Highway 20 is getting special patriotic designation

WAYNE — A group of veterans has come together to make sure America’s heroes are not forgotten.

Their efforts prompted Gov. Pete Ricketts to sign papers Jan. 31 to formally name Nebraska’s section of U.S. Highway 20 as the “Nebraska Medal of Honor Highway.”

The signing took place on Veterans Legislative Day, an annual event at the State Capitol for veterans and veteran service organizations to learn about veteran- and military-related legislation.

“Naming US-20 as the‘Nebraska Medal of Honor Highway’ pays homage to our nation’s most heroic soldiers,” said Gov. Ricketts. “It’s a fitting way for Nebraska to show respect and appreciation to our veterans for their sacrifices to keep us safe.”

The Nebraska Medal of Honor Foundation applied for the naming of US-20, which the Nebraska Highway Commission then recommended in December.

Nebraska Department of Transportation Director Kyle Schneweis signed the recommendation before submitting the name change to the Governor for approval.

Veterans Ken Hanel of West Point, the late Bob Maxwell of Bend, Oregon;  Daryl Harrison of Thurston and Gene Twiford of Laurel all played key roles in making this happen.

A special 12-day walk across the state along Highway 20 has been established to better publicize the new designation.

It could be coincidence or specific divine intervention, no one will know for certain yet the beginning of the 12-day walk has landed on the anniversary of a veteran’s passing, May 11.

“We didn’t even set out to intend to have that begin on this date. After the date was set, we came to realize this was the date that Bob Maxwell, a medal of honor recipient who began this project, passed away,’’ said Daryl Harrison, one of the Nebraska veteran organizers who have banded together like brothers to see this designation become a reality. “The project belongs to all patriotic Nebraskans.’’

The walk is the vehicle for gaining attention for a project started to bring about the naming of Nebraska’s Medal of Honor Highway and eventually a national designation.

Their fallen “brother’’ in arms who was one of the core group that began the project was Bob Maxwell, a medal of honor recipient.

Maxwell and a group of his “brothers’’ in arms veterans were working on a national medal of honor highway. Even though the medal of honor designation was attained in all the states west of Nebraska, the project lost momentum when it reached Nebraska. Veteran Gene Twiford read about the project and relit the effort. The nationwide medal of honor highway would run from Newport, Oregon to Boston. The project must be authorized by every community along the highway in 12 counties of Nebraska.  

“As Twiford worked his way across Nebraska organizing the highway designation with each community, he ran into a glitch at Chadron,’’ Harrison said.  That stretch of highway is named Crazy Horse Memorial Highway.  

Twiford had to work on a way to reassure them that the designation of Crazy Horse Memorial Highway would not be disturbed.

He took the problem to Hanel and Harrison.

“I found a way that the highway designations could coexist,’’ Harrison said. “The designations are in layers upon the highway. One layer is Crazy Horse Memorial Highway and another layer is Nebraska’s Medal of Honor Highway. In a way the layers are transparent.’’

Twiford came to the American Legion for funding for signage.  

“The project is more than just the American Legion, it is Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), Disabled American Veterans (DAV), Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), American Veterans (AM-Vets) and the Marine Corps,’’ Harrison said. “Even the Boy Scouts are getting involved and will be a part of the walk. The walk will be in 72 segments and each six-mile segment is dedicated to a medal of honor recipient, except for the first segment which is dedicated to two recipients. The plan is to walk 36 miles a day for 12 days.’’ Harrison and Hanel will each walk half of the journey.  

Nebraska has 73 Medal of Honor recipients.

By designating US-20 as the Nebraska Medal of Honor Highway, Nebraska joins a national effort to name US-20, which runs 3,365 miles from Boston, MA to Newport, OR. Nebraska is home to 432 miles of US-20 and is the fifth state to formally adopt the Medal of Honor name.

Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming have already named their sections, and efforts are underway in Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and Massachusetts to name their portions as well.

“I’m proud of Nebraska for taking this step to link arms with our neighbors and fellow Americans and be part of a national tribute to our heroes,” said Nebraska Department of Veterans’ Affairs (NDVA) Director John Hilgert. “This highway runs from coast to coast, crossing widely different terrains and connecting very different people, yet we remain united in our desire to pay tribute to our heroes. That is a powerful message.”

Since the Medal of Honor was first presented during the Civil War, 3,508 awards have been issued with every state represented. As of Dec. 21, 2019, there were only 71 Medal of Honor recipients living in the United States of America. To earn the Medal of Honor, a member of the U.S. Armed Forces must act with “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty during combat at the risk of one’s life against an enemy of the United States.”

“This is a means of paying tribute to all Nebraska Medal of Honor recipients and is a gift to them and treasure to Nebraska by all Nebraska veterans and patriots,” said Nebraska Medal of Honor Foundation President Daryl Harrison.

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