Last year a bill to rename Highway 20 as Iowa Patriots Memorial Highway passed the Iowa Senate 48-0. However, on Wednesday it couldn’t even escape subcommittee without opposition.
Sen. Bill Dotzler (D-Waterloo), who voted for the legislation last year on the floor, spoke out against it this time around.
“First of all, Highway 20 goes directly through Waterloo and we are known for the five Sullivan brothers,” he said. “I can’t think of any single family in the history of the United States on record who has had a greater loss. And, while I see this Patriots Highway is well intended, we’re going to have an image of a staged photograph put on these signs. That’s not the original flag raising that occurred. It was staged for a photograph. I think we need to rethink if we’re going to name highways across Iowa. I’m a veteran, I appreciate what the intent is, but as somebody who represents a district that had the greatest family loss in the history of the United States Navy, and the military, it would be more appropriate to name it after the Sullivan brothers.”
Sen. Jim Carlin (R-Sioux City) introduced the legislation, which got stuck in the Iowa House after breezing through the Senate in 2019.
“Its purpose is to honor our veterans,” Carlin said.
He added that one of the men who raised the flag at Iwo Jima was an Iowan. And that image was the one selected for the signs.
“This guy raises the flag and this just embodies the whole reason for doing this,” Carlin said. “He has a picture of that in his house. For 25 years, his own kids did not know that he was one of the people who raised that flag. They’d ask him, you know, why do you have a picture of that? Who were those men? He’d reflect on it and say those men raised that flag. He never made a point of singling himself out.
“One of the problems we have in our culture today is an openly contentious attitude towards our military, towards law enforcement and towards patriotism. I just think it’s a good thing to honor the people who sacrificed, and I don’t care how cliche it sounds, to honor the sacrifice of those who gave their all for freedom. This is just a reminder to our children and our grandchildren of that sacrifice, that price paid.”
In addition to Dotzler’s objection, Senators Carrie Koelker (R-Dyersville) and Dan Dawson (R-Council Bluffs) essentially called a timeout on the bill. There is a national effort by the American Legion to name Highway 20 Medal of Honor Highway.
Every state west of Iowa has adopted the name Medal of Honor Highway. When the Iowa American Legion started the effort to rename the highway, they were not fully aware of the nationwide effort.
The American Legion is scheduled to have a vote on its next step in the near future. The group had agreed to pay for the signage that would be necessary, but Dawson and Koelker want to hear if the American Legion is still willing to pay for the signs regardless of what name is chosen.
Koelker said she believes the bill is a great way to honor people and she likes the image. But again, the name was something worth holding out for.
“I don’t want to pass a bill if a national movement occurs and then we’re changing out signs against next year,” he said. “I’m thinking a better highway may be Highway 75 or 40 north-to-south. Or until we can get this question answered from the Legion.”
When asked after the subcommittee why Dotzler changed his vote on the bill, he said he wasn’t involved in the bill last year and voted for it after the Veterans committee recommended doing so.
“But now that I’ve actually sat on the subcommittee and looked at the details and the cost and all that, specifically I wasn’t aware at the time that they were going to have an image,” he said. “And, it is an iconic image, but the truth of the matter is, it was staged.”
As it turns out, the image was not part of the plan in last year’s bill.
“The other thing is that you’re only honoring one branch of the military,” Dotzler said. “Waterloo’s got the greatest family loss. We’ve got a museum there for it, and I’m going to have an image of Iwo Jima like that’s the patriots?”