Mar 28, 2023 - News

From skydiving to memorials, Tampa Bay honors Vietnam War veterans

George Downing descends with a yellow-and-white parachute from the sky after skydiving.

George Downing parachuting to the ground. Photo: Courtesy of Tidewell Foundation

As an Army helicopter pilot in Vietnam, George Downing was shot down twice. More than half a century later, he jumped out of an airplane of his own volition.

State of play: Downing, a 72-year-old Tidewell Hospice patient in Punta Gorda, went skydiving last week as part of a program that fulfills patients' last wishes.

  • "Even in [Vietnam], I was never afraid to die," Downing tells Axios. "Dying in your 20s is tragic. Dying in your 70s, I've had a great life."

Why it matters: Wednesday is Vietnam War Veterans Day, marking 50 years since the last U.S. troops withdrew from Vietnam.

By the numbers: More than 485,000 Vietnam-era veterans live in Florida, as of 2021 data from the Florida Department of Veterans' Affairs.

  • Vietnam War veterans are Florida's largest wartime-era population.

What they're saying: Tim Pennell, a 76-year-old Vietnam Army veteran, told WFLA he wants people to learn from the mistakes made 50 years ago.

  • "People were angry at the soldiers," Pennell told the station. "They should've been angry at the country. The country that sent them to a war and then didn't fight the war the way they should have."
  • "Coming home wasn't that great," Downing tells Axios. "Now, everybody seems to make up for it and then some."

If you go: West Central Florida Honor Flight will thank Vietnam War veterans tomorrow at John R. Lawrence Pioneer Park in Dunedin.


Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Tampa Bay.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Tampa Bay stories

Tampa Baypostcard

Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Tampa Bay.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more