Alexandria woman honors late veteran husband with 'around the world' quilt

The quilt hangs behind the front desk at the Douglas County Library.

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Dee Brown hold a photo of her late husband Carl Brown at the Douglas County Library in front of the quilt she made to honor his career in the Navy.
Thalen Zimmerman / Alexandria Echo Press

ALEXANDRIA โ€” Behind the front desk at the Douglas County Library hangs a quilt that tells the story of lieutenant commander Carl Brown's career in the Navy that took him around the world.

It's a fitting tribute heading into Memorial Day weekend. The quilt was crafted by his wife, Dee Brown, 86, of Alexandria.

Dee grew up in Beach, North Dakota, studied nursing in Miles City, Montana and moved to Alameda, California in 1959 to work as a nurse.

"My mother was a little worried about me," Dee said.

One night, in 1960, Dee took her visiting cousins to a Navy bar that her co-workers said would be a good place to go dancing. Afterward, Dee and her cousins went out to dinner with a couple of the men they met. One of them was Carl. It was a blind date of sorts and Carl and Dee hit it off instantly. Three months later, the two married.


"He was everything I wanted in a man," Dee said when asked how she knew he was the one. "He was honest, he was generous, he believed all the things I believed from growing up on a farm. We were smitten with each other."

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Dee Brown looks through a blue binder assembled by her late husband, Carl Brown, which documents his time in the Navy.
Thalen Zimmerman / Alexandria Echo Press

They were married for 57 years until Carl died in 2018. A year later, Dee spent six months working on what started off as a place mat with a "Trip Around the World" pattern, which eventually became the quilt.

"After he died, I wanted our children to remember their father and all the things he did around the world," said Dee. "He was a great patriot."

She thought the pattern was fitting since the quilt tells the story of Carl's trip around the world through the Navy. The border of the quilt shows where he went and when he went there. It also includes his "dog tags," his medals, his rank insignia and Navy emblems.

When asked what she hopes people will take away from the quilt, Dee said, "That they will be patriots. That they will study the history of the United States and what are military does."

Carl began his career in the Navy as a recruit when he was just 16 years old.

"His father had been in the Navy. His brother had been in the Navy in World War II. (Carl) wanted to be a sailor," Dee said. "He was devoted and a patriot to no end."

By the time the two were married, Carl had already made waves within the service. He started off as a Seaman Recruit while serving out of the Great Lakes Naval Station in Illinois. From there he rose through the ranks and moved around the world. From Illinois, he went to Maryland and back to Illinois. Then he went to San Diego, Pearl Harbor, Korea, China, the Philippines to Washington and then to Mountain View California โ€” during which time he met Dee.


In 1962, two years after they married, Dee and Carl moved to Okinawa where they stayed until 1965. During their time on the Japanese Island, the United States entered the Vietnam conflict and Dee was left alone on the island with their two children and a third on the way while Carl was out at sea. Around the seventh month of her third pregnancy, Dee had complications and had to be hospitalized. She gave birth to her son after hemorrhaging. He died four hours later.

After Okinawa, the two continued moving around the world and had two more children. Carl spent time in Antarctica and eventually the Pentagon. All while rising through the ranks and earning the Navy Commendation Medal. He retired from the Navy after 21 years of service in 1976 as a lieutenant commander.

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Documents show some of Carl Brown's accomplishments in the U.S. Navy.
Thalen Zimmerman / Alexandria Echo Press

After he retired, Dee, Carl and their children moved to Dickinson, North Dakota to establish roots and be closer to Dee's family. Dee took up nursing again and Carl studied business management and finances at Dickinson State University which he later admitted was the "most wasteful thing" he ever did.

Unfortunately, even with a degree and Naval experience, Carl had a tough time finding employment due to the negative stigma surrounding Vietnam veterans because of the war's unpopularity with U.S. civilians.

"(Carl was told) don't wear anything that identifies that you were in Vietnam. Don't wear your uniform," Dee said. "It was shameful."

Carl worked odd jobs here and there until 1988 when Dee was offered a nursing job in Minneapolis.

"(Carl) said, 'You always follow me, now I have to follow you,'" Dee said.

They ended up moving to Maple Grove where they stayed until 1999. That year, one of their daughters moved to Alexandria and while Dee and Carl were visiting, their daughter suggested that they look at buying a home here as well. She put her parents in touch with a real estate agent who was able to find a house Carl and Dee imagined retiring in โ€” one with big windows overlooking a lake.


Dee and Carl lived together in their Union Lake home for nearly 20 years until Carl's death on May 30, 2018.

Thalen Zimmerman of Alexandria joined the Echo Press team as a full-time reporter in Aug. 2021, after graduating from Bemidji State University with a bachelor of science degree in mass communication in May of 2021.
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