It’s official.

Following a special ceremony mid-Monday afternoon — which included the first “official crossing” by the winner of a recent raffle — Defiance’s new Clinton Street bridge opened to the motoring public around 4 p.m.

The new Purple Heart Bridge — so-named for veterans wounded in the service of our country — was built by Great Lakes Construction Co. of Medina County during the past nine-plus months at a cost of $8.3 million, an expense picked up by the state. The old bridge closed in late February, and was removed shortly thereafter.

A few items — such as work along East River Drive and Fort Street — remain, but all four bridge lanes are open to travel.

Monday’s event, presided over by Mayor Mike McCann in a tent on Fort Street along the Maumee River’s south bank, included comments by several top officials, including Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) Director Jack Marchbanks, his assistant, Kirk Slusher; Defiance County Commissioner Ryan Mack (a Purple Heart recipient); U.S. 5th District Congressman Bob Latta; Ohio 1st District Sen. Rob McColley of Napoleon; and Ohio 82nd House District Rep. Craig Riedel of Defiance.

Pastor David Brobston of Defiance provided an opening prayer and benediction.

More than 100 people attended on a cold, overcast day with temperatures not far above freezing.

Following a ribbon-cutting ceremony, Purple Heart recipients and veterans crossed from south to north on the bridge. They were followed by Paul Gearing and passenger Jackie Hammersmith, who were the first to cross the bridge officially, coming from the north in a 1932 Ford Deuce after winning the Defiance Development and Visitors Bureau’s raffle.

A special crossing also was allowed for 104-year-old Defiance resident Emily White.

However, the bridge was used Saturday afternoon during the annual Santa Claus arrival ceremony. Santa crossed over from the north to the south end of the bridge around 1:45 p.m. Saturday before participating in a number of nearby events that day.

During a series of speeches, Mayor McCann noted that “for me Christmas is early,” in a reference to the bridge’s opening. “It’s been a tough go. We’ve struggled sometimes getting around Defiance ... but we’ve persevered like we always do here in Defiance. ... I’d like to thank the community and all the people around Defiance, including other cities that routinely visit Defiance — all the villages — for their patience. It truly has been trying from time to time.”

Among those he thanked and recognized were Doug and Drew Shindler — whose Defiance company (Baker Shindler Ready Mix) provided over 4,500 yards of cement for the bridge. He also mentioned Homier Monument of Defiance for contributing bronze historical plaques on the structure, ODOT officials, Great Lakes Construction Co. officials and Williams Aerial for taking pictures, as well as city and county officials and workers.

“This is a great day in Defiance, and I really am so pleased to be here on behalf of Mike DeWine and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted,” said Marchbanks. “Everything ODOT does has a goal of improving the safety and quality of life. ... this bridge is a great example of how we’re doing both improving safety and the quality of life. In addition to that, Defiance will get benefit from downtown being more connected and a more attractive place to do business and visit. We know this was a major inconvenience for the community. Thank you for your patience as we completed this project.”

Marchbanks recognized Great Lakes Construction Co. and the ODOT District 1 team, including project engineer Bashar Kanouh of Defiance, for their efforts.

“Everyone who worked on this project deserves praise for staying on schedule,” Marchbanks said. “This is a structure to be proud of and a landmark for this community for decades to come. It is a beautiful bridge.”

Representatives of the governor’s and lieutenant governor’s offices (Christa Luttmann and Lou Cook, respectively) also were on hand, with Luttman reading a proclamation recognizing the bridge’s opening.

Mack, a U.S. Army combat veteran injured in Afghanistan, spoke on behalf of Purple Heart recipients in Defiance County, saying “let me say that this is an absolute honor. And thank you to the state of Ohio in concert with the city of Defiance for bestowing a Purple Heart Bridge on this main artery that connects the north and south sides of our community.

“The Purple Heart is not an achievement that anyone ever wants,” he added. “It is awarded when an individual is wounded in combat with the enemies of our country or pays the ultimate price and dies in service to our nation.”

According to Mack, some 1.8 million Purple Hearts have been awarded since it was established by Gen. George Washington during the Revolutionary War.

“Our community has always joined the fight when our country has seen fit to go to war,” said Mack. “You can see the price Defiance County residents are willing to pay in any given conflict just by looking through the numerous war memorials scattered around our communities. We support our great nation and will continue to do so by showing future generations that veterans will always be honored in their hometown.

“Whether it’s the Veterans Memorial Highway, also known as (U.S.) 24, just north of here, the Meuse-Argonne Road in Hicksville or the Purple Heart Bridge now here in downtown Defiance, our country never lacks for honors,” added Mack. “These names are not just to boost the egos of our local vets though, but to inspire conversation, to spark the imagination or thoughts of a young person, and cause them to ask, ‘What is that name? What does that mean?’ It is through these names that we will continue to teach and encourage our future generations in the true meaning of sacrifice, honor, commitment and love of country.”

Latta too offered some comments, noting how local officials worked together and observing that “we owe such a debt to our veterans. And we need to do everything possibly we can.”

He presented a proclamation as well.

Meanwhile McColley and Riedel made pronouncements on behalf of the Ohio Statehouse. They were instrumental in passage of Ohio General Assembly legislation naming the structure the Purple Heart Bridge.

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