Quilt with Maine roots honors Navy ship's crew
Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - Bangor Daily News

By Ardeana Hamlin 

A commemorative quilt with roots in Maine, bearing the legend Operation Iraqi Freedom, and adorned with American flag motifs, was unveiled Nov. 11, 2004, at the Women in Military Service to America Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. It was made aboard the hospital ship USNS Comfort to honor its crew. The Comfort is a 1,000-bed, floating hospital equipped with 12 operating rooms and more than 1,160 medical personnel. Physical therapist and Navy Lt. Paula Godes was the motivating force behind the quilt project. She learned to quilt from her aunt Marguerite Finley, who lived in Old Town from the 1920s to the 1950s. Godes also is the niece of Annette Paradis King of Gouldsboro.

"Quilting was her love," Godes said of her aunt Finley in a recent telephone interview. "I never thought I would learn how [to quilt], but she marveled at everything I did. She was so supportive and wonderful."

Godes was deployed from Baltimore a year ago and served in the Persian Gulf from March 5 to June 21, 2003, during the invasion of Iraq.

She took a sewing machine with her, thinking that quilting might provide a respite from the "the magnitude of the injuries" that she and her colleagues would deal with. Her patients were U.S. soldiers, and Iraqi soldiers and civilians, whose injuries stemmed from fires, bombs and bullets. Nearly 700 patients were treated aboard the Comfort during Godes' tour of duty.

"It's amazing what the human body can go through and still survive," she said. "It was hard to do what we had to do, to see the death and destruction, to see the aftermath of the bombs being dropped."

Godes began sewing quilt blocks during her tour with "no intention other than for something to do" in her off-duty hours. She learned that hand surgeon Lt. Comdr. Patricia McKay also had brought along a sewing machine. The two women met to sew together and conceived the idea of inviting other women on the hospital ship to share in Sunday afternoon quilting sessions. Twenty women showed up for the first meeting and the idea of making a quilt to honor the ship's crew began to take shape.

Some of the women in the group didn't know how to sew, but they welcomed the chance to learn. The sessions quickly became an oasis of relaxation from the intensity of caring for the wounded, an "experience that changes you," Godes said. "My therapy was to sit on my bunk and embroider ship statistics on some of the quilt blocks."

Some of the patients Godes and her shipmates treated were Iraqi women and children. "They stayed aboard six weeks. We felt a bond with them," Godes said. She and others in the quilting group taught the Iraqi women, who were of the Muslim faith, to use the sewing machines to make head coverings. "It gave them something to do. We taught them how to make rolled hems. We still think about them and wonder what happened to them [after they went back to Iraq]."

Eventually, Godes' stash of fabric ran out. She e-mailed home for more cloth. When her mother-in-law explained to a store clerk that she was buying fabric for the Comfort quilt project, a woman waiting in line asked how she could help. Soon, Godes had received 33 packages of fabric from women she'd never met.

The Comfort quilt is 11 feet wide by 12 feet long. It took more than 2,000 hours to make and required the work of more than 800 people, who contributed stitches, fabric and signatures on the quilt blocks. Sixty women from the Falls Church Quilters Unlimited Guild in Virginia hand stitched the piece.

The quilt will be on display at the Women in Military Service to America Memorial this year before it becomes part of a traveling exhibit.

Godes is hopeful that, eventually, the quilt will find a permanent harbor at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.

Visit http://www.msc.navy.mil/sealift/2004/

December/quilt.htm to see images of the quilt and to learn more about it.


The Maine State Museum in Augusta will hold rug-hooking demonstrations and a chance to try the craft 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 29, at the museum. The day also will include gallery tours of the exhibit "Rugs All Marked Out" from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Admission is free. To obtain more information, call 287-2301.


Bangor Publishing Company

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