Sunday, April 12

CHESHIRE — Barbara Petithory received the call in mid-February. The woman on the other line wanted information about her late son, U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Daniel H. Petithory, who was killed in action in Afghanistan on Dec. 5, 2001. It had been a while since someone had asked Barbara about her son.

"She took me off-guard," Barbara said. "I wasn't really prepared for such a call."

But what the caller said put Barbara at ease. She wanted to send Barbara and her husband, Louis, a replica of a Civil War quilt, made by an organization that sends them to the families of fallen military personnel.

"I was quite taken by it," she said

Barbara said yes, and three days later the quilt arrived at the Petithorys' home.

"I opened it up and spread it out on this bed chair," Barbara said, referring to a chair behind her dining room table.

"We both cried," she said.

It's impossible to replace a loved one. But a California-based national volunteer organization known as the "Home of the Brave Quilt Project" is attempting to ease the pain by sending replicas of handmade Civil War quilts to the families of military personnel who have died in service to their country, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Think of it as a sympathy card on fabric," said Diana O'Connor of Pelham, N.H., the Massachusetts coordinator for the project. O'Connor, who made the original phone call to Barbara Petithory, said the federal government has helped the organization gather the names of all the soldiers who have died in the two Middle East conflicts. A link to the Home of the Brave Quilt Project can be found on the U.S. Department of Defense Web site.

O'Connor is moving to California, and her place as Massachusetts coordinator will be taken by Sandra Sloane of Cheshire.

According to O'Connor, the Citrus Belt Quilters Guild of Redlands, Calif., which includes quilt historian Don Beld, began making the quilts in 2004. They are based on quilts that northern women made for the U.S. Sanitary Commission, the forerunner of the American Red Cross, that were given to Union Army soldiers during the Civil War. Only six of the 250,000 quilts made for the Union Army survived.

Each modern quilt is made to Civil War era specifications, 48 by 84 inches, with five vertical panels and three horizontal ones. They are sewn by quilt guilds similar to Beld's that are located across the country. O'Connor belongs to a quilt guild in New Hampshire that has 250 members. The squares in the Petithory's quilt were made by people who live in Iowa.

"Thank you for serving our country," Iowa quilter Gloria Lambert wrote in the square that she sewed.

The Home of the Brave Quilt Project, which has chapters in all 50 states, has delivered 2,798 quilts to 2,446 families during the past five years.

"This comes from the heart," O'Connor said. "We're not benefiting from it in any way."

But the families certainly do.

Barbara Petithory said she feels her son when she wraps herself in the quilt.

"I feel Danny every day," she said.

To reach Tony Dobrowolski: (413) 496-6224