Purple Heart truck road trip helps blaze a trail for veterans starting over

A purple Ford F-150 truck made a pit stop in Philadelphia Wednesday while on a 7,800-mile journey from Springfield, Virginia, to Spokane, Washington.

It’s not just any ordinary truck.

A part of the 2018 Purple Heart Truck Run, the truck’s features allow paralyzed or disabled veterans to operate the vehicle.  Wounded combat veterans will drive it for the entire trip.

The 2018 Purple Heart Truck Run stops in Philadelphia Wednesday. (Maya Aphornsuvan for WHYY)

The truck run works to show a need for jobs, homes, and support for veterans, said John Bircher, the Military Order of Purple Heart’s public relations director.

For soldiers returning from war, Bircher said, it can be a challenge to reintegrate into their communities. They especially miss the sense of camaraderie in the military.

“It’s hard to be in war and not come back with some form of post-traumatic stress,” he said.

At the end of the truck run, the keys will be turned over to retired U.S. Army Sgt. Justin Burdette, who received the Purple Heart medal when he lost both legs below the knee in Afghanistan.

Burdette, who will be driving the truck for two weeks until it reaches Georgia, said the hand controls are one of the best features. He also appreciates the wheelchair crane that helps with getting him and his chair into the vehicle.

The Military Order of the Purple Heart also hopes to shine a light on the fact that mobility itself is freedom — and that having a vehicle adapted to assist wounded veterans can be the difference between self-sufficiency and constant reliance on others.

“Last year,” Bircher said, “one of our drivers said, ‘It lets me feel like a man again.’ ”

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