A crowd of hundreds of people anxiously waited for the homecoming of 25 North Central Florida veterans, who were returning from an Oct. 5 visit to the World War II Memorial in D.C.
Tom Parks knew he would remember the memorial visit for the rest of his life.
“It’s overwhelming is all I can say – you just don’t realize it because you’ve been around for all these years,” Parks said. “World War II was a few years ago, and all of a sudden these people are thanking you for what you did.”
Among the crowd was veteran Tom Parks’ wife, Jean, and she could not wait to see him.
“As the motorcycles got closer, I kept getting more excited because I knew Tom was going to come off that bus any minute,” she said.
Parks said he’s especially thankful for every opportunity in his life, including this one, because he is very lucky to be alive.
A little more than a year after Parks’ birth, he developed double bronchitis pneumonia. After a painful healing process, he got through it.
“I don’t care what it is, my life has been a hellacious adventure,” he said.
In April 1945, Tom decided to join the navy with a group of his friends from high school.
He told his family, “‘Hey, I joined the Navy to see the world.’ Okay, so next thing I know, I’m in Shanghai.”
And though he only served about a year, he collected quite a few artifacts. Still, he wasn’t the only vet in his group to take something home.
Jim Davis, who also fought in World War II as a soldier in the army, walked away with a German bullet and a purple heart.
“Well, I picked that up in North Florence, Italy the 15th of September 1944,” Davis said. He was shot through the hips and was never able to return to his infantry.
For Davis, this D.C. trip came 72 years after he joined the army. “I went in October 1941″, Jim said.
The day of the trip, the government was shut down and all national parks were closed. However, that didn’t stop the veterans and their guardians from seeing their memorial. The relationship between a vet and his or her guardian is something special.
Tom Parks’ guardian, Dave Miller, said, “It’s a person I never met before that’s going to be a friend for the rest of our lives.”
Jean Parks couldn’t be happier her husband decided to go to the memorial when he did, she said.
“This has affected him, and I think it will affect him for the rest of his life,” Jean Parks said. “He’s just a different person.”