these made for my husband (who has also died and whose own T-shirts were turned into Schroader works) and it’s nice to have things from them now. I have those on my beds and, you know, blankets like these mean a lot to people in our history. A lot of people use blankets to tell the history of their family or society.
“I appreciate it and I know a lot of other people in the country do also.”
Lovell spoke at the Nov. 11 ceremony and told numerous stories of her father, as well as how she tried to visit the places in Korea where he had faced Chinese forces, even an Asian tiger that was feasting on dead bodies on one frozen ridge. Rosser had joined the Army at the age of 17 so he could serve in World War II, but he did not see any action of significance. In 1951, though, he re-enlisted, with a hunger for revenge of the deaths of his siblings in Korea.
She said he was able to carry his wounded teammates, as well as himself, up the snowy Korean mountains because of the strength in his legs from having to constantly crouch in the coal mines of Ohio, where he was born and raised. Rosser would stay in the military another 20-plus years before retiring.
Then, his youngest brother went to a place called Vietnam, and was killed in action. Rosser again felt a need for vengeance, but the military decided against this, “because he was a national treasure,” Lovell said.
“That was when he decided that if he couldn’t be a soldier, he would retire and he went on to be a police chief, worked for the V.A. and dedicated his life to helping veterans,” she added. “He also became a postal carrier and I think he ended up on the front of the newspaper because he got bit by so many dogs. He learned to carry treats.”
Lovell also said that her father enjoyed his membership with the Medal of Honor Society and spending time with the others who had earned this recognition.
“He was a character, told a lot of stories and he’s missed by a lot of people,” she said.