83-year-old Biloxi woman has made more than 1,500 blankets for Veterans and she’s not done yet
(Photo: VAdvantage Point)

By Jessica B. Jacobsen, VAntage Point

Lillian Thornton finds the art of crocheting therapeutic and in fact after a recent heart attack the movement of her hands against the yarn and needles helped her recuperate better than anything else.

“Having made over 1,500 blankets so far for Veterans, I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon,” said Thornton, who is 83-years-old, and donates the lap blankets or lap throws at VA Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System.“My husband is a World War II Veteran,” she says, “and having served in the 1946 occupation of Japan, this is my way of saying thank you to those who sacrificed so much so we can live in this great country.”

Thornton makes the blankets and then brings them to Biloxi National Cemetery, which is on the same grounds of the Biloxi VA campus, during her regular visits to see her daughter who is buried there. “My daughter also worked for 30 years at the VA medical center here in Gulfport and then Biloxi. She could look out her window from the Biloxi VA and see the Biloxi National Cemetery.  She always had a lot of respect for the VA facilities she worked for and the Veterans she served.”

“I am a fairly new director here at Biloxi,” said Celethia Reed, Biloxi National Cemetery director.  “And one day I saw a woman and her husband drop off crochet blankets and then leave. I asked my program support assistant, Oliver Conerly, ‘Who is she?’ Once he told me her story, I made a point to reach out to her and get to know her, and more importantly thank her for what she was doing for our Veterans,” said Reed.

Each blanket is around 48 inches by 48 inches, and she receives donations of thread and yarn from a friend who frequents estate sales and garage sales. “I wouldn’t be able to afford to make them if it wasn’t for the help of my friend and her donations,” said Thornton thankfully.

She typically brings about 20 blankets at a time Reed said.  “Mr. Conerly takes them over to the VA Gulf Coast Health Care System voluntary services for their Veteran patients.”

“Our Veterans really appreciate the lap throws,” says Robert Davis, chief of voluntary services, VA Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System.  “They are very beautiful and practical and help keep our Veterans warm during cool days.”

“Crocheting has always been good therapy for me,” said Thornton. “But it is difficult to work under a blanket during the summertime, so during the heat of the summer, I focus on my knitting squares.”  When her husband saw the first lap throw she made, he asked ‘What is that holey thing?’ Thornton laughs.  “Now I see him curled up under it for warmth and comfort.”

Born and raised in Central Mississippi, Thornton says “I know that our country would not be the great place it is without the help of our Veterans.  My heart goes out to everyone that has worked to keep our country free.”