I-90 designated Purple Heart memorial highwayPIERRE – The state Transportation Commission overruled the state Department of Transportation and decided Thursday that Interstate 90 across South Dakota should be designated as the Purple Heart Memorial Highway, in honor of men and women of the U.S. armed forces who were wounded or killed in enemy action.
By: Bob Mercer, The Daily Republic
PIERRE – The state Transportation Commission overruled the state Department of Transportation and decided Thursday that Interstate 90 across South Dakota should be designated as the Purple Heart Memorial Highway, in honor of men and women of the U.S. armed forces who were wounded or killed in enemy action.
Special signs will be placed at each rest stop along I-90 in South Dakota at DOT’s expense. The design will be negotiated between South Dakota members of the Military Order of the Purple Heart and DOT officials. South Dakota was one of five states that hadn’t yet granted the designation sought by the order as part of its nationwide project.
The cause was taken up by Transportation Commission member Bob Benson of Winner, a retired National Guard general who wrote letters home to the mothers of men lost under his command. Five South Dakota recipients of the Purple Heart medal, led by Mark Williamson of Garretson, attended the commission meeting Thursday to present their case and show their support.
Several times in recent months DOT officials recommended against granting the designation for I-90 because it was contrary to department policy, which doesn’t allow for double designations. Interstate highways nationwide already carry a federal designation in honor of former U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower.
DOT’s recommendation was that a different segment of highway be selected. State Transportation Secretary Darin Bergquist said he had previously turned down numerous requests from various organizations and people seeking designations for I-90 and I-29.
That answer didn’t sway Benson.
“I would be glad to stand up and say these people (Purple Heart recipients) are different. Send them all to me,” Benson told Bergquist, regarding people who might complain. He added, “If the governor kicks me off this (commission), I don’t care.”
Several commissioners including Benson told stories of specific men they have known who were injured in combat. Several others argued that the policy should be followed or at least changed first
Finally one DOT official, sensing that a majority was in favor of the designation, offered that the designation could be explained as a matter of interpretation of the policy, rather than a violation of it, with the policy revised later to conform with the new direction.
Commissioner Sam Tidball of Fort Pierre and commission chairman Dick Gregerson of Sioux Falls said it was time to get the ball rolling rather than wait for policy revisions.
Gregerson, who was a forward observer in South Korea as a U.S. Marine during that war, said his best friend in the service died after being hit by fire that missed Gregerson. “I was lucky,” he said.
Gregerson said he was voting with his heart. “I don’t want to see South Dakota to be the first state in the Union to turn down the Purple Heart association,” he said.
Tidball suggested a unanimous ballot to be cast, but Benson argued against that. “You can’t tell people how to vote in this country. That’s what these people (armed forces) worked so hard for,” Benson said.