Seven veterans dressed in military combat uniforms and camouflage face paint walked one by one into the center of a field.
Smoke flares were thrown ahead as they carried guns and saluted fallen soldiers, reenacting what a patrol in Vietnam may have looked like.
The reenactment was one of the ways Alachua County gave veterans a proper welcome home after 50 years.
The county held its first Vietnam War veterans memorial event with a motorcycle parade preceding it.
The rumbling engines of more than 500 people on motorcycles could be heard on the eight-mile ride as Vietnam veterans went from Malcom Randall VA Medical Center to Kanapaha Veterans Memorial Park.
After jets flew over the crowd commencing the ceremony, various veterans shared stories about their time in the war. Other speakers included U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho; Charles Chestnut IV, the Alachua County Chairman; and Kim Davis, the director of the Alachua County Veterans Services.
Ted Marshall, a 68-year-old Vietnam War veteran, and other veterans reenact the last patrol of the Vietnam War Saturday at the Vietnam Veterans Tribute event at Veterans Memorial Park, 7400 SW 41st Place. Marshall has been taking part in the remembrance reenactment with The Last Patrol group for 25 years and is its first canine handler. Marshall served in Vietnam in 1971 and 1972 with the Air Force Security Police and wears some of the same equipment he wore during the war when reenacting. “We’re living history,” he said.
There were also food trucks, local resources for veterans and exhibits of authentic weapons and vehicles from the Vietnam War.
The Alachua County Veterans Services and the North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System hosted the event. It was funded from $6,500 in donations.
“As much as you plan and hope to see an event turn out this well, it’s still mind-boggling to see all of them riding down the street and pulling in together,” said Daniel Henry, the spokesperson for the North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System.
Henry said the tribute was planned because of the atmosphere surrounding the war, which led to an unwelcoming crowd when soldiers returned.
“These guys were spit on and protested against,” he said. “A lot of them would take off their uniforms or hide the fact that they were in the military to avoid backlash.”
Ted Marshall, 68, of Tampa, served in Vietnam with the air force from 1971 to 1972. He’s participated in veteran remembrance events and reenactments for 25 years. He said the event gave him the opportunity to teach others about his time in the war and ensure the memories aren’t lost.
“We’re living history,” Marshall said. “We’re like a time machine.”
Kenneth Sassaman, an 86-year-old Korean War veteran and Gainesville resident, listens to a speaker Saturday at the Vietnam Veterans Tribute event at Veterans Memorial Park, 7400 SW 41st Place. Sassaman served in the U.S. Army in the 25th division and 27th regiment, which was known as the “Wolfhounds.” “When these Vietnam veterans came home, they were treated like dirt,” he said. “Their recognition for them is fantastic. They deserve it. More than deserve it.”