DAYTONA BEACH, Florida. – This Memorial Day weekend, tens of thousands of veterans will be honored at Daytona International Speedway during the Hero Honor Festival.
This is a two-day inaugural event. The organizer said he wanted to give back to the veterans who supported him after he returned from deployment.
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“The vision really came to my heart when I returned from Iraq,” said Ben Peterson, CEO and Founder of the Heroes Honor Festival.
Peterson, an 8-year-old army veteran, said many of his siblings felt unwelcome after returning from Iraq. Some do not return home alive.
“In 2007 and 2008, protesters started attending the funerals of Iraqi veterans because they disagreed with the war in Iraq. You have to imagine families mourning the death of their son or daughter and protesters showing up,” Peterson said.
Peterson said it was a group of Vietnam veterans who started a movement, showing up to support families at funerals and reunions. Some experience similar negative gestures when returning from war.
“When I got off the bus in 2009, the first thing I saw was over 100 Vietnam veterans with American flags watching over my welcome home,” Peterson said. “It was pretty powerful. I just stood there and did a double take. I knew I was looking into the eyes of the men who had been shamed when they came back from the Vietnam War, called baby killers and spitting above.
The stories described by several Vietnam veterans in interviews shared by Peterson and the organization he founded, Engage Your Destiny: a faith-based nonprofit supporting serving military personnel, veterans, and their families.
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After nearly three years of planning, Peterson’s vision is coming to life, hosting one of the largest festivals to support Vietnam veterans and other service men and women in the United States.
The festival includes performances with country music stars Toby Keith, Justin Moore and Craig Morgan. The event includes flyovers, a candlelight vigil and division meetings for veterans.
“We want these men to be honoured. We believe honor is one of the fundamental principles of how you treat the people you love and support. Additionally, we hope to bring a sense of closure to Vietnam veterans who have never truly been celebrated in this way. We hope this can be a real moment of healing and closure for these families,” Peterson said.
the Hero Honor Festival will take place May 27 and 28 at Daytona International Speedway.
Tickets are free for veterans, active duty military and their spouses. Click on HERE to register for a free ticket.
The festival is open to the public. Tickets are $99.
Proceeds from ticket sales help support the organization hosting the event.
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