TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — The warm welcome Lee Hale received at Tampa International Airport on Sunday was a stark contrast to the cold shoulder he got when he came back from Vietnam.
“This trip brings back the memories of when we were not welcome at home,” Hale said. “Now we get a warm welcome and those memories come back again.”
Hale was part of Attack Squadron 86 on the U.S.S. Independence during the Vietnam War. He and 55 other veterans joined in on the Parade of Heroes in Washington, D.C. over the Veterans Day weekend, from November 10-13.
“Having this Parade of Heroes,” Hale said. “It just humbles you.”
From being met with a fire truck water salute, to marching from the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument, Hale appreciated the weekend — especially the Vietnam Memorial.
“I had to catch my breath a couple of times,” Hale explained. “I saluted my fellow mates that are on that wall.”
The vets on the trip were from World War II through Afghanistan. Ozzy Perez is a former Marine who fought in Iraq.
“9/11. The day after, I signed up,” Perez said. “I felt that we had to answer our nation’s call.”
He served three tours. One of his favorite parts of the Parade of Heroes was the comraderie.
“It was to be able to reconnect with one of my Fallujah Marines, one of my brothers, hadn’t seen him,” Perez said. “We didn’t even realize that it had been that long, but it had been five years since we had seen each other.”
The conversation between the vets revolved around war stories, hobbies, family, and everything in between.
“To be with other veterans, it just means a lot,” said Anne-Marie Wendel, a Desert Storm veteran. “We understand each other. Doesn’t matter what branch or what conflict we served in or what war, we’re all the same.”
Many of the vets that went on the trip recommend it for everyone.
“I’m proud to be an Elk,” said Hale. “I’m proud to be a combat veteran, but most of all, I’m proud to be an American.”