CRESTVIEW – Amanda Thompson was nervous as she waited in line to meet Gov. Rick Scott.
When the 40-year-old Navy veteran reached the front, Scott smiled, shook her hand and hung a gold medal her neck.
Nearby, Thompson’s son and daughter were beaming with pride and snapping photos as their mom – and hundreds of other local veterans - received the Governor’s Veterans Service Medal at the Army National Guard Armory in Crestview on Tuesday.
“I feel very honored to be one of the many, many veterans here today,” Thompson said. “To have my kids here to see it made it even more special.”
Last year, the governor began making the rounds across Florida to personally thank the 1.5 million veterans who call the state home. To date, he has handed out over 2,500 medals, but his stop in Northwest Florida drew an especially large crowd.
“It’s always great to listen to everybody’s story,” Scott said after the ceremony. “My dad served in World War II and wouldn’t talk much about his experience, but I would always ask questions.”
Fort Walton Beach resident Bill Zell, himself a World War II veteran, was one of the first to receive a medal Tuesday. Scott stooped to hang the ribbon around Zell’s neck since he has trouble standing these days.
“I’m overwhelmed,” the 92-year-old said after, adding that the award would be hung on his wall along with the others he received in his over 30 years of service.
The award held different meanings for the far-flung group of veterans who ranged from young to old, some having served years, others decades.
Disabled veteran Kim Bilberry, who is 52, broke into tears after she received her medal, touched by the gesture of appreciation that she said she doesn’t often see.
“It’s about damn time,” she said. “People don’t always realize freedom isn’t free.”
62-year-old Air Force veteran Barney Bailey said he was honored to meet the governor.
“This,” he said, lifting the medal around his neck, “is just eye candy, though.
“When I ride around town and I look out and see the American flags flying, that’s enough gratitude for me. We live in a wonderful country and it was truly my privilege to serve it.”
Contact Daily News Staff Writer Lauren Sage Reinlie at 850-315-4443 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @LaurenRnwfdn.