By Christian Hill
The News Tribune
Washington has been the largest state not part of a national network of symbolic roads and bridges named after the military award its namesake George Washington created more than two centuries ago.
That changed earlier this week when the Washington State Transportation Commission extended the honorary name Purple Heart Trail to Interstate 5 to recognize those wounded in service to their country.
Jim Sims, past national commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, had been pushing for the name for the last couple years, but the Legislature ran out of time in prior sessions.
“We’re very pleased,” said Sims, chairman of the state Legislative Veterans Coalition, of this year’s passage. “It’s a great honor.”
The Legislature had unanimously passed a joint memorial in April requesting the transportation commission approve the name. The commission, which has the authority to name state highways and bridges, approved the request Tuesday.
“The Purple Heart Trail creates a visual reminder to those who use the roads, highways and bridges that others have paid a high price for their freedom to live and travel in a free society,” the memorial reads.
Sims estimated there are about 70,000 Purple Heart recipients living in Washington state. Almost 4,000 Purple Heart license plates have been issued by the state Department of Licensing, he said.
The state is home to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, its second-largest employer and the West Coast’s largest military installation, which has sent tens of thousands of soldiers to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
In 2006, the transportation commission named the I-5 overpass serving Madigan Army Medical Center located on the base as Freedom Bridge.
The newly named length of I-5 from the Canadian to Oregon borders expands the network of like-named roads, bridges and monuments located in 45 other states.
California already has designated its segment of I-5, and Sims saying he’s trying to get Oregon onboard so the Purple Heart Trail would be uninterrupted on I-5 from Mexico to Canada.
The Military Order of the Purple Heart established the trail in 1992. It originates in Mount Vernon, Va., the home of George Washington’s famous estate and burial site for the first president.
Gen. Washington established the Purple Heart, then known as the Badge of Military Merit, in 1782. It is the oldest military decoration still given to U.S. service members.
The Military Order of the Purple Heart will pay for the signs that will be installed along the interstate so there will be no cost to the state.
Sims said the organization is seeking cost estimates from the state transportation department, and it’s unknown when the first signs would go up.
“We’re working on it, and we’re hoping the sooner, the better,” he said.