It's what Barbara Backhaus calls her “happy place” -- a place where with the whirr of her sewing machine, she can stitch together patches of appreciation for a deserving few.
"It fills my heart with love and happiness that I am able to do this for someone," she said.
From her Lake Stevens home, Barbara makes quilts for America’s veterans from both our current and past wars. It’s done through an organization called Quilts of Valor. Barbara, a self-described "Navy brat," believes there is a healing power within the warmth of a handmade quilt.
"Anytime you give someone a quilt it’s like giving them a big hug," she said. "It’s a big ‘I love you and you’re special.’"
On Tuesday, Barbara presented a quilt to a Navy veteran of two U.S. wars including Vietnam.
Chief Charles Ross Jr. was one of 12 young men who volunteered to join the Navy in June of 1968. Eight of them never made it home. One of them was a sailor nicknamed "Willie" who died during a firefight on a barge along the Mekong Delta.
"Willie took over my gun. I was supposed to be on the gun he got hit on. It should've been me, not him," said Ross, choking back tears. "Willie had valor. He knew something I didn't know. He took the hot spot and gave me the weak spot because that was the one nobody was gonna be shooting at that much."
Nearly 50 years later Chief Ross still fights the Vietnam War in his nightmares. Now, he's also in a battle against Parkinson’s disease.
"I hope the warmth and comfort this quilt brings will offset the hardships you've had to endure," said Barbara at a presentation ceremony in Monroe.
The hope is that the simple quilt will be more of a security blanket.
"I thank you more than you will ever, ever know," said Barbara, as she handed Ross the quilt stitched with the name "Land of The Free Because of The Brave."
Visibly humbled by the recognition, Chief Ross said he doesn’t deserve this honor -- that those eight who died in Vietnam are the ones who do.
He gratefully accepted the quilt, however, for them. A simple patchwork that has come to symbolize the fabric of the American veteran. A cloth made from blood, courage, honor and brotherhood.
A brotherhood that is eternal.
As the quilt was wrapped around his trembling shoulders, tears streamed down Chief Ross's cheeks as he described the feeling.
"It's like I’ve got every sailor, every airman, every soldier who ever crawled through the jungle wrapped around me."
She gave him a gentle kiss on the cheek and Barbara told the Chief, "Welcome home."
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