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Tribute event to honor Vietnam vets seeks volunteers

By CLEVELAND TINKER | The Gainesville Sun, Fla. | Published: November 17, 2018

(Tribune News Service) -- Though it may be 44 years after the fact, a festive tribute to honor the service of military veterans who served in the Vietnam War and during the Vietnam era is being planned to honor those veterans.

Scheduled to be held on March 30, 2019, in Gainesville, the tribute is being organized by the Alachua County Veterans Services Department, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Military Officers Association of the America, Military Order of the Purple Heart, Vietnam Veterans of America, Marine Corps League and others.

"This area never had a proper welcome home parade or tribute for Vietnam Veterans and this event will honor them and give them the respect and admiration they deserve," said Kim Davis, director of the Alachua County Veterans Services Department. "This is really something that should have happened a long time ago."

Volunteers are needed to help with organizing the event, which will include a vehicle procession that will leave from the Malcom Randall Veterans Administration Medical Center in Gainesville on Archer Road and proceed to Kanapaha Veterans Memorial Park at 7400 SW 41st Place off Tower Road.

"We need volunteers who have experience with motorcycle and vehicle parade processionals, especially how to line up motorcycles and vehicles that will travel the procession route," Davis said.

Volunteers will also be needed to help with the festivities at the park, which is being planned to include entertainment, food, children's activities and other things, including the putting together and guarding of a replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall that pays tribute to those who served in the Vietnam War.

The wall, which is 8 feet tall and hundreds of feet long, is inscribed with the names of 58,286 American's killed or missing in the Vietnam conflict. The veteran's names are listed in chronological order of when the casualty occurred and an alphabetical directory helps visitors locate names.

There are several replica versions of the wall that are half the size of the original wall in Washington, D.C., but they look the same as the original wall, Davis said.

Organizers of the event are trying to secure getting one of the replicas for a couple of days, Davis said.

A photo wall of the 48 Alachua County residents who died fighting in the Vietnam War has been compiled by the Vietnam Veterans of America chapter 1092 in Alachua County, and will be on display during the event.

Forest Hope, president of the chapter, said having the event is important because even though it's nearly 50 years late, it's important "to put the past behind us and pay tribute to those who served in that war."

Veterans returning from the Vietnam War couldn't wear their uniforms in pubic without being ridiculed, and a lot of them suffered in many ways from not receiving a hero's welcome like those who served in prior wars like World War I, World War II and the Korean War, said Hope, 71, who spent time fighting in Vietnam while in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1966-1968.

It's estimated about 1,000 Alachua County residents served in the Vietnam War, Hope said.

Kanapaha Veterans Memorial Park will be divided into spaces that will serve as spots for memorial activities and celebration activities, Davis said.

"We welcome the school system to have students write thank you letters and things of that nature to the veterans that can be displayed at the event and be used as a way to educate students about the war," Davis said.

Entertainers, motorcycle clubs, logistical volunteers and others are urged to participate in the planning process for the parade and tribute, which is expected to attract visitors from around the state, Davis said.

For more information, call 352-264-6740 or 352-376-1611, Ext. 6684 or email kdavis@alachuacounty.us or Justina.Wells@va.gov.
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