ST. PETERSBURG - It's hard to imagine now, with the amount of appreciation shown to our veterans these days, that there was a time when they were cursed at, spit on, and called horrible names.
All for doing what they thought was their patriotic duty.
So, on this Veterans Day, many vets are grateful things have changed.
There are signs – literally – signs - of appreciation everywhere in the Bay area. Offers for free and discounted Veterans Day deals for our military veterans.
And no one is happier to see it than warriors who came home to a seemingly less grateful nation.
“Back in the early 70s, you know, they were calling you a baby killer,” said Vietnam veteran Dave Taylor, attending a service at the Bay Pines VA complex Friday.
“We were spit on, and had stuff thrown at us. And yelling and screaming and I'm thinking to myself, 'What's going on here?'” added fellow Vietnam vet David Califano.
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Which is why, for vets like Jeffrey Engelhardt, the free scoop of chocolate ice cream he got today was a lot sweeter than you might think.
“This shows that the country cares about me, years later. It shows they care about veterans,” said Engelhardt.
There’s no jealousy. Older veterans say they’re glad attitudes have changed.
But they remember a time when they only had their own families and each other.
“We had pride in ourselves. We knew that we were doing a good job and that we were here for America,” said Vietnam veteran Gary Huck.
Today’s veterans are treated to all sorts of deals and discounts on Veterans Day, appreciation for their service.
A Free car wash. A free haircut. Pancakes. Donuts. Meals at dozens of restaurants.
“They will come up and shake your hand and say thank you for your service, or thank you for your sacrifice,” said veteran Dave Taylor.
And as most vets would tell you, they were never in it for the free stuff. Just that simple thank you.
Words that it took Vietnam veteran David Califano 20 years to hear.
A checkout girl at a store had noticed his military ball cap. She thanked him for his service. And that day - that changed his life.
“Right then and there, it just got me,” said Califano. “It just got me.”
A debt of gratitude, deservingly paid.
(© 2017 WTSP)