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Caps for Soldiers continues to give back

Marlys Anderson continues to give back to those serving our country overseas by leading “Caps for Soldiers." Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny

PENNOCK — One soldier in Afghanistan believes it saved his life.

He wore two of the wool caps on a very cold day. He’s convinced the thickness of the caps lifted his helmet just enough.  The sniper’s bullet was deflected.

Other thank you notes come without dramatic stories like this, but speak directly to their purpose. The hand-knit, wool caps are appreciated for the warmth they provide and especially, for the thought behind them.

“It means the world to us and provides the motivation to continue working hard until our safe return to our families,’’ wrote one soldier in Afghanistan.

The emailed and occasional hand-written notes, medallions, even a U.S. flag that flew over the captured palace of Saddam Hussein in Iraq are all destined for Marlys Anderson, originally of Glenwood.

Six years ago Anderson sent out a call to duty to all who love to knit or crotchet. She had knitted a wool cap for her grandson Justin Reed, serving with the U.S. Army in Korea.

He wrote back: “I need 35 more.’’

Anderson’s friends started clicking needles and made good on the request.

She started “Caps for Soldiers’’ soon after, asking friends and others to continue knitting wool caps/helmet liners to send to U.S. soldiers deployed overseas.

Today, she’s counted over 12,000 wool caps that she’s sent to troops. The caps are produced by hundreds of volunteers scattered across the country.

When possible, she’s delivered the caps directly. Anderson and her husband, Owen, stuffed their car with caps a few years ago and transported 2,500 of the hand-knit caps to Bloomington for the deployment of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division.

She’s made certain that all of the soldiers with local National Guard units, from Appleton to Litchfield, have not left home without them.

The Andersons make their summer home on Norway Lake. They spend their winters in a retirement village in Apache Junction, Arizona.

Anderson, 71, rides her bicycle about the small community delivering skeins of yarn to volunteer knitters and picking up their finished caps. She contacts adjutant generals whenever she learns of a pending deployment and ships the caps.

She also sends 100 of the wool caps every month to Landstuhl, Germany, where wounded troops receive care.

Some knitters also produce lap robes, which she delivers to the Veteran’s Administration in St. Cloud.

Shipping the caps can get expensive, but donations to the cause have proved sufficient to meet the costs, said Anderson. She also receives donations to purchase the yarn — it has to be 100 percent wool and dark colored — that she supplies to many of the volunteer knitters. One skein will produce two caps.

Many of the knitters are like Anderson. She keeps needles and yarn at hand, and knits at home or while riding in a car. She’s made over 450 of the caps herself this way.

Other knitters like to get together. The employees of a credit union in Devil’s Lake, N.D., joined and made over 500 caps.

Other people have caught Anderson’s passion and promote the cause. Bonnie Holm of Alexandria keeps a line-up of knitters at work there, said Anderson.

She has no idea how many people have knit and sent caps on their own above the 12,000 she’s personally distributed.

Anderson maintains a website,, to coordinate the effort and provide the pattern for the caps.

Her plans are to continue the work, knowing that there remain many U.S. soldiers serving difficult missions overseas.

The thank you notes from soldiers help make it all worthwhile, but her real motivation remains the same as when she started. “It’s a good way for me to give back to them,’’ she said.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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