Can a metal highway sign double as a welcome mat? According to Jeffery Baker, it certainly can.
Baker grew up in Cedartown, familiar with the ins and outs of growing up in a small town. But in 2005, he found himself nearly 7,000 miles away from home in war-ravaged Baghdad. He was just south of the Iraqi capital, serving as a gunner for the U.S. Army, when his Humvee was struck by an improvised explosive device.
There were injuries, both of the physical kind and those of the soul. For his sacrifice, Baker was awarded the Purple Heart. The combat decoration is awarded to members of the Armed Forces of the United States who are wounded or killed by an instrument of war in the hands of the enemy.
Jump forward to 2014. Baker, now a member of the prestigious Rome Chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart (MOPH), approached other chapter members with the idea of making Cedartown an official “Purple Heart City.” There are no strict requirements in order for a city to hold the official title. Rather, it is simply a sign of respect and appreciation for all service members — not just those from the area — who were wounded or killed in action and awarded the Purple Heart. The designation of a Purple Heart City is typically celebrated with a city-issued proclamation and signage is displayed along the area’s main corridors.
And this is when an unassuming metal sign can mean so much to someone who’s risked it all serving in the Armed Forces. “There are several Purple Heart recipients, probably more than most folks realize, living here in Cedartown,” Baker said. “And I don’t know about them, but for me, when I drive into a city that has these Purple Heart City signs displayed, it feels like a welcome mat to me.”
Cedartown was designated as a Purple Heart City back in the fall of 2014. Members of the Rome Chapter were present as then Commission Chair Dale Tuck read the official proclamation.
Jump forward again to 2016. Baker and Rome MOPH the worked with city, county and state officials to secure six Purple Heart City highway signs for Cedartown. The signs were recently placed along the main entryways into the City by the Public Works Department and now serve as a visual thank you to the battle-wounded and a reminder of the sacrifices that members of the U.S. military make every day.
Currently, there are 66 cities in the State of Georgia that hold the Purple Heart City designation. “This is something good for Cedartown and Polk County and I am proud to be a part of that,” Baker said.