Monday, June 9, 2014

Apple #674: Blue Star Memorial Highways

I'm still getting caught up from all my travels last month.  When I was visiting out Northern California way, I drove through the famed Avenue of the Giants. You'll be hearing more about this in the future, I promise.  But for now, briefly, this is a two-lane scenic highway that winds between enormously tall and very old redwood trees.  Jaw-droppers these things are.

The road has all kinds of shoulder spots and turn-off areas where you can park and get out and let your jaw hang open while you stare around.  There are also little trails that you can walk in among the trees.  At the first place I stopped, I happened to see this:

In case you can't read the sign, it says Blue Star Memorial By-Way. A tribute to the Armed Forces of America, Southern Humboldt Garden Club, National Council of State Garden Clubs, Inc. 
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

This is in California, right?  Well, there's a place I've been going to in Michigan for years, ever since I was a little applet, where there is a Blue Star Highway.  Any time we would give people directions, we would say, "Get off the expressway and take a right on Blue Star."  Which is to say, this was the only Blue Star Highway I'd ever known, and I thought it was the only one.  But lo and behold, there's another Blue Star highway (OK, this is a by-way) in California.

What gives?  Are there lots of Blue Star highways?

Blue Star Memorial Highway marker in Anchorage, Alaska.
(Photo from the National Remember Our Troops Campaign)

  • Yes.
  • The Blue Star Memorial Highways were first established in New Jersey in 1944, as a way to honor the Armed Forces from New Jersey.
  • Specifically, the first Blue Star highway was established after the New Jersey State Council of Garden Clubs planted about 8,000 flowering dogwood trees along a 5-1/2 mile stretch of US 22 in New Jersey.
  • Along with the dogwoods, they erected a large metal memorial sign with the blue star on it.
  • They used the blue star from the armed services flag, because people who had family members in the service would put a blue star in their window.  If the service member died, they would change the blue star to yellow.  But the Garden Club wanted to commemorate those who were still living and serving, so they chose the blue star as their symbol.

This is "Sergeant Adam" taking down the Blue Star service banner that was hanging in the window at home while he was serving in Iraq.  Now that he's home, he gets to take it down.  (This flag indicates that the people who live here have a family member in military service.)
(Photo from Chief Bob Lusk)

  • The idea was that the tree-planted--"beautified"--highway would accomplish three things:
    • it would act as a living memorial to those still serving
    • it would show what can be accomplished through unified strength
    • it would also be "a protest against billboards" in that the commemoration would go well beyond simply placing a marker or a sign next to a road.
  • The National Garden Clubs thought this was such a good idea, they decided to take it on as a national program.  The concept was expanded to commemorate all veterans, those who are currently serving as well as those who have served in the past.

A Blue Star Memorial Highway sign from Illinois.  This one is in need of attention, as the star has faded and the sign's color has changed over time. But you can see that it states its purpose, that it was dedicated by the Garden Club of Illinois, and it's located in Jacksonville, Illinois.
(Photo from the National Remember Our Troops Campaign

  • Where the markers could be place has also been expanded to allow other types of locations besides just highways.  By-way markers are placed in parks or grounds with civic or historic significance, or also at cemeteries or other places of importance to veterans.   
  • Most locations that have been designated with the Blue Star are highways , but you might see the Blue Star at places such as the Agricultural Museum outside of Jerome, Idaho, or at the St. James Veterans Home in St. James, Missouri.
  • I tried to count how many Blue Star Highways and By-Ways and Memorial Markers there are in each state, but let's just say there are a lot.  Florida alone has 147 Blue Star locations.  
  • Georgia's list has 7 districts, each of which contain several locations.  California's list is too nighmarishly complicated to count.
  • Suffice to say, each state has several Blue Star Memorial locations.  Hawaii is the only exception with only one location -- the Wheeler Army Airfield, Schofield Barracks.  
  • One source says that there are currently over 70,000 miles of highway designated as Blue Star Memorial highways.

The By-Way sign (left) is a plaque that goes on a thing, like a big boulder.  The Highway sign (right) goes on a 7'-tall post next to a highway.
(Photo from the National Garden Clubs
  • If you or your local garden club would like to dedicate a new location as a Blue Star Memorial spot, you have to get the approval of your state garden club's chairperson, and then you can request a marker, for a fee:
    • Highway markers: $1,410 per plaque, includes shipping & 7' post
    • Byway markers: $470 per plaque
    • Replacement posts: $325
    • Refurbishment of an existing plaque, no new post provided: $800
    • If you live west of Louisiana-Arkansas-Iowa-Minnesota, it'll cost you an extra $50 in shipping.
  • Different states have different rules about who gets to say what gets the Blue Star.  In the case of California, for example, highways are designated as Blue Stars by the California legislature.  So you'll want to check with your state's Garden Club or its local district to be sure you follow your state's procedures. (Virginia's Garden Club also sells memorial markers, but their prices are different.)

This Blue Star Memorial Highway marker is blue.  It is located on US 77 in Oklahoma.
(Photo from the National Remember Our Troops Campaign)

Here's another example of a by-way marker.
(Photo from the National Remember Our Troops Campaign)

From a dedication ceremony in By City, Texas, 1985. Vandals broke the marker off its post in 2011. At last notice, local groups were working on repairing it.
(Photo from The Daily Tribune, sourced from TXGenWeb site for Matagorda County)

Here's a marker from Punta Gorda, Florida. (This one's for you, Jarred. Because it's in Florida.)
(Photo from RV-A-Gogo)

Well, I guess I should have done this entry around Memorial Day.  But I didn't know then all I know now. I'll just have to keep my eyes open in the future for other places where I might see the Blue Star signs. Because apparently they're all over the place.

US DOT, Highway History, Blue Star Memorial Highways
National Garden Clubs, Blue Star Memorial Program
National Remember Our Troops Campaign, History and Current Status of The Blue Star Memorial Highways
California Department of Transportation, Blue Star Memorial Highways
North Carolina Department of Transportation, Blue Star Memorial Locations


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