PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla.– Local Vietnam War veterans received the surprise of a lifetime when they arrived at Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport on Wednesday night.
“He’s going to, like, totally freak,” said Trudy White, whose husband, Jan, is a Vietnam War veteran. The couple, originally from New Orleans, Louisiana, owns Dat Cajun Place in Panama City Beach.
White had been planning a very special homecoming surprise for weeks.
“My husband and a good friend of his who are both Vietnam veterans, decided to take a trip back to Vietnam,” said White. “They’ve been there for two and a half weeks.”
They were visiting the country almost 50 years since they had been there last, during the war. The first time they came home from Vietnam, she said they received anything but a warm welcome.
“When I got off the plane, they actually had a fence lined up and they had protestors on the other side and they were throwing stuff over the fence,” said Tom Aretz, a Vietnam Veteran as well. “You couldn’t even be proud to have been a Vietnam vet because you couldn’t get a job, it was terrible.”
So on Wednesday night, White, Aretz and dozens of other friends and family members rewrote history.
“It’s a little payback for what happened 50 years ago,” said Aretz.
Surprising the returning veterans with the ‘welcome home’ they never had, with cheering, flags waving, high fives and plenty of hugs.
“For this to take place almost 50 years later, this is exciting,” said Jan. “It really is. Thank you.”