Small Town Comforts Wounded Soldiers

By Staff Sgt. Mike R. Smith, Guard Times Staff

ALPLAUS, N.Y. —Take a small-town firehouse, add colored thread and fabric, pour in various amounts of love and caring, mix thoroughly with a strong sense of community and country and you have what might be the warmest recipe to comfort wounded Soldiers.

To recognize New York’s wounded Soldiers, the Ladies Auxiliary of the Alplaus Fire Company, Alplaus, crafted 26 lap-size quilts for the New York Army National Guard.

Command Sgt. Maj. Robert VanPelt, who holds NYARNG’s highest rank for enlistees, received some of the quilts  Jan. 30, a sunny, winter Sunday, at a meeting above Alplaus’ brick, four-stall fire-engine room.

“It just took off,” said Elizebeth Burke, program co-chair, speaking of their “Quilts for Wounded Soldiers” program.

More than 20 ladies volunteered each stitch of time. They started the program November 2004, hand-making the fleece and traditional cotton quilts in assembly-line fashion. But each quilt is personalized and one of a kind.

We write a personal letter, thanking Soldiers for their service, Burke said, adding that the materials were either donated by the community or bought through the ladies auxiliary.

“The squares for the cotton quilts were sewn together by an 87-year-old woman,” said Mrs. Burke.

Their efforts are all worth it, said the ladies, who “hope to give a smile of comfort to a wounded Soldier.”

“It has brought a smile to all their faces,” said VanPelt.

The Ladies Auxiliary first contacted VanPelt when organizing the project. At that time, NYARNG’s wounded Soldiers were at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Whenever someone went to visit (the wounded), I ensured they had quilts for them, said VanPelt. He said that the quilts also go to wounded Soldiers now at Brooks Army Medical Center and Fort Hood Army Hospital, Texas; the quilts are distributed with the help of Capt. Mike Dunn, an NYARNG liaison officer, looking after the needs of NYARNG Soldiers deployed to the Texas posts.

The idea that a small community like Alplaus would generate such far-reaching interest and care seems surprising, considering Alplaus has no Soldiers of its own serving in Iraq.

“Alplaus is a caring and sharing community,” said one auxiliary member at the Jan. 30 meeting. Surrounding her was a colorful collection of quilts in the making — blue and green fleece quilts with outdoor art, patched yellow, brown and red cotton quilts with patriotic and traditional designs, all with handwritten tags identifying their intent and origin: “To an American Hero, from the Ladies Auxiliary of the Alplaus Fire Company.”

“The auxiliary is very perceptive with the designs they incorporate,” said VanPelt.  He explained that most of the quilts have either a sports theme or contain “a whole lot of red, white and blue.”

“You can’t go wrong with that formula,” said VanPelt. “They’re all top quality but, even if they weren’t, the Soldiers see the love that went into producing these, just for them.”

Mrs. Burke said the quilting would continue, “as long as there is a need.” But she admitted that hope also rests on peace, that another quilt will never have to be given to another wounded Soldier.

“The wounded Soldiers are happy to be recognized for their sacrifice,” said VanPelt, “but if I never had another Soldier that I needed to give a quilt to, I’d be one happy man.”

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