Story By Hannah Lester / Photos Contributed
Lee County has taken steps to honor Purple Heart Veterans. A jaunt through the county and cities of Auburn and Opelika reveal roadways, signs and designated parking spots for Purple Heart Veterans.
Veterans receive a Purple Heart Distinction if they were wounded in combat. Lee County has 136 Purple Heart Veterans.
“For those of you who may not be aware, the Purple Heart is awarded to a soldier who is wounded in combat or killed,” said late Lee County Commissioner Johnny Lawrence at a meeting to announce Lee County as a Purple Heart County. “So this is not one of those [awards] you get for doing just a very, very good job. You’ve actually got to be willing to lay it right there, all on the line in order to receive it.”
The process of creating a Purple Heart County can be lengthy but is a sure way to honor veterans.
Lee County took its first steps when it became a part of the Purple Heart Trail, Lawrence said.
“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 purpleheart.org. “The Purple Heart Trail accomplishes this honorary goal by creating 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.”
Lee County officially declared itself a Purple Heart County at the Sept. 30, 2019, Lee County Commission meeting.
“The Lee County Commission hereby declares Lee County a Purple Heart County , honoring the service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform wounded or killed by the enemy while serving to protect the freedoms of all Americans,” county documents from the meeting said.
Lawrence presented the resolution to the commission and Purple Heart recipient Vann Daughtry spoke of the importance following the approval vote.
Daughtry said that Alabama has the highest veterans’ suicide rate in the nation.
“If you see a veteran, I don’t care if they’re a purple heart veteran, veteran, lady, man, it makes no difference to me,” he said. “Thank them for their service, thank them for what they have done, what they are doing and what they’re going to do. You may save somebody’s life.”
The commission then invited all veterans and attendees to join them outside the courthouse to see the new Purple Heart Veteran parking space.
The Auburn City Council met soon after Lee County’s proclamation and voted to approve the city of Auburn as a Purple Heart City .
“The contributions and sacrifices of the men and women of the city of Auburn that served in the armed forces have been vital in maintaining the freedoms and the way of life enjoyed by our citizens and whereas the city council of the city of Auburn appreciates the sacrifice our Purple Heart recipients made while defending freedom and believe specific recognition be accorded them in appreciation of their courage to demonstrate the honor and support that that have earned,” said Auburn Mayor Ron Anders at the council meeting on Oct. 15, 2019 from the official proclamation.
Anders presented the resolution in the presence of veterans.
“The mission of the Military Order of the Purple Heart is to foster an environment of goodwill among the combat-wounded veteran members of their families, to promote patriotism, to support legislative initiatives and most importantly — make sure we never for get,” Anders said.
Daughtry then presented the city with a certificate of appreciation.
The city of Opelika declared itself a Purple Heart City long before the county or city of Auburn did.
Opelika approved the designation in June, 2013, at a council meeting. The proclamation that was approved listed a few of Lee County’s Purple Heart recipients at the time: David Daughtry, Leslie Digman, Kyle Golden, Lloyd Owens, Lt. Gen. Harold G. Moore, Larry Quinton, Kenneth Rymal and Edward Scherer.
“The city of Opelika has a lar ge population of highly decorated military members, active duty and retired, as well as Purple Heart recipients wounded in combat, living in the community and whereas the city of Opelika has great administration for the men and women who have selflessly served our country and acknowledges our veterans who have paid the high price of freedom by leaving their families and communities behind; placing their own lives in harm’s way for the good of all,” the proclamation read.