DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – This memorial day weekend, tens of thousands of veterans will be honored at Daytona International Speedway during the Heroes Honor Festival.
It’s a two-day inaugural event. The organizer said he wants to give back to the veterans who supported him after returning from deployment.
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“The vision really came into my heart when I came home from Iraq,” said Ben Peterson, CEO and Founder of the Heroes Honor Festival.
Peterson, an 8-year Army veteran said many of his brothers and sisters didn’t feel welcome after returning from Iraq. Some not making it home alive.
“Back in 2007 and 2008, protesters began showing up Iraq Veteran funerals because they disagreed with the war in Iraq. You’ve got to imagine families are mourning the death of their son or daughter and protesters are showing up,” said Peterson.
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Peterson said it was a group of Vietnam veterans who started a movement, showing up to support families during funerals and homecoming events. Some experiencing similar negative gestures when returning from war.
“When I got off the bus in 2009, the first thing that I saw was over 100 Vietnam veterans with American flags standing watch 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 men who had been shamed when they returned from the Vietnam war, called baby killers and spit on.”
The accounts described by several Vietnam veterans in interviews shared by Peterson and the organization he founded, Engage Your Destiny: a faith-based nonprofit supporting active 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 U.S.
The festival includes performances with country music stars Toby Keith, Justin Moore and Craig Morgan. The event includes flyovers, a candlelight vigil and division reunions for veterans.
“We want these men to be honored. We believe that honor is one of the foundational principals of how you treat people you love and support. Also, we’re hoping to bring a sense of closure for Vietnam veterans that have never truly been celebrated this way. We’re hoping this can be a true healing and closure moment for these families,” Peterson said.
The Heroes Honor Festival takes place May 27 and 28 at the Daytona International Speedway.
Tickets are free for Veterans, active duty military and their spouses. Click 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.