DAYTONA BEACH — With a roster of entertainers and guest speakers ranging from Toby Keith and Ann-Margret to Lt. Col. Oliver North and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, organizer Ben Peterson’s idea for a long-awaited celebration of Vietnam veterans is on the verge of moving from vision to reality.
The two-day Heroes Honor Festival is set to take place over Memorial Day weekend, May 27-28, at Daytona International Speedway.
Remembrance Day 2021:Huge Memorial Day weekend crowds flood Daytona and close bridges
Although the event is not expected to reach the 100,000 people that had been the original goal, some 20,000 tickets have already been reserved, said Peterson, a US Army veteran who served from 2004 to 2012. , with a visit to Iraq in 2008. and 2009.
Peterson’s nonprofit, Engage Your Destiny, is hosting what he billed as the “biggest Vietnamese veterans’ party ever.” Since announcing the event in the fall, Peterson and a core of volunteers have covered veterans’ organizations across the state to spread the word.
“One person at a time said, ‘Yeah,’ so we’re extremely grateful,” said Peterson, 35, from his home in Tennessee. “We’re at around 20,000 right now, so we think we’ll have a minimum of 30,000 and it could go anywhere from there. We have a solid base and we will build on it.
The festival will include flyovers, words of authors and Vietnam veterans
In addition to the aforementioned attendees, the event will feature music from country stars Justin Moore and Craig Morgan, as well as messages from artist Chris Noel, known for his work on the Armed Forces Network; Vietnam Veteran, Medal of Honor recipient, Maj. Gen. Patrick Brady; Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin, a member of the US Army Delta Force; and author and military consultant Mark “Oz” Geist (“13 Hours”).
The celebration will also include military flyovers, patriot parachute team, veterans reunions, veterans resource display, lifetime legacy awards for veterans, vigil for those killed in action and a Sunday Ride for Freedom.
In case you missed it:Daytona International Speedway to host ‘biggest, baddest’, welcome home for Vietnam veterans
All veterans, active military members and their spouses can register for free tickets on the event website, heroeshonorfestival.com. Children 12 and under are also free. For others, two-day general admission tickets are available for $79, with VIP packages available for $199.
In his travels to promote the event, Peterson was overwhelmed by the positive response from veterans to the event.
“I was just talking to a group of Vietnam veterans at an event in Melbourne,” he said. “They said to me, ‘At first we waited to see if it was really too good to be true.’ Now they’re like, ‘Wow, this is the real deal.’
“They were amazed that something so exceptional was being done for them. When I was working on the phone, I spoke to a veteran from Indiana who said, ‘I haven’t done anything veteran-related. , let alone in Vietnam since I came back from the war and was spat on and called a killer baby.’ He told me that he looked at his wife and said, “It’s time. we have to leave.’ So he comes from Indiana to be part of that.
Much of the interest generated by the event was a series of visits to VFW halls and American Legion posts throughout Florida, Peterson said. This grassroots effort was led by a team of less than two dozen Engage Your Destiny volunteers, all military veterans.
“We just tried to connect with all the people we could in the community and built relationships,” Peterson said. “It took time because trust is earned and not given. As we built the event, we built more and more trust. The people who were with us a year and a half ago became bigger and bigger champions as the vision came to life.
Founder of the event inspired in military service by the attacks of September 11
For Peterson, the military devotion that became the seed of the event was planted when he witnessed the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, as a 13-year-old in Minnesota. He immediately wanted to join the fight.
Memories of September 11:MaryAnne Pendola: ‘I will never feel completely safe again’
At 17, he was about to join the special forces, but lost that opportunity due to color blindness. Instead, he was steered toward a position in the military as an assistant chaplain, serving as a bodyguard (chaplains don’t carry weapons) and helping talk to troops struggling with weddings, bereavement or post-traumatic stress disorder.
“It’s a need,” he said of gestures of appreciation for veterans, especially from the Vietnam era. “We’re all honored as young veterans to put it on for the guys who paved the way.”
In Daytona Beach, that list includes Sam McCloud, a Marine who served in Vietnam in 1971 and 1972, who is now the commandant of Marine Corps League Daytona. McCloud, 69, was among those who initially doubted the Heroes event at the Speedway would become a reality.
“I was probably the most skeptical in the fall,” he said. “But I am a believer now. They have listened to veterans and hopefully this will be the first of many events they are hosting across the country. It really caught on among Vietnam veterans all over the state and across the country. I can’t wait to be part of it. I can’t wait to see Ollie North, to tell the truth.
North is among a list of entertainers and speakers who have been hand-picked for their dedication to veterans’ issues, Peterson said.
‘Humble, authentic’:Colin Powell’s visit to Daytona: Locals remember former secretary of state as ‘humble and genuine’
“We wanted to choose people who had earned the right to be there,” Peterson said. “Toby Keith has been to combat zones many times to play for the troops, as has Justin Moore. Craig Morgan is a veteran. Governor DeSantis was a lieutenant commander in the Navy.
“These people really gave of their time,” Peterson said. “They served, so it resonates with them. It means something to them, and I know it will mean a lot to the people there.
Daytona Beach veteran: Vietnam’s story ‘must be told’
The appreciation event will be especially meaningful for Vietnam Veteran Bob Adkins, president of Vietnam Veterans of America Daytona Beach Chapter 1048. Members of the organization will present the colors during the opening ceremony on both days of the event.
A native of Columbus, Ohio, Adkins enlisted in the U.S. Army and served as a sergeant in the 1st Air Cavalry Division in South Vietnam, a tour of duty that included participating in the Tet Offensive. When he returned from service in December 1968, he was amazed by the reception.
“When I left they basically asked me to wear civilian clothes because I would probably be harassed at the airport trying to get home from Fort Lewis, Washington,” he said.
“I felt that I had just served my country at war for a year. I was very proud of what I had done and proud of myself. Not knowing what was happening in the country when I returned, I couldn’t believe that this country was avoiding me. We had people spitting on us.
Now, at 73, Adkins joins other veterans in presenting Vietnam history programs at area schools. He still deals with the psychological effects of his wartime experiences, he said.
“I live the story, which you can’t get at the library,” he said. “A Vietnam veteran’s story needs to be told and told over and over again. Memories should never be forgotten. It’s so important.
From 2017: ‘I lived it’: Volusia vet tells his story in Ken Burns’ Vietnamese documentary
For Peterson, the goal of reaching as many veterans with a message of gratitude continues as the Heroes Honor Festival approaches.
“Our anthem is ‘How can we reach one more veteran?'” he said. “How can we honor one more? We won’t stop fighting for this until the event is over. It’s our war cry, so the word goes a long way. We are working very hard to achieve one more.
WHAT: Heroes Honor Festival, event to honor Vietnam veterans with appearances from Toby Keith, Ann-Margret, Lt. Col. Oliver North, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and others
WHEN: 6-9pm May 27; 10 a.m.-9 p.m. May 28
OR: Daytona International Speedway, 1801 W. International Speedway Blvd., Daytona Beach
COST: All veterans, active military and spouses can register for free tickets; children 12 and under are also free; For others, two-day general admission tickets are available for $79, with VIP packages available for $199.
IN LINE: heroeshonorfestival.com