Stitches, and Prayers, for Iraq-Bound Soldiers

A Ft. Lewis business prepares uniforms for deployment and funerals.


July 28, 2007 — -- Linda Harley sits at her sewing machine in Gaey's Specialties, not far from the main gate of Ft. Lewis, and thinks about the soldiers there who have been repeatedly deployed to Iraq.

"I see them like it was my child," she says, "and I worry about them and really care for them."

Gaey's is a small, family-run business that has adopted the larger family of Ft. Lewis soldiers in Washington state. Harley and the others at Gaey's sew for the men and women on the post — altering camouflage uniforms, sewing on name tapes and unit patches — anything they need to be ready to go to war.

And across the counter of the tiny business, in a small building filled with military uniforms, patches and badges of rank, the two families have become one.

Watch Bob Jamieson's report on Gaey's Specialties and Ft. Lewis tonight on "World News." Check local listings for air time.

Richard Lakely, a staff sergeant at Ft. Lewis, gives his sewing to Gaey's manager, Tavie Smith.

"Tavie is kind of like our mother," he says, "she takes care of us, real good care of us."

"When we know they're deploying," says Smith, "we make sure that in some way, we've touched them physically, touched them, and tell them, 'Stay safe and come back to us.'"

But they don't always come back.

Ten thousand soldiers from Ft. Lewis are now in Iraq. Most are from the Stryker Brigades, involved in some of the worst fighting.

Ft. Lewis soldiers have paid a heavy price. More than 130 of them have lost their lives in Iraq.

And at Gaey's, that makes every stitch much more difficult for Chris Kapach. She has worked there, becoming friends with the soldiers, ever since the war began.

"You never want to see their names come back on a memorial sheet," she says, "and when you do, you have to take a break, you have to find some place to go."

"We consider a good day," says Smith, "when there is no soldier's name in the papers."

For Smith and the others, the hardest work begins when they do see a name in the paper. They not only prepare the soldiers for deployment, they also prepare uniforms for funerals, name tapes for helmets used in memorial services, and the boxes that hold the flag that draped a soldier's casket.

"We talk about them, we reminisce about them," says Smith, "and we cry. We do cry."

Soldiers like Jerome Potter, who grew up near Ft. Lewis.

The memorial service for Potter, who died in a roadside bomb explosion, took place near Gaey's. He was just 24. Somber soldiers formed a drill team around his casket as it left the church. The flag that draped it would be put in a special box at Gaey's with a metal memorial plate made by Kapach.

Touching a T-shirt bearing Potter's picture, Smith says, "We knew him just like we knew any other soldier.

"He was just a child," she adds, and then asks, "What did he know of the world?"

Iraq has now become very personal for the employees of Gaey's.

Though Smith declines to discuss her politics, or whether she agrees with the war, she says, "I would like to see it end. I want to see our boys come home. I want to stop crying at the desk."

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