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Published: Thursday, 3/23/2006

This blanket gives more than warmth to a soldier

It's a homemade blanket, rolled up carefully and secured by a ribbon, with a greeting card attached:

"This blanket was made with love and hope for your recovery by Sharon Bailiff. We Americans are truly blessed to be represented and defended by outstanding individuals like you!"

For months, Ms. Bailiff has made blankets. Each one goes to a U.S. soldier wounded in Iraq.

Last fall, a letter arrived in the mailbox of her Lambertville home. It was from the head nurse of a combat support hospital somewhere in Iraq:

"One of your blankets today went to a wounded soldier [who] also lost his friends. It is heart-breaking to listen to him talk about his friends and the incident. The blanket has special meaning for him," the nurse wrote.

I read this letter in the kitchen of the Bailiff home, an alarmingly tidy room, despite the accumulated pieces of fabric waiting to be made into blankets.

Ms. Bailiff started small, making things like care packages for military wives with new babies. Then too, there were infant caps made by Ms. Bailiff's mother:

"My mother is 82. She's bored, and she loves to knit."

Pretty soon, on the Web site of a volunteer nonprofit organization, Ms. Bailiff read about a project called Blankets of Hope, and - well, retired for about a year, she's only 55, and "I just couldn't sit around all day."

Then, she learned about the difficulties of airlifting soldiers from battle. With portions of their uniforms often cut away for treatment, they could get awfully cold while being flown to combat hospitals.

As Ms. Bailiff's son, David, explained: "My mom had all of this fleece around the house from making blankets for soldiers, and she started experimenting to come up with a booty that could be slipped over soldiers' hands and feet to keep them warm, but would be big enough to fit over a large battle dressing or cast."

David, a law student at the University of Toledo, sent an e-mail trumpeting his mother's accomplishments. Her trial and error, he said, led to simply designed booties and mitts to keep injured soldiers warm. Combat hospitals put Ms. Bailiff's creations to use immediately.

Plus, David said, she "has since posted the pattern for these booties online [www.soldiersangels.org] and women across the country are making them for use in Iraq."

Ms. Bailiff gladly talks about Soldiers Angels. But when it comes to the Iraq war, "I like to keep my views private."

Her son, however, gave a hint.

"My family leans pretty far to the left," David wrote in his e-mail, "but my father is a Vietnam veteran, and he and my mother raised us to see that soldiers serve honorably even in pointless wars."

David's unabashed pride in his mother is touching.

"My mother has been like this her whole life, industrious and selfless, but always in a 'best supporting actress' role - doing lots of work and getting little recognition," he wrote, adding:

"It would also be nice to let your readers know of the opportunities available to 'support the troops,' if they'd like to move beyond just putting yellow ribbons on their cars. And, come on - this just makes a great story."

That it does, David.



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