Robert Maxwell is Oregon's only living Congressional Medal of Honor recipient—and all he's wanted for 50 years is a license plate to prove it.
But this week's Rogue, the Oregon Department of Transportation, has prevented the 86-year-old Maxwell from driving around his Bend hometown with plates to mark his World War II medal-winning heroics. In 1944, Maxwell threw himself on a grenade, which blew away most of the flesh on his left heel and sent shrapnel into his head and chest.
Oregon has honorary license plates for Vietnam War Vets, ex-POW's and others. But unlike many other states, it doesn't offer a special plate for the Medal of Honor, the Armed Forces' highest award for valor.
For about four years, Maxwell and fellow vet Dick Tobiason have petitioned ODOT and Gov. Ted Kulongoski to create a new license plate program for medal-of-honor recipients. ODOT's response: State law says special plates can only be issued if at least 500 people applied each year (though only 111 honorees are alive in the entire country)—and if the organization pays the $10,000-plus in start-up costs.
"People come to us every day, and ask, 'Hey, can we start a new plate?'" says ODOT spokesman David House, adding that ODOT is working on a solution. "Lawmakers decided that we don't want to get into the administrative overheard of manufacturing and designing so many different plates."
Understandable that ODOT wants to avoid making new plates for hundreds of small fringe groups. But we think this is an exceptional situation.
The company that subcontracts to print the state's license plates waived its fees and pressed a complimentary set of plates for Maxwell a year ago. But without a law in the books, the tags were just as legal as those little plates with kids' names on the back of tricycles.
State Rep. Sal Esquivel (R-Medford) introduced a bill last week, HB 2390, designed specifically to help Maxwell and to legalize the creation of Congressional Medal of Honor plates in Oregon.
Says Esquivel, "I was shocked when I found out that this man can't get his plates." So are we.