- Associated Press - Saturday, November 7, 2015

PAPILLION, Neb. (AP) - Army Reserve First Sgt. Scott Marasco served during the first Gulf War and, thank God, came home without a scratch.

But he very much wants the world to appreciate the soldiers who did suffer wounds in combat.

That’s why there are purple-edged signs that read “Reserved Combat Wounded” near the entrance to the Home Depot store that he manages in Papillion. Through his efforts, such signs are now at 107 Home Depots in seven Midwestern states.

“This is like my project, my mission,” said 48-year-old Marasco. “I’d love to get them into every Home Depot in the country.”

The idea for Purple Heart parking spaces - now at hundreds of business locations in 43 states - started in Omaha almost three years ago with retired Marine Reserve Col. John Folsom, who runs a veterans aid charity called Wounded Warriors Family Support.

Since then, his organization has sent out nearly 2,500 of the signs for free to businesses that request them. Though Folsom has done no advertising, the pace of requests has picked up dramatically in recent months thanks to news stories and social media. “All of a sudden, it’s just gone nuts,” Folsom said. “This is true grass roots.”

The Omaha World-Herald reports (https://bit.ly/1PqKzLp ) Folsom hatched the idea after seeing parking spaces at businesses set aside for expectant mothers and high-achieving workers next to federally mandated ones reserved for people with disabilities.

He thought Purple Heart recipients deserved recognition, too.

“If we’re honoring an employee of the quarter, why can’t we honor someone who was wounded (in combat)?” Folsom said.

So his charity ordered 500 of the colorful, heavy-duty signs emblazoned with the Purple Heart. After those were handed out, he ordered 1,000 more. Now, another batch of 1,000 is nearly gone. “We’re approaching the 2,500-sign mark,” Folsom said.

In addition to Home Depot, the Texas Roadhouse restaurant chain and Lowe’s home improvement stores have posted the signs at many of their locations.

On Wednesday, Wounded Warriors Family Support sent a batch to West Virginia. That leaves only seven states without any: Hawaii, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, Nevada, Utah and Mississippi.

Folsom said his organization has made the signs one of its missions, along with providing vacations and respite care and purchasing cars for needy wounded veterans. The signs have cost $65,000 so far and are free to businesses who promise to use them - though he has asked companies ordering them in bulk to pay shipping costs.

“I look at this thing as a way to heal,” Folsom said. “A young man with his legs blown off knows somebody cares about him.”

Marasco said the parking spaces at his Home Depot store are used by wounded veterans almost every day, and at least once a week someone stops in to say thanks.

He keeps a photo on the wall of his office given to him by a veteran who attached a note to one of the signs. The note said: “Thank you for giving me the welcome I never received when I came home after my service.”

The sign phenomenon could be about to grow even faster. This week Folsom was contacted by the Military Order of the Purple Heart, a national organization for the estimated 1.8 million recipients of the award. An email from operations manager Matt Manville noted the “great public response” across its 400 local chapters.

“These sign(s) are creating quite a stir in communities across our great nation,” Manville wrote.

He offered to buy the signs and resell them, but Folsom said he’s committed to giving them away for free.

“We’re going to keep up with the demand,” he said. “This is our gift.”

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