“He’s real excited,” said Derrell Maxwell.
“Sure I am,” said Brendle.
Maxwell, along with fellow veterans Bill Williams and Bruce Cochran, were instrumental in getting the North Carolina Department of Transportation on board with naming the bridge — located off U.S. 74, Exit 64 — in Brendle’s honor. It wasn’t an easy sell.
Because the NCDOT doesn’t typically name bridges for Purple Heart recipients, only for Medal of Honor recipients, the department rejected the initial request to honor Brendle. They requested further evidence illustrating the veteran’s place in the community following his return home from war.
The group of veterans went about securing such evidence. They got the governing boards of Swain County and Bryson City to draft resolutions of support. They organized Dockie Brendle Day, complete with food, drink and motorcade. They circulated a petition and reached out to local media for coverage.
The tangible show of support was apparently enough for the powers that be at the DOT. In July, the department approved the request to name the Swain County bridge after the veteran.
“They deliberated on it about a minute,” Maxwell laughed.
Brendle said the process has required patience — “I learned you had to take your time” — but he’s looking forward to seeing his name on the bridge.
“It means everything,” the veteran said. “It’s a real honor.”
Brendle was drafted when he was 21 years old. He would return home paralyzed on his left side and blind in his right eye.
His Purple Heart injuries involve getting shot in the leg with an M1 carbine, hit in the leg by mortar shrapnel and, finally, hit in the chest and head by a rocket-propelled grenade near Saigon.
The bridge in Alarka — on a stretch Brendle walked daily as a young boy — already has signs staking a claim. The veterans installed them on either side months ago in anticipation of their eventual success.
It will be another month or so before official signs are placed at the bridge. Currently, Maxwell is collecting the needed funds for the signage.
“The DOT doesn’t pay for the signs,” he said, “so me and the guys are raising the money. We’ve got half of it already.”