CORAL SPRINGS, FL - Dennis Berger, a Vietnam War veteran from Coral Springs, waited 52 years to be thanked for his service by his community.
The moment came this weekend when a parade of dozens of police, fire, and other trucks and cars drove past his home and officials gave him gifts to honor his service to the nation so long ago.
“It was a community welcome that many of us never got,” said Berger, 73, who served in the Army during the war for just over a year when he was 19.
On Saturday afternoon, Berger and eight other military veterans in Coral Springs and Parkland got the same reception as part of Honor Flight South Florida, an organization that flies veterans from World War II, Korean and Vietnam wars to Washington D.C. and brings them to reflect at the memorials built in their honor.
Since their trips were canceled in April and May due to COVID-19, the group worked with local officials to find another way to honor them – through a parade of police and fire vehicles from Coral Springs police and fire departments and Broward Sheriff’s Office, as well as cars of Honor Flight of South Florida volunteers, and others.
The trips are rescheduled for next spring.
Elected officials from Coral Springs and Parkland went to the homes of the veterans and stayed with them until the parade arrived at their driveways.
The veterans, joined by their families, neighbors, and others looking on, got free barbeque from MISSION BBQ and gifts from the cities as well as food and coronavirus protection items such as masks and gloves, for those who needed them.
“In many cases, the neighbors came out and brought cupcakes and celebrated with them,” said Ryan Paton, co-founder of Honor Flight of South Florida and the group’s director of operations. “This meant so much to them. Many of these guys were just 18 when they went off to the military so they never had someone important come to them, meet with them, and thank them.”
Mayor Scott Brook caught the parade at the home of Brent Keapproth, a Vietnam veteran who served in the Army.
“It was important for me to do this because I think the veterans are such an important part of our country, let alone our community,” Brook said. “I do not think that we can never do enough to share our gratitude. This is the least I could do.”
At Berger’s home, Coral Springs Commissioner Joshua Simmons visited with him, along with Berger’s six grandchildren, daughter-in-law and his son, who was in the parade as well.
Berger said, when he returned home to Brooklyn from Vietnam in 1968, he was told not to wear his uniform because of the street protests across the nation. He wore the uniform anyway.
“No one thanked us for our service,” he said. “But when I saw the parade and the sirens and lights, it was phenomenal. I’m really grateful.”
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