Pat Akers was devastated after her brother Robert Ghann was killed crossing the Atlantic in 1942 when his ship was torpedoed during World War II.
Crafting quilts with the La Plata Quilters Guild for the parents of fallen service members has given her way to honor Ghann, who served in the U.S. Navy.
“Here it is 75 years later and we still grieve,” she said.
Akers, a Forest Lakes resident, was originally asked to donate a single quilt to the Blue Star Moms of Durango, a group of moms with a child serving or who has served in the military. She immediately agreed because of her own experience. When she learned about annual gatherings held in Colorado for Gold Star parents – those who have lost a loved one serving in the military – she offered to make a quilt for that group. When it was well-received, she recruited members of the quilting guild to make more for the next gathering. The work has continued ever since.
The guild has made more than 200 quilts since 2010 for the parents of fallen service members.
Meeting those families, especially mothers of fallen service members, helped Akers understand her own mother’s grief after Ghann’s death.
“I was there when the telegram came for my mother and she almost collapsed,” Akers said.
Her mom, Roberta Ghann, later left the family. For three years, Akers’ two older sisters cared for her while their father served in the Navy.
“It ruined my mother when my brother was killed,” she said.
While delivering quilts to the annual Gold Star family weekends, Akers has witnessed and heard about similar grief.
“I’ve seen families walk in with a recent death and they are devastated,” she said. They leave feeling better after meeting with others who have experienced the loss of child in war, she said. She believes her mother would have benefited from a similar gathering.
Akers later reconnected with her mother, but she never thought ill of her. Meeting Gold Star parents allowed her to forgive her mom.
During the gatherings, Akers has watched Gold Star moms start to select a donated quilt and then break down in tears over a particular blanket that resonated with them. She has also received numerous letters from grateful moms telling her about their children.
“The Gold Star families, they just don’t want you to forget their child,” she said.
Akers has also treasured Ghann’s memory, even though she was only 5 years old when he died. She was the youngest of six siblings and so Ghann, along with her other siblings, took care of her.
“They kind of treated me like the family puppy,” she said.
Ghann often carried her around and worked hard to make sure his nickname “Bobby” would be her first word.
Even though Akers was there when the telegraph about Ghann’s death came, it took her a while to understand that he wasn’t coming back from war.
“They said he was missing in action, so I kept thinking they would find him. I didn’t associate that with being dead, and so for years I waited. ... Then it finally hit me that ‘missing’ was missing in an ocean and that he was gone,” she said.
During the years after Ghann’s death, Akers and her sisters moved frequently while their father served in the war.
During that time and afterward, Akers clung to the white teddy bear Ghann gave to her on her fourth Christmas. She still has the bear. It is named “Bobby.”
“He is no longer pretty and no longer white,” she said.
Akers describes the grief her family went through after Ghann’s death as different, compared to the loss of other family members. He was the standout sibling and everyone’s favorite, so that was likely part of their grief. But she attributes some of their feelings to the fact he died serving his country. When military members, police officers and firefighters die, the whole community grieves, she said.
“They are a hero to all of us,” she said.