Trail runs from Westerly to East Greenwich
SOUTH COUNTY – The Rhode Island Department of Transportation has officially approved and already installed signage along the Purple Heart Trail.
The Purple Heart Trail, which runs through six Purple Heart Communities – East Greenwich, North Kingstown, South Kingstown, Narragansett, Charlestown and Westerly – is sure to grab the attention of locals and tourists alike this summer.
The signs, located in six locations along Route 1 and Route 4, have been more than a year in the making, and wouldn’t have been possible without help from local legislators and community leaders spearheading the initiative.
Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 916 Commander Joe “Tiger” Patrick, and a handful of Purple Heart recipients from southern Rhode Island turned to legislators like Rep. Kathleen Fogarty (Dist. 35 – South Kingstown) and Rep. Carol Hagan McEntee (Dist. 33 – South Kingstown, Narragansett).
“Our veterans who have been wounded in battle deserve our gratitude and respect and ‘The Rhode Island Purple Heart Trail’ will serve as a fitting reminder of the sacrifices made by these devoted and patriotic individuals who put themselves in harm’s way so that our way of life may continue,” Fogarty said during an unofficial sign unveiling this week.
McEntee, who introduced legislation to have the section of roadway designed as the Rhode Island Purple Heart Trail, echoed these sentiments.
“This well-traveled roadway will serve as a living memorial to our brave and dedicated veterans and I am grateful for being a part of its creation,” McEntee said.
While some may be quick to dismiss the signs as an empty, ceremonial gesture, Patrick stressed the importance of honoring our wounded heroes – and hopefully inspiring them to come forward to seek support.
“The real reason the Purple Heart Trail was such an impassioned issue, at least for me, is that when putting all this information together and talking to Purple Heart leaders, I realized about 43 percent of Purple Heart Veterans aren’t in the Veteran Affairs system,” Patrick explained. “They’re missing out on a lot of benefits.”
“It’s all about getting veterans the benefits and support they deserve,” he added, “that they earned through their blood and sacrifice.”
Too many Purple Heart Veterans are everyday community members silently suffering from the physical and psychological scars of war – needlessly, Patrick added – “when they could be getting some support.”
“They’re out there, just keeping it to themselves – which is their right – but at the same time, we’ve got to try to make it easier for them to come seek help,” he said. “That they’re appreciated, even if they’re dented.”
Patrick’s efforts to recognize Purple Heart Veterans began more than a year ago, when he went to each individual community along the trail to ask for their support. He especially tips his hat to Westerly and North Kingstown for being the first communities in Rhode Island to declare themselves Purple Heart Towns.
The other surrounding communities followed their lead within a few months, finishing with East Greenwich in January of 2020.
Sen. Sue Sosnowski (Dist. 37 – New Shoreham, South Kingstown) was able to introduce and help pass legislation in the Rhode Island Senate a few months later, thankfully, during one of the very last meetings of the General Assembly before COVID-19 shut down the entire state.
The House wasn’t able to convene or pass legislation on this issue for quite some time, but eventually the Purple Heart Trail was signed into effect by Gov. Gina Raimondo.
In February, McEntee, Fogarty and several other representatives sponsored legislation directing the Rhode Island Department of Transportation to erect signs along the trail – which hit a bit of a hiccup during a House Committee on Special Legislation this February.
Robert Rocchio of the Rhode Island Department of Transportation had suggested brown signage, rather than the green, white and purple signage currently standing today, because the signs being proposed were “in conflict with the manual on uniform traffic control devices.”
In Patrick’s opinion, Fogarty “single-handedly turned the meeting around,” thanks to her pointed questions and numerous examples of similar signage used in other states like Alaska, Maryland, Kentucky, Kansas and Arizona – all of which impose the purple heart emblem upon the standard green signs.
“She made it happen,” Patrick said. “She found a way to get it done through her words. I couldn’t be any more proud of her.”
Her questions, he said, inspired other committee members to push back and speak up in favor of using the purple heart emblem veterans had hoped to see. Patrick believes it’s what helped expedite a meeting with the RIDOT Chair Peter Alviti Jr. – who eventually signed off after seeing exactly what was being proposed.
The signs went up sooner than Patrick had expected – well ahead of National Purple Heart Day on Aug. 7. This summer, he’s hoping to celebrate the holiday and their accomplishment with local Purple Heart Veterans.
The Purple Heart Town signs, which will likely be going up along the on and off ramps into each community along the trail, feature a slightly different design with 13 stars surrounding the emblem – as a nod to Rhode Island’s colonial past.
“The Rhode Island Purple Heart Trail is going to become a destination spot,” he said, with hopes of seeing similar emblems placed throughout the towns. “These small tokens of gratitude will hopefully carry a world of meaning for our veterans.”