As guests walked along the red carpet, dressed in evening wear, photographers took their pictures while their accomplishments were announced on a loudspeaker.

It wasn’t a Hollywood premiere or Oscar celebration.

Rather, veterans and active military were given special treatment at the opening gala of the inaugural Force-Con, a military convention and art festival revolving around veterans and POW/MIAs.

Day 1 of the three-day military event that started outside of Balboa Park’s Air and Space Museum included food, a film and a fundraiser for Honor Flight San Diego.

“Honor Flight means so very much to me,” said WWII veteran Bill Ridenour, “They lift me up every day. There’s times when I kinda get down a little bit. I’ll call the ladies, and I’m right back to where I should be.”

“Honor Flight changed my mind,” he said.

Veterans of World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam War arrived in tuxedos, suits and military uniforms.

One special guest was WWII U.S. Army paratrooper Vincent J. Speranza, famed for his “beer run” for wounded soldiers during the Battle of the Bulge.

Speranza will be among parachutists Saturday morning landing at the beach at Hotel del Coronado.

Asked if he was exited about the upcoming flight, Speranza said: “At 97, you don’t get excited about anything anymore. It’s part of you.”

Christopher Acevedo, who will accompany Speranza on his tandem jump, is “incredibly excited. It means so much to me.”

“World War II veterans are my heroes,” Acevedo said. “They’re the ones that in my opinion paved the way, especially this man.”

Acevedo explained that tandem jumps are quite different from solo jumps.

“Sometimes things can get a little caddywhompus,” Acevedo said, “so you gotta kind of take charge of the situation.”

But Speranza has been out of an airplane before, “so I have no worries about this jump,” he said. “This is going to be an excellent jump.”

Airborne operations begin at 10 a.m. with music by the Sweethearts of Swing and D-Day Squadron with vintage WWII planes begins the flyover at 11 a.m. with elite parachutists.

Parachutists from across the globe will jump onto the beaches of Coronado with Wounded Warriors, POW Vietnam vets and Speranza.Jumpers include former U.S. Army Black Daggers, Black Knights and Golden Knights, and Mike Elliot who did tandem jumps with President George H.W. Bush three times.

The final fly-over is by the U.S. Coast Guard.

On Sunday is an art festival from noon to 5 p.m. at Ingram Plaza at Liberty Station, which includes displays by award-winning artists, authors and filmmakers from around the world.

A “Meet the Heroes” panel will include WWII Army veteran Speranza and Holocaust survivor Tibor Spitz. The Marine Corps Band will perform.

Food, beverages, U.S. Army displays, WWII re-enactors and community resources are among other features.  For more information, go to www.force-con.com.

Donations to Honor Flight San Diego can be made here.


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Ellen Bullock