When Vietnam War veterans came back home from the war in the 1960s they weren’t met with cheers. Instead, they got picket signs.
Alachua County will be holding its first Vietnam War veterans memorial event Saturday to give veterans the welcoming and honor they didn’t receive.
The tribute will take place at 11 a.m. at Veterans Memorial Park, at 7400 SW 41st Place. The free event is hosted by the Alachua County Veteran Services and the North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System.
“This is our opportunity to say to our veterans in North Florida and South Georgia and surrounding areas, ‘Hey, thank you. We love you. You’re a part of our community,’” Henry said.
A motorcycle parade will start at 9:30 a.m., which will ride from Malcom Randall VA Hospital through Archer Road to the park, Henry said.
At the park, there will be live music, food trucks and a virtual exhibit of images of the Vietnam Wall, said Kim Davis, the Alachua County Veterans Services director. She expects more than 3,000 people to attend the event, including the participants of the motorcycle parade.
The tribute was funded by organizational and private donations that totaled $6,500, she said.
Forest Hope, a 72-year-old Vietnam War veteran and the president of the Gainesville chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America, said he’s been to several other communities who have hosted tributes like this one.
He said he was surprised by the county holding a tribute because of Gainesville’s anti-war sentiment in the 1960s.
“This old guy gets tears in his eyes every now and then,” he said. “I don’t want that happening to those who come back from Afghanistan. I don’t want them to go through what we went through.”