Initial plans announced for East Texas Salute 2018


Patriotic pride will return to the city of Bullard, as The American Freedom Museum will take time to honor the sacrifices made by veterans at the upcoming East Texas Salute 2018 event, to be held 8 a.m. – 3 p.m. Saturday, May 12, on the museum’s grounds, located on the campus of The Brook Hill Upper School.

“The East Texas Salute provides the opportunity for the citizens and students of East Texas to show their appreciation for the sacrifices of our military men and women, to acknowledge their courage, and to show them the honor and support they have earned,” said Jan Hommel, director of the American Freedom Museum.

According to Hommel, the 2018 East Texas Salute event will pay honor to all veterans, particularly to those who fought in the War in Vietnam.

“This year’s event is as an expression of heartfelt gratitude to our aging veterans, to the men and women who fought in Vietnam,” said Hommel. “Vietnam veterans represented 9.7 percent of their generation, with 2,709,918 Americans serving in uniform in Vietnam.

Hommel is hoping the event will serve as a celebration for Vietnam veterans, a group of American war heroes whom many believe did not receive the “welcome home” from Americans as they deserved.

“Few soldiers returning home from the Vietnam War were greeted at airports and train stations with flowers and messages of “thank you” like our military men and women returning home today are welcomed,” said Hommel. “In fact, some were spat on. Vietnam was a war that tore at the soul of the country during the tumultuous times of the late 1960s and early 1970s. To those who are old enough to remember, they will never forget the powerful images of the time. At this year’s East Texas Salute, we will spend the day honoring this special group of veterans and their families, letting them know that their service for our country is appreciated and that many people here in East Texas are proud of them and want to shake their hands and thank them for their service.”

The East Texas Salute 2018 event will feature several historical, patriotic, educational, and fun events for the public, both young and old, including a patriotic parade, free admission to the American Freedom Museum, the American Veterans Traveling Tribute Traveling Vietnam Wall, the Texas Veterans Classic Car Show, a musical performance, military aircraft flyover, and more.

One of the main events at the East Texas Salute will be the patriotic parade, which will begin at Stewart Family Funeral Home, located on 7525 Old Jacksonville Highway in Tyler.

“We are looking forward to a great parade this year,” said Mike Balfay, East Texas Salute parade organizer. “We’ll probably have 40-50 vehicles that will assemble here before the parade and travel together to the starting point at 7 a.m. with a full escort. We also have the Sheriff’s Department, the Patriot Guard Riders, the Christian Motorcycle Association, and the Blue Knights leading the parade of approximately 60 military vehicles full with veterans. Flying above the parade from start to finish will be a Green Beret Huey helicopter.”

Balfay said all parade participants need to arrive at the starting point between 7:30 and 7:45 a.m. No vehicles can, personal or military, can be left at the business, so he recommends veterans needing a ride to meet at Brook Hill and ride in starting at 7 a.m.

Both lanes of Old Jacksonville Highway (Farm-to-Market 2493) will be shut down for the two miles parade, with the convoy pulling into Brook Hill at around 8:45 a.m.

Once arriving back to Brook Hill, Balfay has a large number of Vietnam-era military vehicles and weapons that will be featured, including a 105mm M101A1 howitzer, scout tank, and Bell 47 helicopter, among others.

Also to be involved in the festivities for attendees will be a number of local emergency response vehicles, including fire trucks and medical helicopters.

After the parade, attendees will enjoy a performance by the East Texas Men in Harmony at 9 a.m., followed by a ceremony paying special recognition to World War II and Korean War veterans, as well as the unfurling of a large American flag; military vehicle presentation; and a veterans ceremony with speech by keynote speaker and Vietnam veteran Don Allen.

Also included in the East Texas Salute 2018 event will be the AVTT Traveling Vietnam Wall, an 80 percent replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. The replica wall features all 58,300 names of the soldiers who died in the conflict.

Another attraction to this year’s East Texas Salute event will be the Texas Veterans Classic Car Show, held from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., which will feature an estimated 160-200 pre-1973 cars and trucks exclusively.

The Car Show will also feature trophies for entries voted the best in several categories, such as Best Car, Best Truck, Best Paint, Best Engine, People’s Choice, Best of Show, Best Military Vehicle Under 1 ½ Tons, Best Military Vehicle Over 1 ½ Tons, and Best Specialty Vehicle. Awards for the Texas Veterans Classic Car Show will be presented at 2:30 p.m.

According to Balfay, also serving as Texas Veterans Classic Car Show organizer, all entries for the car show need to arrive at the event and set up at 7:30 a.m.

Registration for the Texas Veterans Classic Car Show is $20, including a free t-shirt and lunch. For more information about the Texas Veterans Classic Car Show, call Mike Balfay at (903) 894-1041 or email

The event will also include a free of charge self-guided tour throughout the American Freedom Museum’s two galleries: the Hall of Presidents and the Hall of Freedom.

The Hall of Presidents includes a signed document by every president from the first president, George Washington, through the current president, Donald Trump. A few of the more interesting items in this area of the Museum include a lock of Washington’s hair, a Senate tally sheet from Andrew Johnson’s impeachment trial, and the order signed by President Eisenhower adding the words “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance.

Likewise, the Hall of Freedom chronicles the major conflicts in which our nation has been involved. In each of the 15 galleries, the conflict is defined with artifacts, maps, photos, and life-size vignettes.

Some of the more notable items inside the American Freedom Museum’s Hall of Freedom include a musket used by an American patriot at the Battle of Lexington in 1775, the sword of Confederate General Albert Sydney Johnston, a C-47 fuselage where you can actually board and through technology experience what it was like for those paratroopers on June 6, 1944, an M-29 tank, a bullet-riddled helmet that belonged to an American soldier on Omaha Beach, the flag that once flew over Dachau concentration camp, a Huey helicopter flown by the 48th Assault Helicopter Company in Vietnam, and a large highway sign from Baghdad emblazoned with Saddam Hussein’s portrait.

Other events to take place at the East Texas Salute 2018 include a musical performance by “Mouse and the Traps” Rock ‘n Roll band, fire power demonstration, children’s activities, exhibitors and vendors, and more.

According to the American Freedom Museum’s website, “[the museum] exists for three reasons: “to honor our veterans and active military and recognize the sacrifices they have made to secure our freedoms; to educate this generation and future generations about our rich heritage; and to inspire others to exemplify the courage and character as those featured in the Museum have done.”

A complimentary lunch will be served to all attendees immediately after the ceremony Saturday, including food donated by local businesses such as Chick-Fil-A, Diary Queen, Brookshire’s, Dr. Pepper and Coca-Cola.

For more information about the East Texas Salute 2018, call Hommel at (903) 894-5000 or visit


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