Bataan survivors were quite warm despite the cold winds that took over during this year’s 25th annual Bataan Memorial Death March opening ceremony thanks to quilts that were gifted to them before the event began March 23.
White Sands Missile Range Public Affairs Specialist Lisa Blevins gifted the quilts that she either made herself or received as donations from members of the local community. Blevins decided to take on the project of making each survivor a quilt before a scheduled retirement this June.
“I thought this would be my last Bataan and I wanted to do something special for the heroes,” Blevins said.
Though Blevins decided not to retire earlier in the year, she continued with the project because she said she remembered how cold they looked last year. Blevins had been collecting patriotic material for the quilts for the past year. Each quilt contains about $60 to $70 worth of material alone. Originally, she had planned to make the 17 quilts on her own, until community members began to reach out to her.
Blevins said she was approached, while purchasing some fabric backing, by a Las Cruces resident who wanted to help with the project. Nancy Elkin, recruited the help of her group; Carolyn Yasinski, Kathy Adler, Mary McKinney, who call themselves “Material Girls”. The “Material Girls” donated seven of the 10 quilts that were presented during the morning of Bataan. WSMR resident and employee Lynn Westberg also donated fabric backing and some patriotic fabric she had collected as well.
“Quilters are very generous people,” Blevins said.
The quilts were placed on the survivors’ seats before the start of the opening ceremony. Some survivors wrapped themselves and their loved ones in the handmade quilts, while others used them to warm their seats. The cold winds that were supposed to reach a high of 14 miles per hour reached almost 19 miles per hour. One of the survivors, Col. Ben Skardon, marched part of the course wearing his quilt due to the stronger than anticipated winds in the morning.
“I cried. It was emotional for me. They were very appreciative,” Blevins said.
“I just told them whenever they wrapped up in it; it would be like the arms of WSMR were giving them a hug. I like to the think the love in the quilts gave them a little extra warmth,” she added.
Blevins learned the art of quilt making in 1993 when she walked into a quilting show nearby while waiting for a doctor’s appointment. That year, she made her first quilt for her granddaughter. Since then, Blevins has taken her skills and used them to help benefit the local community. Among other organizations, Blevins is part in the Southern New Mexico Festival of Quilts at Otero County. The group has already raised $50,000, which benefits organizations like Zia Therapy for Children, Head Start Programs, and Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, which helps promote early childhood reading.
“It’s an addiction, but I think being able to put something together that you know will be used to wrap someone up is kind of like giving them a big hug,” Blevins said. “There’s just nothing warmer and more comforting than a handmade quilt.”