Quilt Exhibit Highlights Veterans Day at Women's Memorial
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
ARLINGTON, Va., Nov. 12, 2004 The centerpiece of this year's Veterans Day observance at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial was the opening of a new exhibit titled, "The Comfort Quilt."
Capt. Linda D. Philipp of the Marine Corps Recruiting
Command, Quantico (Va.) Marine Base, told the audience about her experiences on
the battlefield of Iraq and expressed her pride in being a Marine during
Veterans Day ceremonies at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial.
A representative from Army National Guard, U.S. Air Force and U.S. Coast Guard
also talked about their experiences and pride in their service. Photo by Rudi
Williams Photo by Rudi Williams
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The exhibit features a huge, colorful quilt made aboard the USNS Comfort during the hospital ship's 2003 deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Navy Lt. Paula Godes told the story of the quilt's conception and creation during her keynote address. Godes deployed with the Comfort and was inspired to tell the story of the Comfort's humanitarian work after seeing the bravery on the faces of 18- and 19-year-old corpsmen, their compassionate care of wounded Marines, soldiers, Iraqi civilians and enemy prisoners of war.
"They were compassionate when they provided our enemies with the same care we provided our own troops not only because we follow the Geneva Convention, but because, as Americans we strive to do what is right," Godes told gathering at the memorial's reflecting pool. "That's what separates us from those who wish us harm. That's what makes us different from those who are fighting against us."
Godes said she was also inspired by what some of the healthcare givers did after long hours of providing medical care, such as sewing clothes for young Iraqi children and teaching an 18-year-old Iraqi woman amputee how to use crutches.
"And, as a result of our care, I saw hope -- hope in people who had not known hope for a very long time," the physical therapist told the audience. "I saw hope displayed by the Iraqi patients, by one man standing in a small group who made a sign with some scrap paper he had found and a big green marker. He had drawn big, child-like balloon letters that read simply 'Thanks You.'
"My heart swelled when I read that sign," she continued. "I will never forget that moment, and neither will the other men and women of the Comfort."
She said those things inspired her to tell the Comfort's story. "I wanted to tell this remarkable story of comfort," Godes noted. "And I wanted to tell it in an artistic way that symbolizes the very warmth and comfort we provide.
"And what symbolizes warmth and comfort, better than a quilt?" she asked.
Godes said crewmembers were asked to make blocks to contribute to the quilt. "For some it was unexpectedly therapeutic, to stitch and sew to commemorate their small contribution, to this enormous task," she said. "Some had never sewn before. Others were quite talented."
To her surprise, word spread about the project spread around the country and more than 30 women from across the nation sent packages of fabric, needles and thread to help with the quilt.
"Much of that fabric was used in the quilt, but some of it found another purpose," Godes noted.
She said in an effort to preserve their cultural heritage and modesty, Iraqi women were wrapping pillowcases or towels around their heads. "We used the fabric to sew coverings for their hair head coverings that were far from perfect, but gave them a better sense of dignity than pillowcases," Godes said.
After the Comfort returned to U.S. waters, a group of women called the Falls Church Quilters Unlimited Guild adopted the project and led the hand-quilting effort, Godes noted.
"More than 60 women quilted thousands of tiny stitches, bringing to life this enormous 11-foot by 12-foot quilt, completed in a record seven months," she said.
Godes said the quilt represents more than 2,000 hours of work performed by more than 800 people who contributed stitches, fabric and signatures.
"It's a story that pays tribute not only to the crew of the Comfort, but to those who served and cared for the Americans, coalition forces, and the Iraqis we were sent to liberate," she said.
Comfort spent 56 days providing expert medical care to wounded U.S. military personnel as well as injured Iraqi civilians and enemy prisoners of war. She returned to Baltimore, Md., on June 12, 2003, marking nearly a six-months activation during which her medical treatment facility performed 590 surgical procedures, transfused more than 600 units of blood, developed more than 8,000 radiographic images and treated nearly 700 patients, including almost 200 Iraqi civilians and enemy prisoners of war.
"I realize that a quilt falls far short of honoring brave men and women in the way they deserve," Godes noted. "Yet we hope and believe, this quilt will serve as a reminder of those who continue to fight, and those who continue to care for them, overseas and here at home."
The Veterans Day ceremony was also highlighted by remarks from women veterans, including Army National Guard Chief Warrant Officer Vickie F. Reid; Marine Corps Capt. Linda D. Philipp; retired Air Force Master Sgt. Nancy E. Mizak; and Coast Guard Lt. j.g. Tina D. Owen. The women talked about their experiences and why they served and are serving in the armed forces.
Retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Wilma L. Vaught, president of the Women's Memorial Foundation, delivered welcome remarks. The invocation and benediction was given by Navy Chaplain (Lt. Cmdr.) Mark Koczak of the USNS Comfort. The presentation of the colors was performed by the Military District of Washington Joint Service Color Guard. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Angela B. Williams sang the national anthem, and Army Master Sgt. Tammy J. Leverone played Taps.