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Last Updated: Friday, 16 June 2006, 01:23 GMT 02:23 UK
Mothers' memorial to US Iraq dead
By Jonathan Beale
BBC News, St Louis, Missouri

Jan Lang with her quilt
The project started after colleagues of Jan's soldier son died in Iraq
In a suburb of St Louis, Missouri, two mothers are preparing a tribute to America's fallen.

They are making individual "comfort" quilts for the families who have lost a loved one in Iraq.

Each quilt contains 30 squares - each with a written or embroidered message sent from all ages right across the country.

The sentiments are the same: "God heals hearts" or "Gone but not forgotten" or "Your sacrifice for our freedom will not be forgotten".

Jan Lang - who started the project - says: "Each square delivers a message of love and comfort to those families so that they know their soldier is not forgotten".

She contrasts that with the nation's collective amnesia in the aftermath of the Vietnam war.

Guilt

Jan Lang started her project when her own family had a close brush with death.

Her son was a marine serving in Iraq. In January 2003, 18 of his comrades died near the Iraqi town of Nasiriya.

Every square I got, and every quilt I made, brought tears to my eyes
Jan Lang
Jan at first thought her own son was one of the victims.

She says the relief on finding that he was still alive gave way to "survivor guilt".

"Why me?" she asked - and then provided her own answer by using her organisational skills to send out the comfort quilts.

Jan's first target was to make quilts for the 18 marines killed in her son's unit.

Then she decided to do it for the families of all those soldiers who had died.

At that time, the number dead stood at around 200. Now it has reached 2,500.

No politics

Jan and her volunteer helpers are finding it hard to keep up.

So far they have made just under 2,000 quilts.

Jan Lang with her quilt
Jan says the project has nothing to do with politics

Sewing the quilts together is not just taking its toll on her fingers, but her emotions, too.

Jan says that at first "every square I got, and every quilt I made, brought tears to my eyes".

She says she has had to learn to "compartmentalise" her feelings.

But even now she says it really hits home when the thank you letter arrives and she sees a picture of the person who the quilt was for.

But Jan does not question the rights and wrongs of the war. She says this is not a political gesture.

"What American has an opinion on - that's what America is all about - the freedom to have your own opinion".

But polls suggest that around 60% of Americans now think the war was a mistake.

And the longer this war goes on, and the more quilts she makes, others, too, are likely to question their country's presence in Iraq.


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