Quilters Remember Servicemembers Killed in Action
By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 17, 2004 Joined at the seams by a sense of duty and the Internet, quilters from across the country who know little of each other are using their craft to help remember servicemembers killed in the war on terror.
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With some stitching away behind their sewing machines and others using simple needle and thread, more than 130 quilters are patching together the KIA (Killed In Action) Memorial Quilt, a project in which they hope to sew together as many quilts as it takes to bear the name of every servicemember who died in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Rochelle Baisch, a bookkeeper in American Falls, Idaho, started the project in April. She said she has never met many of the quilters who began sending in embroidered blocks of fabric bearing the name, rank, state, hometown, and age of a servicemember killed.
Each quilt will consist of 36 six-inch muslin squares. Around each square is a two-inch border of either patriotic or military-themed fabric. Baisch said the blocks will be put in order by the date the servicemember was killed.
"Some ladies are making one block, while others are literally making dozens," she said. "Some ladies will pick up all the names from their state. Some will pick up names from the same branch that they or someone from their family served with. Some will just tell me they want five names, and I will assign names to them."
She said several individuals have requested to make a block for someone in their family that has been killed.
"We stated from the very beginning that if a family member came forward and requested a name, we would let them do the block," she noted. "This whole project is really about the families that have been left behind. We wanted them to have as big a part in the process as we could."
Baisch started the KIA Memorial Quilt project after learning of a servicemember from her area who had been killed.
"I had heard of a young man from Burley, Idaho, that was killed and was online trying to find his name," she explained. "We have family in that area, and I was just wanting to check on the name."
She searched for the soldier online and discovered a Web site that listed the names and information of all the troops who had been killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
"It really broke my heart to look at page after page of names of these brave men and women," she said. "For days, I just couldn't get it out of my mind. So, being a quilter, it was only natural that I decided that I wanted to make a quilt as a memorial. But I knew that I wouldn't be able to do it alone. There were already over 400 names on the list," she said.
Baisch took to the Internet again, this time posting a message on a quilting forum that she belonged to. "I told the ladies what I had in mind and asked if they would like to help," she said.
The response to her message was immediate and overwhelming, she said. "We soon decided to move to our own Web site so that we were better able to track things," she said.
Meanwhile, another member of the newly formed Internet forum, Amanda Hagee, started a Yahoo group page, which created a database for those volunteering to help.
Shortly afterward, Baisch's sister, Rhonda Halstead, joined in and started a Web site to get the project out to the public.
Baisch hopes the group can complete the quilts and have them tour the United States soon. She would like to see the quilts displayed at military bases, state capitals, or "anywhere else that we can find someone that would want to sponsor a showing."
She also hopes that interest in the quilts will help raise donations to cover the cost of making them. The group has paid for items such as batting, fabric for the back of the quilts, and shipping and administrative costs, out of their own pockets, she explained.
The group has set up a fund at a local credit union and is looking at ways to raise funds to keep the project going. She is also trying to get KIA Memorial Quilt nonprofit group status.
Baisch has received hundreds of letters from family members asking that the names of their sons and daughters be sewn on the quilt "to keep their memories alive."
"It's actually one of the most rewarding things I've done and one of the hardest things I've done," she said. "I'm glad the family members are enjoying it, but it's really hard sometimes to get the letters, to see what they (families) are going through. To say 'I'm sorry' just isn't enough."
It will take more than 40 quilts to fit the more than 1,400 names her group has collected. More than 900 blocks are complete, she said.
The quilters will keep up the project as long as names are being added to the rolls of those killed in action.
"We decided that we started this that we would keep this up as long as we're losing soldiers over there," she said. "As long as we keep adding names, we're going to keep doing the quilts."