Sunbonnet Sue’s honor local veteran

Petty officer gives honor to uncle for his service as caregiver

For years, patriotic quilts handcrafted by members of the Sunbonnet Sue Quilt Club typically have flown across the globe in shipments to deserving veterans they’ve never met and likely never will.

However, one club member found a connection with a local veteran, which she turned into a sentimental gesture of her own. On Sept. 24, Carol Geer, a member of the club’s Community Quilts program, which make items for nonprofits and local service agencies, presented a quilt made by Bonnie Hardman of Port Angeles to retired U.S. Navy chief petty officer Holly Crabtree.

The 34-year-old veteran has been in high profile in recent years after appearing in several Washington and national newspapers and websites since a shooting on duty left her paralyzed on the right side.

While on guard duty near Ramadi, near Baghdad, Iraq, toward the end of her last mission, Crabtree was shot in the back of the head by an enemy sniper on April 15, 2010. Crabtree said the bullet lodged behind her right eye and because of infection, surgeons couldn’t remove it for three months.

The trauma led her to retire in August 2012 after 14 years in the military. She said it took her about three years to learn to walk and talk again.

Crabtree, a Port Angeles native, moved to Sequim a little over two years ago with her 9-year-old daughter Leah. They live with Crabtree’s uncle, Chuck Engel, a retired operating engineer, who helps her in multiple ways with day-to-day life.

Since 2010, Crabtree said she’s received a lot of support from across the country through the Wounded Warriors program, particularly from quilters who send her quilts. This time, Crabtree wanted to show her support for her uncle who has been helping her and her daughter, by surprising him with the quilt.

“I can’t really count all the things he’s done for me,” she said to a room full of Sunbonnet Sues.

Engel said he appreciates the quilt and knows right where to put it.

He said it can be a challenge to help his nieces since he’s lived by himself his whole adult life but he finds time to go fishing alone and sometimes with his nieces.

Engel said the military helps Crabtree a lot with different things, too. Once or twice a week, Crabtree and Engel make the trip to the VA Puget Sound Health Care System in Seattle for different appointments.

Geer, who knows Crabtree through her granddaughter and Crabtree’s daughter’s dance classes, is glad they actually got to hand off one of their quilts in person.

“It’s nice to give one of our quilts to a vet in our town,” she said.

Hardman didn’t know who the quilt would go to after she made, but she found it particularly special.

“My dad was career military,” she said. “He gave his quality of life and served in World War II and the Korean War. I feel like I’m serving him by doing this.”

As for Crabtree’s post-military life, she’s looking to finish up a bachelor’s degree in environmental and occupational health & safety from Trident University online by next year and soon thereafter plans to begin a master’s degree in public health.