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Healing Wounds: Honor Flights bring comfort to hurting veterans

Many Vietnam veterans did not receive a warm welcome home. First Coast Honor Flights is trying to right that wrong.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — There were no homecoming celebrations or ticker tape parades for many Vietnam Veterans.

Army veteran Lorenzo Neely was in the Tet Offensive. And says Vietnam was Hell, and then had to come home to a different battle field. 

“It was a complete massacre," he said. 

 “Too much killing, too much. Mentally it got to me.”

For Neely and the thousands of other Vietnam veterans across the First Coast, that dark past can’t be changed. 

But a group called First Coast Honor Flight is working to brighten the future for Vietnam veterans, to alleviate the internal battle many keep fighting to this day. 

It is a day trip to DC with a flight from Jacksonville, where onlookers stop what they’re doing to applaud. 

“For the Vietnam vets it’s not just a day, really it’s a lifetime for them. It’s recognizing their service that was never recognized,” said First Coast Honor Flight President Don Simmons.

“They get to The Vietnam Memorial Wall and they all know people and they stop there at their friend who they knew at 18, 19, 20 years old,” Simmons said. 

Neely took the trip. 

And found his name in a book of veterans who served, the tiniest of recognition, that meant the world to him. 

“That’s me, that’s my name," he said with a tear in his eye.

“I didn’t think anyone knew about it except for me."

First Coast Honor Flight takes World War II, Korea and Vietnam veterans free of charge on these trips. 

You can click here for more information on how to volunteer or sign up to go on a trip with First Coast Honor Flight.

They’re partnered with a volunteer guardian, camaraderie built in a long day of travel. 

And they return home that night to celebration waiting on them at the airport.

“I just wish there was a way to get all the veterans, especially the Vietnam guys that never had anything, they deserve something like this,” veteran Lou Urso said during his Honor Flight trip. 

For Neely, and other veterans like him, perhaps it brings a small time of peace, after a lifetime of war.

“It’s beneficial for me," Neely said. "And it’s gonna be alright.” 

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