In Colusa County, all roads lead to Mt. Vernon – the major ones, at least.
In a ceremony on Thursday that kicked off Memorial Day weekend, the arterial highways of Colusa County were officially unveiled as part of the National Purple Heart Trail System, a symbolic and honorary system of roads, highways, bridges, and other monuments that give tribute to the men and women who have been awarded the Purple Heart Medal.
“The Purple Heart is awarded to members of the armed forces of the U.S who are wounded by an instrument of war in the hands of the enemy and posthumously to the next of kin in the name of those who are killed in action or die of wounds received in action. The heritage it represents is sacred to those who understand the price paid to wear it,” Assistant Veterans Services Officer Don Parsons said during the ceremony.
Parsons added that the Purple Heart Trail creates “a visual reminder to those who use the road system that others have paid a high price for their freedom to travel and live in a free society.”
In 1992, the Purple Heart Trail was established by the Military Order of the Purple Heart. The trail originates at a monument in Mt. Vernon, VA, where George Washington is buried. Since then, sections of highway in 45 states, in addition to Guam, have been designated as part of the Purple Heart Trail.
California’s State Legislature first began designating sections of the state’s highways for inclusion in the National Purple Heart Trail in 2001, starting with sections of Interstate 5 and Interstate 80. Sections of Highway 101 and Highway 223 were added in 2009, and more sections of Highway 101 were designated in 2013. Colusa County officially became the sixth Purple Heart County in the state on May 14, 2013, but the approval for designating its highways didn’t come until last year.
“When I became the Assistant Veterans Services Officer for the county, I made it one of my long-range goals to somehow get the Purple Heart Trail signs on Interstate 5,” said Parsons, who took over the role in Feb. 2013. “Sometime in late April or early May of 2016, I approached Scott Lanphier, (the Colusa County) Director of Public Works, in reference to the possibility of getting signage for the Purple Heart Trail, not only for Interstate 5 – running through the heart of Colusa County, but also the State Highways that run through the county.”
Parsons said that after getting the go-ahead from the Colusa County Board of Supervisors, Lanphier reached out to Assemblyman James Gallagher, who ultimately authored the 2016 bill that designated the portions of Highway 16, Highway 20, and Highway 45 in Colusa County for inclusion in the Purple Heart Trail. The bill specifically recognizes the County of Colusa Veterans Tribute Wall, erected in 2014, which is located at the junction of Highways 20 and 45.
A total of seven Purple Heart Memorial Highway signs were placed in Colusa County, each of which will now welcome motorists as they come into the county. The locations include Highway 20 at the Sutter and Lake County lines, Interstate 5 at the Glenn County and Yolo County lines, Highway 45 at the Glenn and Yolo County lines, and Highway 16 at the Yolo County line.
About 20 people were on hand at the unveiling ceremony just west of the Meridian Bridge, hosted by the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2441 and the American Legion Post 218. Among them were representatives from the offices of Rep. John Garamendi and California State Senator Jim Nielsen. Gallagher attended the ceremony and spoke before the small crowd gathered near the Colusa County line. Gallagher said that while it was great to unveil the Colusa County Purple Heart Trail and connect the county to the greater network, it was important to remember the reason the signs are there.
“I always feel small next to all these men, who served and fought and were wounded, and gave so much,” Gallagher said. “It’s great to unveil this sign, but let us remember our veterans, and that the sacred liberty we have does not come free. It comes with blood and treasure.” ■