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WWII veteran, 99, to be in spotlight at Florida parade honoring George Washington's birthday

World War II fighter pilot Major Jack Hallett acknowledges the cheers during Orlando's Veterans Day parade in downtown Orlando on Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019.

TNS

By JERRY FALLSTROM | Orlando Sentinel | Published: February 13, 2020

EUSTIS, Fla. (Tribune News Service) — Jack Hallett, 99, downplays his days as an Army Air Corps fighter pilot during World War II, never mind that he was shot down twice by enemy fire.

“I’m not a hero," the Leesburg resident said, repeating a sentiment he has expressed to reporters and groups he has spoken to over the years. “I was just a regular fighter pilot. I did what I was asked to do.”

June Perry with the Ocklawaha Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution appreciates his attitude: “He is the nicest man, and you know what, so humble.”

But the group of about 100 has a loftier view of his service and invited him to ride on the DAR float in the upcoming 118th annual Eustis Georgefest parade. Georgefest — the second-longest-running celebration of George Washington’s birthday, behind Laredo, Texas — runs Friday through Sunday, Feb. 21-23.

The theme this year is “A National Treasure,” which Perry, media and public relations chair for the DAR group, said fits Hallett to a T.

“Jack Hallett is going to be our national treasure on our float,” she said. The parade will take place down Bay Street starting at 10 a.m. Feb. 22, preceded by the one-mile Dog Jog at 9:45 a.m.

The popular event honoring the Father of Our Country will feature a carnival, food, vendors and live music including Blood. Sweat & Tears, which had a string of hits in the late 1960s and early 70s including “Spinning Wheel,” “And When I Die” and “You’ve Made Me so Very Happy.”

Blood, Sweat & Tears will perform at 4:30 p.m. Feb. 23 on the Alice McClelland Memorial Bandshell at Ferran Park.

Also playing will be the MD Jazz Band at 5 p.m. Feb. 21 on the bandshell stage; the CAT 4 Band at 5 p.m. Feb. 21 on the downtown stage; Southern Chaos, at 12:30 p.m. Feb. 22 on the bandshell; the Fat City Band at 6 p.m. Feb. 22 on the bandshell stage; and Remedy Tree at 11 a.m. Feb. 23 on the downtown stage.

City officials estimate attendance will top 30,000 during the three-day fun fest.

As for Hallett, he said he’s looking forward to the parade even though he’s not sure he deserves the attention for his time in the cockpit while serving in England, France and Germany from 1944-46.

Regarding his health, “I feel great, I feel wonderful,” he said.

What’s the magic elixir for a long life?

“I haven’t the foggiest,” he said, adding that he quit smoking in 1987 and has a drink occasionally “I’ve been lucky.”

Despite Hallett’s protestations, Perry said he’s worthy of the limelight — and not simply because of the perilous situations he found himself in during wartime.

“The very fact that when the time came he answered the call, he did his duty, that’s got to be a hero,” Perry said.

©2020 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)
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Copy of 1944 photo of WWII pilot Jack Hallett.
TOM BENITEZ, ORLANDO SENTINEL/TNS

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