BRATTLEBORO—Over the last few years, Jay Karpin has received many honors for his service in the Army Air Force in World War II.
But the latest honor for the the 94-year-old Brattleboro veteran was literally heartwarming.
During a surprise ceremony on Dec. 18 at American Legion Post 5’s weekly coffee hour for veterans, Karpin was presented a handmade quilt from the Deerfield Valley chapter of Quilts of Valor, a nonprofit organization that has awarded veterans nearly 208,000 quilts since its founding in 2003.
Originally started as a way to honor combat veterans in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, the nonprofit organization has expanded its focus, according to its mission statement, “to cover those service members and veterans touched by war with comforting and healing Quilts of Valor.”
Lynn Carrier of Jacksonville, the organization’s Vermont state coordinator, and her husband Michael gently draped the handmade quilt over Karpin’s shoulders to great applause.
“The group in Chester at the quilt shop up there makes a lot of them for me, and then we go out and present them to whoever is nominated,” Lynn said. “And I think, in my heart, there are probably a lot of you in this room that deserve this quilt.”
An honor earned
Simply on the basis of valor, Karpin was more than worthy of a quilt.
As a bombardier and navigator with the 493rd Bombardment Group of the Eighth Air Force, he flew his first combat mission on June 6, 1944 — D-Day — in support of the Allied landings on the beaches of Normandy in France.
Karpin flew 34 other combat missions over France and Germany and received the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with four oak leaf clusters, the European–African–Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with four service stars, a Presidential Unit Citation from Franklin D. Roosevelt, and a personal citation from the Eighth Air Force’s commanding general, James Doolittle.
In 2015, he received the Legion of Honour from France for his role in liberating that nation from Nazi occupation.
And he was certainly “touched by war.” The losses sustained by U.S. air crews over Europe during World War II were heavy. The Eighth Air Force alone suffered 47,000 casualties, and more than 26,000 were killed.
“I saw people die horribly,” Karpin said, recalling the plexiglas nose of the B-24 and B-17 bombers — a very exposed and vulnerable position — where the bombardier was. “Bombardiers couldn’t wear a parachute. There was no room for it. You only wore a harness. If you were really, really quick, you could snap it on.”
Not many were, he said.
“Growing up, he never talked a lot about his experiences in the war,” said Jen Karpin, his daughter. “It’s only been during the past few years that he has opened up about it.”
One of the places where Jay Karpin and other veterans can do so is the Tuesday morning veterans gatherings that Post 5 commander John Hagen describes as “coffee and doughnut BS sessions.”
Karpin has been a regular visitor since Hagen started them up about a year ago. “Jay’s a great guy, and he’s got lots of great stories,” said Hagen.
A rich post-war life
Jay Karpin, who grew up on Long Island, has lived a rich and full life since his wartime service. He worked as a consultant for Republic Aviation on many of the company’s aircraft, including the F-84 Thunderjet and the F-105 Thunderchief.
In the late 1950s, he and his family moved to Grafton and founded a machined-parts company, Vermont Precision Products, in his barn.
In 2014, after the death of his wife of 67 years, Florence, he moved to Brattleboro to live in a small apartment above his daughter’s vintage clothing business, Morning Glorious Vintage.
“It’s been a fantastic ride,” he said.
“And we’re glad you made it back so you could have a family,” said Dr. Robert Tortolani, another Tuesday morning coffee regular.
Tortolani, who served as an Army doctor during the Vietnam War, had another message for Karpin.
“You know, your generation has been very special to us,” he said.