It takes Vonnette Vail 44 hours to crochet one 52-by-72 American flag blanket, but that hasn't stopped her from making dozens of them as tokens of appreciation for America’s veterans.
The 74-year-old first began working with Project Linus, a charitable program that provides handmade afghans and blankets to ill or traumatized children. During one of her projects, Vail crocheted several blankets, including a large one resembling an American flag, for children on Robins Air Force Base.
“I didn’t realize it would turn out so big,” she said. “It would almost cover a normal size bed.”
But Robins officials were so impressed that they decided to display it in a shadow box for everyone to see.
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Thus began Vail’s 10-year mission of making the flag blankets to thank veterans, especially appropriate on Veterans Day.
“I wanted to show how much I appreciate their service,” she said.
Vail has almost always been involved in crafts, first beginning to sew in the fifth grade. As she quickly developed her skills, she eventually progressed into crocheting.
“My sister came home from her home economics class and I saw her crocheting. I watched her and that was how I learned.”
She’s been crocheting for 30 years.
She’s made almost 100 blankets for different veterans and service members. While active-duty members of the armed forces pay $75 for one of the handmade blankets, veterans receive them free.
Vail seeks out veterans and distributes the blankets herself, sometimes stopping a person with a specialty veterans license plate just to show her appreciation and give him or her a blanket.
“One man called me to say thank you. (Another) said that it was the first time anyone had thanked him for his service,” she said.
Vail also has given blankets to the veterans in her own life, including her husband and three brothers, who all served in the military, as well as her longtime dentist, Dr. Lee Godfrey.
“She came into the office one day and presented it to me, and it caught me by surprise. It was very large — and well done,” Godfrey said. “I was impressed and honored that she had so much love and respect for her country.”
Brenda Shreve, an employee in the office, spoke fondly of Vail and called her work a blessing.
“She’s such a giving person,” Shreve said.
You can find Vail’s blankets across Georgia and in Florida, Tennessee, Alabama and all the way up to Washington, D.C. But Vail has no plans to wind down anytime soon. She has more thank-yous to hand out.
“I thank God I don't have arthritis, so I think I’m going to continue till I pass.”