As of Feb. 25, nearly 4,500 soldiers had been killed in the Iraq war.
Another 32,046 had been seriously injured, according to About.com.
With love and compassion, Sue Nebeker of Vashon wraps injured troops returning home from war with giant “hugs” of appreciation. Each “hug” is a handmade, patriotic, heirloom-quality quilt unique in design and color. Quilters from all over the state — including Sequim — rally to sew quilts for recovering soldiers and their families.
“When we make a quilt we are thinking about the recipient,” Nebeker said, describing men and women of all ages and backgrounds who leave their loved ones behind to serve their country. “We make each quilt with love and appreciation for their sacrifices.”
While on the phone, Nebeker seals up a box full of 100 quilts ready to ship to a military hospital in Afghanistan. The shipment brings the group’s grand total to 8,257 quilts.
“We are in it until the end,” Nebeker said, encouraging people to get involved even if they don’t know how to quilt.
Assistance is needed with ironing, organizing quilt-a-thons, printing labels, packaging and shipping boxes.
One hundred percent of the donations go toward purchasing fabric and batting and shipping costs.
“We leave politics at the door and simply tell these soldiers ‘thank you’ for all they’ve done for us,” Nebeker continued. “I just hope we don’t have to make any quilts for our soldiers fighting in Libya now.”
Nebeker started the nonprofit quilting group after reading about Ken Dennis — a 22-year-old combat rifleman who returned from Iraq wounded in a way nobody could see — in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer Aug. 13, 2004. Seven months later and tortured with war memories — exactly one year after the first combat marine deaths in Iraq — Dennis hanged himself.
The story haunted Nebeker. With multiple sclerosis, there are a lot of things the 60-year-old former co-owner of a Seattle social service agency can’t do. She tires easily and has weakness in her legs. But she can quilt.
In no time at all, Nebeker was calling girlfriends and putting up posters all over the island, activating phone trees and organizing a quilt-a-thon. She hit fabric stores all over the Puget Sound area — clipping coupons and hunting for bargains — and hasn’t slowed down since.
Some quilts are smaller for people in wheelchairs. Others are larger, to cover an entire stretcher. Each is marked with a label that reads “You are our hero. Thank you!”
All of the proceeds from the Reader’s Theatre Plus upcoming production — “American Hero Quilts, The Story” — will benefit American Hero Quilts, the nonprofit.
“It’s an appreciation for the soldiers who go and do what our country has asked them to do,” said Carol Swarbrick Dries, Reader’s Theatre Plus board member and author of the script for “American Hero Quilts, The Story.”
The reading — which starts April 8 in Sequim and ends April 17 in Port Angeles — is based on a conversation between Nebeker and two peninsula quilters. The original conversation was recorded and supplemented with stories from other members, books and newspaper articles. The script tells the story of how the group was started, how it has grown over the years and how it has evolved to serve soldiers and their families better.
“Soldiers … warriors … heroes,” Dries said. “That’s the heart of the story, the heart of the script and the heart of American Hero Quilts.”
Veterans will attend the reading to share letters from quilt recipients. Quilts will hang on display prior to being shipped.
“The quilts are simply works of art from the heart,” Dries said. “Please come and support what this group is doing. Even if you have strong opinions one way or another about the war, I guarantee you will appreciate the sentiment of this show.”