When I was younger, I used to call the professional athletes that I idolized my “heroes”.

That was until I heard about Corporal Pat Tillman, who had left the Arizona Cardinals of the National Football League to join the U.S. Army Rangers and gave his life serving his country. As most of you know, Corporal Tillman was killed in action in Afghanistan on April 22, 2004.

From that day forward… the only people I have ever called heroes have been the soldiers who have served or who are serving the U.S. military, the military of one of our allies, current and former police officers, firefighters, EMTs, doctors, nurses and people working in other key jobs that ensure our health and safety.

Those are the people who truly deserve to be called heroes.

On November 12, there will be a large number of true heroes gathered at jetBlue Park, as Collier-Lee Honor Flight will be hosting a Pinning Ceremony for Vietnam veterans.

Gateway resident Dean Hillestad, who served in the United States Navy in Vietnam, will be among those honored at the ceremony.

“This is a ‘Welcome Home’ to many Vietnam era veterans who never received one at the time. A WWII Tuskegee Airman will be one of the featured speakers. It will be a great learning and Patriotic event,” said Hillestad.

The featured speaker Hillestad is referring to is Lieutenant Colonel George Hardy, who will be delivering the keynote speech for the event.

Hardy flew 22 missions in World War II, 41 missions in the Korean War, and 72 missions in Vietnam.

Collier-Lee Honor Flight couldn’t be happier to have Hardy participate, saying on Facebook: “There are only 13 of these treasured heroes left in America. Let Honor Flight and your South Florida neighbors honor you and welcome you home! Bring your family! There is no cost. Just an honor.”

Anyone who served the U.S. military for some period between November 1, 1955 to May 15, 1975 is eligible to receive a Vietnam Commemoration Pin.

“No matter where they served,” said Hillestad.

If you are interested in participating in the ceremony, please visit collierhonorflight.org for more information. There’s obviously no cost, but there is a form you need to fill out and mail in. If you need any assistance with the form, or have any general questions please contact Rick Wobbe at 239-285-6872.

Since 2005, the Honor Flight Network has flown over 180,000 veterans and 125,000 guardians to Washington, D.C. to visit the memorials which have been put up in honor of those who gave their lives in service to this country.

If you’re looking for a way to honor those who served our country, you’re invited to attend the Pinning Ceremony for Vietnam veterans at jetBlue Park on November 12 at 9:00am.

To learn more about Collier-Lee Honor Flight, please visit https://www.facebook.com/colliercountyhonorflight/

Editor of the Gateway Sun and owner of restaurant delivery service Florida Food Runner.

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