Retired Marine Robert Olivarez received his Purple Heart after five tours in Iraq and helped get Snohomish County designated a Purple Heart County. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Retired Marine Robert Olivarez received his Purple Heart after five tours in Iraq and helped get Snohomish County designated a Purple Heart County. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Snohomish County recognizes soldiers wounded, killed in war

We’re now a Purple Heart county. The cities of Monroe and Snohomish made their own proclamations this week, too.

EVERETT — Snohomish County is now the state’s third Purple Heart County, joining Lewis and Thurston in recognizing those wounded and killed in action.

The cities of Monroe and Snohomish also adopted similar proclamations this week.

The three new Purple Heart jurisdictions are part of a wave of recognition, said Machias resident Drew James, a retired Army infantry soldier and state officer of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

He wants every city in Washington to become a Purple Heart city.

“And that’s what we’re doing,” said Robert Olivarez, a retired Marine and Marysville resident.

Olivarez was awarded the medal in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

As a corporal, he was responsible for protecting explosive ordnance disposal units. On a patrol one day in 2004, there were four people in his Humvee.

“We were cruising along through the desert and went over a little sand hump,” Olivarez told The Daily Herald.

A vehicle in front of theirs crossed unharmed. But when Olivarez’ crew followed, a buried anti-tank mine exploded. Shrapnel lodged in his leg. Two Marines in the vehicle were airlifted out. Olivarez and another waited hours as the area was swept for other explosives. He stayed in the hospital for a week.

“Then I was ready to go back,” Olivarez said.

He stayed in the service for four more years. His injuries ultimately cut short his military career.

All four marines injured in the explosion were awarded the Purple Heart.

“I’ve taken the best advice from my dad,” Olivarez said. “He told me the guys I served with are going to be the guys I remember forever.”

He keeps in touch with them, including the crew in the Humvee that day. On family vacations, he’ll take hours-long detours to visit.

“I’m proud of that,” he said.

Some recipients of the medal may not be active in local veterans organizations, but becoming a Purple Heart jurisdiction means “at least they’ll know their city or county respects them,” Olivarez said. “It lets them know someone’s got them.”

County Councilmember Sam Low said he’s looking into erecting road signs to let drivers know they’re entering a Purple Heart county.

At least nine cities across Washington have made similar declarations. Drew James’ grandfather is a Purple Heart recipient who fought in the Battle of the Bulge in World War II. James is advocating for Everett, Gold Bar and Duvall to do the same.

Olivarez works with the Military Order of the Purple Heart, overseeing eight states in their efforts to honor wounded and killed soldiers.

He wanted Washington to start that work west of the Cascades, since I-5 was declared a Purple Heart highway in 2013. It joins a national system of roads and monuments tracked by Olivarez’ organization.

The military award is the oldest in U.S. history, with roots in the American Revolution.

The local proclamations came on the 80th anniversary of the attacks on Pearl Harbor, which killed 2,403 Americans and prompted then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt to expand the award to include the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.

Monroe’s proclamation cites the attacks, as well as the note Eleanor Roosevelt subsequently kept in her wallet until her death.

“Dear Lord,” it read, “lest I continue in my complacent ways, help me to remember that somewhere someone died for me today. And if there be war, help me to remember to ask, ‘Am I worth dying for?’”

Claudia Yaw: 425-339-3449; Twitter: @yawclaudia.

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