A fund-raising tour to help build a state Purple Heart Memorial is scheduled to visit Missoula on Saturday and Sunday, then move to Hamilton on Memorial Day and Philipsburg on May 30.

The Missoula stop will be held in conjunction with holiday activities this weekend at Southgate Mall.

The stops are part of a 10-week, 3,700-mile journey to raise $100,000 to erect a memorial in honor of those wounded or killed during service in or for the U.S. military.

Three of the nine blocks of granite that will comprise the memorial are traveling to 68 locations throughout the state on a flatbed truck in April, May and June.

Groundbreaking for the memorial is set for Nov. 11, Veterans Day, on the front lawn of the Yellowstone County Courthouse in Billings.

The several thousand names of the state's Purple Heart recipients will be engraved on eight blocks of granite, 3 feet wide by 6 feet tall, which will be arranged in a semi-circle flanking a center panel.

The central black granite slab will be adorned with an image of the medal.

Gerry LaFountain, a Vietnam veteran and Purple Heart recipient who is heading the effort to build the state memorial, said he hopes unknown recipients of the medal can be found during the tour.

"Our biggest motivation is to find any more Purple Heart recipients that might be (out) there," said LaFountain, commander of Chapter 343 of the Montana Order of the Purple Heart.

In 1988, he joined other veterans on a similar statewide fund-raising tour to help with the construction of the state Vietnam Memorial, which now sits at Missoula's Memorial Rose Garden.

"This one should be even better because we're dealing with a lot more than Vietnam veterans," he said.

The Purple Heart was established by Gen. George Washington during the Revolutionary War in 1782 to signify loyal military service.

But since 1932, the Purple Heart has been awarded to military personnel who receive "a wound which necessitates treatment by a medical officer and which is received in action with an enemy."

In 1962, President John F. Kennedy extended eligibility to "any civilian national of the United States who, while serving under competent authority in any capacity with an armed force" has been wounded. President Ronald Reagan, in 1984, amended Kennedy's order to "include those wounded or killed as a result of an international terrorist attack."

Donations for the memorial can be sent to LaFountain, 4615 Simpson St., Billings 59101. For more information, call (406) 248-3349.

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