The Purple Heart Trail may soon meander through San Luis Obispo County, entering Highway 101 just south of San Ardo in Monterey County and heading south to Los Olivos in Santa Barbara County.
The honorary designation is singularly appropriate for San Luis Obispo County, which is home to 26,000 veterans.
The Purple Heart, the nation’s oldest combat medal, was first awarded to three soldiers in 1782 by Gen. George Washington. Known then as the Badge of Military Merit, it is given to those who are killed or wounded in combat.
In 1992, veterans began to seek a way to more broadly honor those men and women and their families, and, through the Military Order of the Purple Heart, created the Purple Heart Trail. It exists in 20 states, including California, where portions of I-80 and I-5 are part of the network.
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“The purpose of the Purple Heart Trail is to create 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,” according to the Purple Heart Web site.
Tim Haley, a Vietnam veteran from Atascadero, has been leading the effort to get Purple Heart Trail signs up on the Central Coast. Haley is with the Marine Corps League, Detachment 680 in San Luis Obispo.
Haley asked Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo, to sponsor legislation. Blakeslee enlisted his colleagues’ support in designating the 115-mile stretch through the three counties as part of the nationwide network.
Haley still needs to raise $15,000 for the signs, which will go up on Highway 101 in San Ardo, Paso Robles, Atascadero, San Luis Obispo, Santa Maria and Los Olivos.
When people drive by and see Purple Heart Trail signs, Haley said, “I want them to think of the people who sacrificed” to keep America free.
He hopes to have the signs in place by May 1. Haley said those who wish to donate or who want more information should call Chuck Ward at 466-3062.