There’s nothing quite like being wrapped in the warmth of a homemade quilt with the knowledge the quilt was made or given by someone who cares. That was the thought behind Quilts of Honor — the Travis Project — in honor of Sgt. Travis Kent Hunsberger of Wakarusa, who was killed in Afghanistan in June 2008. The project and many of the quilts were on display at the Nappanee Center during Nappanee’s Embrace Second Saturdays Stars & Stripes theme.
Hunsberger’s parents, Steve and Rhonda, along with lifelong family friend Dawn Bechtel, began by making some quilts for service personnel who were wounded alongside Travis.
Hunsberger’s parents write of Travis in a brochure about the project. He was a senior at NorthWood High School in 2001 when the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers were struck. He graduated and continued on to college until December of 2003 when he enlisted in the Army. He graduated from Special Forces at Fort Bragg, N.C. in July 2006.
“It was obvious how happy and fulfilled he was as a Green Beret,” Rhonda Hunsberger wrote. “Travis loved the camaraderie of that special bond and brotherhood.”
Hunsberger’s sister was writing a paper on terrorism in May 2008 and asked for input from her brother. He was on his second deployment when he wrote these words to his sister “Some of us have put our lives on the line ... this is not a game of win or lose — it is a constant struggle of standing our ground as a country and showing those who would see us destroyed that we are a country united, even though the war is a half a world away.”
Hunsberger was killed the next month on June 27, 2008 in Tarin Kwot, Afghanistan. While on a foot patrol during a reconnaissance mission he stepped on an Improvised Explosive Device (IED).
“The death of Travis left me with a desire to reach out to the men and women he served with in a special way,” Rhonda wrote. “To let them know they are thought of, prayed for and supported.”
Bechtel made a quilt for the Hunsbergers a month after Travis’ death. She also told them she was thinking of making the quilts for those who served with Travis and wanted their permission.
The Hunsbergers gave their blessing and the first mission was to provide quilts for each of the men who served with Travis — beginning with those still hospitalized. His wife, chaplain and two casualty officers who worked with the Hunsbergers, as well as three new soldiers who’d joined their unit, also received quilts. Twenty quilts were made in three short months.
Members of Wakarusa Missionary Church traveled to Fort Bragg to deliver the quilts along with Christmas packages to the married men and their wives. In January Steve and Rhonda delivered quilts to the single men.
In May of 2009 the Hunsbergers and Bechtel traveled to Fort Bragg for a special memorial dedication. It was there that Bechtel met a young widow named Sarah who asked her if she’d be interested in taking some of her fallen husband clothes to make a memory quilt.
“It took me three weeks to stop crying,” Bechtel said. “It was very emotional, but also an honor to do something that special.”
The women have kept in touch through email and Facebook.
“She is just one of the people I’ve met through this project,” Bechtel explained, “that touched my life tremendously.”
For Steve and Rhonda Hunsberger, delivering the quilts to family members has been part of their healing.
“It’s very rewarding,” Steve said. “It is part of our healing process. We count it as a privilege to be able to do this for these families because we know what they are going through.”
The Quilts of Honor Travis Project has grown. Bechtel estimates there are about 40 people involved. Some members of Nappanee’s Artful Quilters Guild regularly provide quilts.
The project also relies on monetary donations to help provide materials. The project has expanded from those serving with Travis and now the goal is to include fallen service men and women all over Indiana from all branches of the military.
“You hear of similar projects where quilts are provided for those wounded in the war,” Bechtel said. “Our goal is to help those wounded emotionally.”
A note is sent along with each quilt that says, “Please remember each time you use this quilt that you are thought of, prayed for and someone cares.”
Bechtel estimates 135-145 quilts have been completed since August 2008.
The quilts are appreciated as most recipients get in contact afterwards. Of the first quilts delivered to those who served with Travis, one young man said he never had a quilt before. Now it is one of his prized possessions. Another man said he stored the quilt in his closet. He took it out to look at and put it back, too afraid to ruin it. Bechtel assured him he should use it and she received a text one day stating, “Guess what? I got brave and it’s on my bed.”
Bechtel says that as long as there is financial funding and the people to help, she’ll keep the project going.
“Our ultimate goal,” she said, “is as long as there’s a need, we’ll be here.”