Quilts To Comfort U.S. Marine Families


Kirkwood woman leads effort to deliver quilts to families who lost loved ones in Iraq



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From left, Dick Reeves, Nancy Reeves, Bonnie Erney and Jean Kelly with a Marine Comfort Quilt. Jean Kelly's crew is part of a national effort to see that every family of a fallen service person receives a remembrance for their son or daughter's sacrifice. photo by Diana Linsley (click for larger version)
September 29, 2006
Kirkwood resident Jean Kelly is among a crew bringing beacons of hope to families of men and women killed as a result of the war in Iraq.

The beacons are quilts — 30 squares of homespun design and heartfelt sentiment. Angels, stars, doves and flags applied both by children and seamstresses fill the full-length quilt fronts.

The center square features the name of a fallen service person. In the square above, a military insignia shows the branch for which he or she served.

Kelly proudly holds up these quilts, then packs them in a box and sends them to the coordinator assigned by Jan Lang of Valley Park. Lang is the woman who started this quilt-making mission. Kelly, along with a crew of supporters, helped Lang create Marine Comfort Quilts.

They'd like to get children, retirees, military moms and the rest of the American public to make quilt squares as a way to honor the service persons.

Kelly's crew is part of a country-wide effort Lang started to ensure every family of a fallen service person receives a remembrance for their son or daughter's sacrifice.

Thus far, the non-profit ministry has completed some 1,945 quilts. They need to make several hundred more to catch up with the more than 2,700 service persons killed in the war thus far.

The mission is outlined on the Web site, www.marinecomfortquilts.us.

"The quilts mean a lot to the loved ones who receive them," said volunteer Kelly. "I know of one woman who had a quilt arrive on the day of her wedding anniversary. She saw the boxed quilt out on the porch and her mood lifted."

Once the quilts are completed, Lang must find the whereabouts of families and loved ones. She has a woman volunteer who was married to a Marine on that track.

Lang's biggest supporters are her seamstresses and quilt square creators, such as Kelly and team. While she appreciates good seamstresses, volunteers only need to be able to sew a straight line, Lang said.

Kelly's newly patched-together team includes Bonnie Erney of Manchester and Nancy Reeves of Kirkwood.

Like Lang, Kelly and Erney have sons in the military. Jan Lang's son, Alex, a Marine who served two tours of duty in Iraq, currently attends St. Louis Community College at Meramec.

Kelly has one son in the Navy and one in the Army. Both served in Iraq. The Navy son is Chief Petty Officer Tim James with the 3rd Marine regiment (as a corpsmen, his regiment is attached to the Marines). James, 29, is based now in Hawaii.

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From left, Dick Reeves, Nancy Reeves, Bonnie Erney and Jean Kelly with a Marine Comfort Quilt. photo by Diana Linsley (click for larger version)
Rob Kelly, a tank commander with the 11th armor calvary regiment, is based at Fort Irwin, Calif. He received a Purple Heart commendation in August 2005 for injuries incurred while patrolling with his unit near Baghdad.

As career military, both sons could be recalled to Iraq at any time. Kelly has another son not in the military, James, who lives in St. Louis.

Erney's son, David, 26, is with the second battalion, fourth Marines. He served in Iraq during much of 2004. As an individual ready reservist, he could be recalled at once.

Kelly met Erney at the post office in Manchester. Since Erney overheard Kelly talking about military matters while mailing a package to her son in Hawaii, she told her about the quilt ministry.

Along with working together on the quilts, they help each other deal with the strain of knowing their sons could go back soon to the war zone.

Support is hard to come by, Kelly said, though connecting with other military mothers like Erney helps. They both use online support networks as well.

Nancy Reeves of Kirkwood doesn't have sons or daughters in the military, but she and husband Dick said they're sensitive to the sacrifice since they have two grown kids of their own.

A member of the Thimble and Thread quilting group in Webster Groves, Reeves sews the finished fronts to the backing for Marine Comfort Quilts.

Kelly knows Reeves through the Kirkwood Historical Society and had long admired her quilting work (Reeves made a memorable "Meet Me in St. Louis" quilt for Kirkwood's 150th anniversary in 2003).

Reeves just started volunteering with Kelly, but she's already completed four quilts.

"There needs to be more publicity about the many people directly affected by the war in Iraq. It seems our administration wants to hide the growing number of injuries and deaths," said Reeves.

"Whether we support the war or not, it's important to support the families and loved ones of our service persons," said Dick Reeves, a retired metallurgical engineer and supporter of his wife and the quilt cause.

"At this point, it's an uneven sacrifice. The service men and women give their lives and we go about our business as usual," he added.

Those serving in all branches of the military should not be forgotten, said Reeves. "This ministry is a way to remember them."

The ministry's founder Jan Lang first made quilts only for Marine families. She broadened her scope when requests came in from all over.

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This square reads: "For protecting the red, white and blue, Thank You." The square above includes a military insignia showing the branch of the service which a fallen service person served. photo by Diana Linsley (click for larger version)
Now she coordinates the quilt making for the Marine families. A partner in the ministry, Sue Scheri of Illinois, heads operations for the families and loved ones of those in other military branches.

Quilt squares can be designed in any fashion with permanent markers, paints and other long-lasting materials. They needn't be expert patterns, though quilters are welcome to the cause, Kelly said.

The squares must be made from 100 percent cotton, prewashed fabric, cut to 12 by 12 inches size with the design centered on 11 by 11 inches.

Scout troops, school classes, retirement home residents and similar groups might consider making squares to aid the comfort quilt efforts, Kelly said. She plans on making squares next week at her granddaughter's Girl Scout troop.

Though guidelines are posted on the Web site, Kelly said she'd be glad to answer questions about the quilt-making process. She can be reached at 822-7755. Retired now, she splits her time between volunteering as a master gardener and sewing for Marine Comfort Quilts.

Her partner, Bonnie Erney, echoed Kelly's request for squares.

"We're pretty desperate for help, especially with the rising numbers of those killed in the war," Erney said.

"Even those who survive often are handicapped for a lifetime," Kelly said.

The quilts offer a bit of light amidst the darkness, she said.

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