HELENA — As one lane of traffic inched by, dozens of people gathered on the shoulder of Highway 287 east of Helena on Friday to honor prisoners of war and military personnel missing in action.
During the ceremony, the portion of the highway stretching from Helena to West Yellowstone was officially dedicated as the state’s first POW/MIA memorial highway.
“It is the one stretch of Montana highway that had not previously been named,” said Mike Tooley, director of the Montana Department of Transportation.
Flags honoring the 55 Montanans still classified as POW/MIA waved in the breeze on both sides of the roadway between Helena and the dedication site.
“Those stand today to remind us of their sacrifice,” Tooley said.
Gov. Steve Bullock addressed the crowd — many clad in red, white and blue — and expressed his sincere gratitude to all of Montana’s servicemen and women.
“We have the highest per-capita rate of military families in the nation,” Bullock said.
He reminded attendees of an executive order he approved last April that requires the POW/MIA flag to fly in front of the state Capitol until all 55 missing Montanans are returned home.
“I think it’s so appropriate that we’re blocking traffic on Memorial Day weekend,” Bullock said as cars and trucks slowed to gawk at the gathering on the side of the road. “(It will help people) remember to keep in their thoughts those families that are missing someone this weekend.”
“I want to thank the men and women and their families … who have worn the uniform of this great nation,” Bullock said.
Bullock commended Dick Juvik — a Vietnam veteran and active member of the American Legion Post 2 in Helena — for Juvik’s tireless efforts to make the highway dedication a reality. Juvik came up with the idea for the dedication after participating in the Run for the Wall motorcycle trek to Washington, D.C., in 2012 with his wife, Linda Juvik.
“Back East, this flag is everywhere,” Linda Juvik said of the iconic black POW/MIA banner. “So why not in Montana?”
“We don’t want this lost in history,” she said of those still missing.
The Juviks wrote a letter to the state requesting the dedication and were overjoyed when they heard it was approved Oct. 31, 2013.
“Some wondered why we wrote the letter,” Dick Juvik said. “Others said it’s about time for this dedication.”
“Many individuals and businesses sponsored flags and supplies needed to place these flags along this highway,” he said.
A large brown sign designating the road as the POW/MIA memorial highway is ornamented with a red, white and blue flower wreath to honor the dedication and to celebrate Memorial Day weekend.
“I couldn’t be more pleased,” Dick Juvik said. “(This is) a constant reminder of those who became missing while serving our great country.”