Joe Kittinger dedicates F-4 Phantom to local veterans

ORLANDO, Fla. — The dream of an Orlando hero five years in the making came true Sunday as Col. Joe Kittinger dedicated a Vietnam War plane displayed at the park named in his honor to the veterans who fought alongside him 50 years ago.

Kittinger unveiled the F-4 Phantom II jet and hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the park on Crystal Lake Drive in front of hundreds of veterans.

“It almost brought tears to my eyes,” said veteran Sam Lassiter.

Vietnam natives, for whom the veterans fought, also attended the ceremony.

“We basically dedicate our lives to honor the veterans,” said Hoang Doan.

The jet, which serves as the focal point at the park, has been refurbished to its full glory, but it’s not lost on anyone of the battles it has been through and what it represents.

“For those that were involved, it's memories forever. They’re not all good, but it’s still special memories forever,” Lassiter said. “To see this 40 years later it’s hard to put in words.”

Kittinger, an internationally renowned pilot and balloonist, flew the jet during the war and hopes it will motivate others to dream big.

“I used to come here, and watch airplanes take off and land. I’d try to talk to pilots into giving me a ride. This was my field of dreams and it worked,” he said. “I hopes it’s the field of dreams that inspires future astronauts and pilots."

Every person involved in the project did so for free.

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