Order of the Purple Heart and Jon Tester unveil new memorial kiosk

Billings Gazette

by Carmen Irish

Eleven years ago, names of wounded Montana veterans who have been honored with a Purple Heart were collected by members of the Order of the Purple Heart and alphabetically indexed on cards, and then stored in a shoe box.

Years later, those names made it out of the shoe box and were engraved onto granite slabs that stand tall and proud as a permanent fixture on the Yellowstone County Courthouse lawn known as the Montana Purple Heart Memorial.

And on Thursday afternoon, members of the Order of the Purple Heart were joined by Senator Jon Tester and Yellowstone County Commissioner Bill Kennedy to unveil a new Purple Heart kiosk inside the courthouse building where visitors can find the names and service information about friends and family members etched into the granite stone.

“What we have here is a reminder,” said U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D.-Mont. “A reminder for everyone who comes here about the folks who have sacrificed for our country, and another reminder of the obligation we have to these folks to give them the benefits we promised them and they have earned.”

Order of the Purple Heart member and memorial organizer Jerry LaFountain and Tester pulled a sheet from the kiosk that holds more than 6,000 names – all names that have been engraved into the memorial – unveiling the booth to a handful of other Order members and their family and friends.

The kiosk is a simple and interactive touch-screen database system that searches for the placement of names on the memorial. Users type in a name and the database will locate which granite panel, front or rear side, and the line number on which the name is engraved.

“It’s completely user-friendly,” LaFountain said. “You don’t have to know anything about computers and will be easy for older folks to use too.”

When the kiosk isn’t in use, a screen saver of military photos rotates every 30 seconds. Members of the Order hope to gather photographs of Montana veterans and active military to keep adding to the slideshow.

On top of the kiosk is a printer where people can print out a certificate of honored military men and women to take out to the memorial to trace the etched name.

“It’s so important for family members to bring it to our attention if they know someone who has been honored with a Purple Heart,” LaFountain said. “It’s the only way we will know to add them to the memorial and kiosk.”

When new names are added, the kiosk will be updated.

Angelo Bianco, 53, Order of the Purple Heart member and memorial organizer, was honored with a Purple Heart after being wounded in the Gulf War.

“The Purple Heart is really about those killed in action, and those of us honored with one is a reminder for us to honor them,” said Bianco. “And today marks a very great day to do just that.”