Sam Fonzi, Philip Koren and Richard Wise, members of the Richmond Chapter No. 1965 of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, pose behind the new combat wounded veteran honorary parking spot at the Fort Lee Commissary. The organization is responsible for getting more than 70 signs installed in the Greater Richmond and Fort Lee area. (Photo by Amy Perry, Fort Lee Public Affairs)

FORT LEE, Va. -- Honorary parking spaces for combat-wounded veterans are popping up at various locations in the Greater Richmond area and outside shopping facilities on Fort Lee.

The effort is being driven by a Richmond chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart. A little over a year ago, Philip Koren, a retired lieutenant colonel and MOPH member, spotted one of the signs at a business in Midlothian. It sparked his interest and he started researching the background.

The sign was provided by the Wounded Warrior Family Support organization, he said. One of the programs the group offers is the honorary parking markers for combat wounded veterans, which they provide for free.

After Koren presented the information to others in the MOPH chapter, the organization got on board with the project, and now, there’s more than 70 signs designated for combat wounded veterans in the area, with two on Fort Lee.

“The signs are designed to honor all veterans, not just Purple Heart recipients,” said Richard Wise, commander of the chapter. “It’s a memorial as well as a parking spot.”

“When there’s no one parked there,” Koren added, “it’s for the troops who didn’t come back. When somebody parks there, it’s an honor for his or her service.”

Another major drive of the program is to educate the public about Purple Heart recipients, said Sam Fonzi, another member of the MOPH Richmond chapter.

“I was surprised to learn a lot of people didn’t even know what the Purple Heart stood for,” he said. “We do a lot of outreach to the public to explain that the freedoms we have today are paid for by the people who didn’t come back and the people who got wounded. It’s an honor for us – who came back – to help further the memory of the fallen.”

Getting these signs installed is a mission to honor those wounded vets, said Koren.

“Where else than Fort Lee is more appropriate for parking signs for Purple Heart recipients to honor their sacrifices?” he posed.

In addition to the existing signs at the commissary and main exchange. Koren said he wants them to appear elsewhere and plans to attend a signage committee soon to promote the program. He’s identified more than a dozen spots he thinks would be appropriate for the markers.

“It would make sure Soldiers who return and who visit here for school or temporary duty know their sacrifice is worth it,” said Koren.

Aside from promoting awareness of Purple Heart recognition, the Richmond chapter spends its time supporting veterans’ causes. Their largest projects include assisting the Sitter and Barfoot Veterans Care Center and the Richmond Fisher House.