Quilt memorializes fallen female soldiers

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A red, white and blue patchwork quilt commemorating the 113 U.S. military women who’ve died during the global war on terrorism was unveiled for public view at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial on September 17 in Washington DC.

The hand-sewn quilt features a stars-and-stripes motif that displays the names of the fallen within the stripes. It was crafted by 10 women from several small communities in the Pacific Northwest, with additional support provided by another 16 women, also from Oregon or the state of Washington.

Fourteen of these women traveled to Arlington National Cemetery to attend the unveiling ceremony held inside the women’s memorial. The quilt will be displayed inside the memorial until January or so, when it will be taken for display at U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals.

Retired Army Staff Sgt. Donna J. Birtwistle, a former military nurse from Moro, Ore., said she began thinking of making the quilt this spring after attending a military veterans group meeting. Then, she said, her community was saddened by the loss of Army Cpl. Jessica A. Ellis, who died in Iraq on May 11. Ellis was from Bend, Ore., about 135 miles south of Moro.

Birtwistle, who sews, found a sponsor to provide the quilted material and solicited volunteers from across the area to cut and sew the cloth. Work began June 10 and the quilt was completed about a month later. Birtwistle eventually contacted the women’s memorial to see if the quilt could be displayed there.

The colorful quilt “is all hand-made,” Birtwistle said proudly. It’s important to honor military women who’ve fallen in conflict, she said, because they, too, serve in harm’s way alongside their male counterparts.

“They are just as tough and just as hardy as the men are,” Birtwistle said of military women.

Mary Anne Macnab from Wasco, Ore., said the quilt also was created to comfort grieving families and “to honor these women who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice.”

Other women involved in the quilting project who attended the ceremony included Mary Lou Massie and Marlene Wallace of Wasco; Sharon Simantel, Mavis Olsen, Sheila Weber and Marylea Sanders of Moro; Elizabeth Hazel, Camille Hurd and Linda Simkus of Goldendale, Wash.; Penny Eakin of Grass Valley, Ore.; and Julie Cordahl of Cle Elum, Wash.

Retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Wilma L. Vaught, president of the Women’s Memorial Foundation, thanked the women for the quilt and for their efforts on behalf of military women.

“We are just grateful that your towns had the foresight to let all of you come who have worked on this quilt, so that you could be here and see it go on display here,” Vaught told the women.

Vaught then introduced Army Brig. Gen. Loree K. Sutton, a long-time supporter of the women’s memorial. Sutton is the director of the Defense Center of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury.

Sutton saluted the quilters’ efforts to honor fallen military women.

“Let us renew our dedication to making their sacrifices count,” Sutton said. “We shall always remember.”

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