By Chad Stewart and Eric Brandner

Editor’s Note: Sadly, Leah Ray Bechtlofft died in August 2016. USO Route 75 is honored to share her story and USO El Paso thanks her for sharing the gift of her time, talent, humility and generosity of spirit.

EL PASO, Texas – Have you ever seen an American flag with 18 colors? USO Route 75 has.

During a stop in El Paso, we met Leah Ray Bechtlofft, who quilted a stunning American flag that she donated to her local USO. She said there are six reds, whites and blues – 18 shades in all – to make the quilt look like it’s waving in midair. The quilt, which hangs inside USO El Paso’s West Fort Bliss location, was the cornerstone of a recent center makeover and is a conversation piece for the volunteers and visitors who pass through.

Bechtlofft has created about 25 American flag quilts in the past few years and she’s donated most of them to veterans. Each one takes dozens of hours to complete and she said no two are identical. While Route 75 was in town, she presented USO El Paso Center Director Yolanda Castillo with a second quilt for another USO location across base.

Downplaying her obvious talent, Bechtlofft said that anyone who knows how to use a sewing machine could recreate the quilt. “It’s all straight seams,” she said while everyone in the center marveled at her work hanging above the mantle. While she’d like to make one for everyone who asks, she said she doesn’t have enough time to fill all the requests.

“[Leah’s] humility is something that’s very touching,” Castillo said. “Those are the kinds of qualities in people that make service members want to do what they do.”

You can send a message of support and thanks directly to service members via the USO’s Campaign to Connect. Your messages will appear on screens at USO locations around the world.