If you plan to be in the area on Saturday morning, expect to hear the roar of vintage war planes passing through Charlotte County.
The Welcome Home Vietnam Vets 2020 event will take place starting with a parade at 9 a.m. on Saturday at Port Charlotte Beach Park.
This is the first parade of its kind held in Port Charlotte to honor veterans, organizers say. There will be more than 600 participants including three high school marching bands, military vehicles, ROTC units and a grand marshal.
“It’s going to be incredible,” said Steve Lineberry, spokesperson for Welcome Home Vets 2020. “Retired Sergeant First Class Melvin Morris will be honored as the grand marshal. He was a special forces soldier in Vietnam and he received the Congressional Medal of Honor at the White House in 2018.”
The parade route will continue on Harbor Boulevard, proceed to Edgewater Drive, turning left (west) on Edgewater Drive to the William R. Gaines, Jr. Veterans Memorial Park. The eastbound side of Edgewater will be blocked off, so attendees may park on Edgewater Drive and sit in the median. If you plan to watch, organizers say, bring a lawn chair and arrive early.
“We will be handing out 2,000 flags to parade watchers to show support for the veterans,” Lineberry said.
The parade will include veterans along with dignitaries, marchers, Vietnam-era military vehicles on the ground and Huey helicopters overhead.
After the parade, a full day of activities is planned at the Charlotte Sports Park located at 2300 El Jobean Road.
A Walk of Honor was staged near home plate inside the stadium.
“People who would like to honor a loved one who has served created banners that include the name, rank, photo and time served,” said parade organizer Sam Taylor. “This event is for vets of the Vietnam era because very few of them were thanked for their service upon returning home.”
Guests can view replicas of vintage submarines and other items that soldiers used during combat.
Huey helicopters are expected to fly over the Charlotte Sports Park at about 1 p.m. At 2 p.m., the warbird pilots will circle over the park. Helicopter rides will be available for $65 per person.
Gates open at 11 a.m. and general admission seats are $20. The event is free to all veterans.
Live entertainment will feature a concert by Lee Greenwood, as well as performances by Mike Riley & The Boogiemen, Bandana, Marcella Brown and more.
Today at noon at the gazebo at Veterans Park in Punta Gorda, there will be a brief program and a wreath-laying ceremony with special guest Vietnam Medal of Honor recipient Melvin Morris. Taps will be played and there will be a gun salute. Everyone is welcome.
For more information, go to www.welcomehomevietnam vets2020.org.