Quilting, an old wartime tradition, goes high tech to honor troops in Iraq

Wednesday, April 23rd 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) _ When their loved ones fought at Fredericksburg and Antietam, Union and Confederate families sewed quilts and sent them to shivering soldiers.

With the war in Iraq, the tradition has gone high-tech: An Internet message group has created the ``Tapestry of Our Love,'' a 600-square virtual quilt that identifies servicemen by name and often with a photograph.

The quilt is the brainchild of Roberta Wilcox, who used a mouse instead of a needle to honor and pray for family and friends serving in Iraq. That includes her son, Marine Staff Sgt. Gary Wilcox II.

Also the wife of a Vietnam veteran, the 50-year-old Wilcox feels a bond with the women who stayed behind to quilt by hand.

``I think of the quilt as our history,'' said Wilcox, recalling past days when women joined together in quilting bees while their husbands fought in war.

``They're intricate, they're beautiful,'' she said. ``They're distinct, just like each of our sons and daughters. When I think of quilts I always think of red, white and blue.''

The quilt, which began when her son deployed in late January, has become a labor of love for Wilcox, who didn't know how to create the computer squares on her Web site until a friend taught her.

Through Web sites for military families, Wilcox has accumulated another 3,000 names of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, prompting many late nights on the computer uploading pictures and graphics to extend the quilt.

Wilcox even scribbles down names of servicemen who are interviewed on television, adding them to her list. With the help of three other women in her Internet group, she intends to give each of those names a square.

Each square takes about 10 minutes to make; if things are working well, Wilcox can add 50 to the quilt in a four-hour block on her computer in her home near Camp Lejeune, about 120 miles southeast of Raleigh.

``I come in at 10 o'clock (at night) and she's at that computer, she's pecking away,'' said her husband, retired Master Gunnery Sgt. Gary Wilcox. ``The names keep coming in.''

One of her helpers, Sandie Hausaman, 60, of Pocatello, Idaho, has helped make 70 of the squares. ``It takes time,'' she said, but ``it's easy time.''

Some squares are adorned with flags, military photos or religious messages along with those identifying soldiers or Marines.

``U.S. Army SGT. Tabitha D. Hicks. With Love, Your Family. Psalm 23,'' reads one square.

On another square, there's a picture of David and Trina Hamann with 5-month-old daughter, Alissa, in front of a Marine Corps seal. ``LCpl. David Hamann. We love you! Wife and daughter,'' it reads.

Trina Hamann's husband is in Iraq, and she hasn't talked to him since he left Camp Lejeune on March 3.

``I knew he had to be on that quilt,'' said Hamann, 21. ``He's a hero. He's my hero. ... I don't want him to be just another Marine. I want them to see him as a person.''

That's the whole idea behind the cyberquilt, Wilcox said. A visual remembrance of a soldier adds a personal touch and helps remind people of the sacrifice other military families are making.

Seeing different families is encouraging to relatives of Marine Cpl. Michael Stoia, whose photograph in his dress uniform is on the quilt.

``We are actually printing it out and mailing it to him,'' said Dale Sparkes of Parsippany, N.J. Stoia, based at Camp Pendleton, Calif., is now in Iraq.

Most servicemen honored on the site don't have time in a war zone to see it on the Internet. But Wilcox's husband said just hearing about the quilt on the phone will boost the troops' morale and let them know they'll be celebrated when they return.

``When we came back from Vietnam, we weren't thought of that well,'' the elder Gary Wilcox said. ``I hope and pray that they don't treat those troops that same way.''

The Wilcoxes, who are conservative Christians, said the quilt's success is also rooted in prayer. She and her three square-makers pray for each servicemen identified in the quilt as they post each block.

Roberta Wilcox finds the late nights working alone at the computer a small way to help her son as well as other sons and daughters. Despite the U.S. casualties in the war, she is confident in the workings of a higher power.

``I believe in the power of prayer,'' she said. God ``didn't promise to being my son home, but he did promise to be with him.''