Eva Murphy calls herself a Mama Bear, and she works in space she calls her cave, where she makes teddy bears out of real military uniforms.
Called Veteran Honor Bears, they sound cute and cuddly and they are, to a point. They are also the product of serious attention to detail and research.
Murphy, a Copperopolis resident, gives the stuffed animals to veterans of foreign wars. She also makes them to honor those who have died.
One of the bears Murphy made is to honor U.S. Army Pvt. 1st Class James Dennis Piper, who died in April 1967 in Vietnam before his 20th birthday. Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 12118 of Copperopolis is named for Piper. Piper’s family took it to the cemetery where Piper’s headstone stands, made a photo and sent it to Murphy and her husband, Ralph, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran of the Vietnam War.
Dana Katz, a volunteer coordinator with Operation Mend at University of California, Los Angeles, said Murphy’s work and attention to detail has helped numerous combat veterans in recent years.
“We’ve received a multitude of the bears, probably 30 in the past three years,” Katz said. “We give them to wounded warriors who are being treated through Operation Mend at UCLA.”
Operation Mend’s stated mission is to partner with U.S. military forces to heal wounds of war by delivering leading-edge patient care, research and education, and by using the best medicine and technology available.
“Certainly our patients draw a huge amount of comfort from the bears,” Katz said Monday. “We see these huge macho guys cuddling their bears, and we see the bears in photos when they travel and visit with family. They love them and they really provide them with real comfort.”
Murphy estimated she’s made more than 490 bears in the past three years. Her recent work includes a hand-made bear for Hal Mayo, a U.S. Navy veteran of World War II and a living survivor of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
The bear for Mayo is made from 75-year-old wool that comes from a World War II Navy dress uniform donated by a man named Mike Malone, of Coulterville, Murphy said.
Murphy is 66, and so is her husband, who is a disabled veteran. Her cave is situated next to their bedroom.
The centerpiece in the cave is a Singer Heavy Duty sewing machine. Ralph bought it for her about a year ago.
Her research extends to multiple uniform types and different types of camouflage. She has numerous containers in her work space, some of them containing pieces of camouflage material marked with descriptions such as “Army Iraq Ripstop” and “All 1990s Ripstop.”
She also keeps a handmade flip notebook with labels and scraps of different types of camouflage, including “Navy Digital Pattern,” “Desert Camouflage Pattern; Combat,” and “chocolate chip.”
Karen Grissom, a resident of Manteca, heard about Murphy’s work last year when her husband did some appraisal work for the Murphys. Grissom thought of her deceased father, Emmett Ouimette, who served on submarines in World War II, and his uniform.
“I had his uniform all these years,” Grissom said Monday. “He passed back in 1994. I thought ‘Let’s see if the lady will make a teddy bear for us.’ I was totally impressed. All those years ago when he crossed the equator, they put a dragon on the back collar of his Navy uniform. She made the bear with the dragon on it.”
Grissom said she and her family are so grateful for the hand-made bear in her father’s honor.
“We passed it on to my nephew in Livermore, who was raised without a father,” Grissom said. “He was very close to my dad.”
The Grissom family also donated a uniform that used to belong to Karen’s brother-in-law, who served in the Navy in the Vietnam War.
“We donated his uniform so she could make a bear to pass on to a soldier or sailor in a hospital,” Grissom said.
“This lady needs to be recognized. And she needs help doing this work. That would be awesome if people could find a way to help her out.”
Murphy said she is motivated to make Veteran Honor Bears in part because she is recovering from breast cancer, and her experience helps her empathize with others who might need something to hold on to.
She said when she’s been in the hospital her husband has always been by her side.
“We know plenty people who’ve been in the hospital who have been alone.
“And the worst tragedy is that so many of them are vets. We know what it’s like to be there alone and be scared. This is a tiny thing we can do so they know somebody is there for them, someone has their back, someone cares. For families that have lost a veteran in their lives, it can be a visible link to their loved one.”