Veterans from around the country expected at mega-reunion


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The Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall will be on display at the Vietnam and All Veterans Reunion. The wall is a smaller version of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C.

Courtesy of Richard “Doc” Russo

They come from near and far, from down the street and from remote corners of the world. They arrive at the nation’s largest veterans’ reunion to catch up with old friends and honor the lives of buddies who barely made it past the teenage years.

Florida’s 32nd annual Vietnam and All Veterans Reunion is expected to draw more than 80,000 people to Wickham Park for a weekend of celebration, remembrance and reminiscing.

“We have vets coming in from as far as England and Australia, vets who plan their vacations around the reunion,” reunion chair Richard “Doc” Russo said.

Russo became acquainted with the reunion when he volunteered for guard duty for the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall, which will be on display 24 hours a day at Wickham Park from May 5 to May 12. Other reunion activities take place May 9 to May 12.

Russo, a former Navy medic, travels the country with the Memorial Wall six months out of the year. He will be too busy orchestrating the reunion weekend to serve as a guard in Melbourne, although he gladly steps in whenever any volunteer guard fails to show up.

“I consider it an honor to do guard duty at the Wall,” Russo said.

As it does for many Vietnam vets, the Traveling Memorial Wall has a special meaning for Russo, because of a loved one who gave all in the line of duty.

“I have a cousin on the wall,” he said.

While the Memorial Wall will be available for viewing during the reunion, many vets choose to visit when the crowds are gone.

“We get guys who come in at 2 or 3 in the morning to see their buddies,” Russo said.

In addition to the Memorial Wall, reunion weekend activities include military displays, military vendors, the Massing of the Colors, food vendors and live music. Admission is free.

Florida’s 32nd annual Vietnam and All Veterans’ Reunion will be held from noon until 10 p.m.  Thursday, May 9; from 11 a.m. until 11 p.m. Friday, May 10 and Saturday, May 11; and from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Sunday, May 12 at Wickham Park at 2500 Parkway Drive in Melbourne.

There also will be a presentation of wreaths and opening ceremony of the Memorial Wall beginning at 6 p.m. Monday, May 6.

For information, call 321-408-2698 or go to floridaveteransreunion.com.

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