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.

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