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Joe Kittinger's Phantom a Tribute to Vietnam Vets

Joe Kittinger stands in front of the F4 Phantom he once flew in Vietnam. Photo- Matthew Peddie, WMFE
Joe Kittinger stands in front of the F4 Phantom he once flew in Vietnam. Photo- Matthew Peddie, WMFE

Central Florida has a new memorial to Vietnam veterans.

An F-4 phantom II fighter plane towers over Col. Joe Kittinger Park at Orlando Executive Airport.

Kittinger flew this plane on four combat missions over North Vietnam- and again in the 1970s when he was stationed in England.

“I’ve had a long history with this airplane, and I’m just delighted that just by circumstances, that’s the airplane we got,” says Kittinger.

The plane was shipped to Orlando from Texas where it had been displayed at a college.

Here in Orlando the supersonic jet is mounted on a pedestal as if in flight- commuters can see it soaring over the 408 East-West expressway.

Kittinger says it looks just like it did in Vietnam- right down to the hydraulic fluid stains on the wing.

“That’s there to show you that it really is an F-4 because the airplane always leaks hydraulic fluid,” he says.

“It’s a gesture- I told them just leave it on there, don’t clean it up.”

He says the memorial is a symbol of respect for the men and women who served in Vietnam- including more than 300 from Central Florida who lost their lives.

“The Vietnam veterans were not treated properly, when they came home they were not welcomed back,” says Kittinger.

“They got really bum treatment. And I’ve always felt really bad about that- they didn’t get the respect that they deserved.”

Kittinger was shot down over Vietnam towards the end of the war- he was imprisoned in the same prison camp as Senator John McCain.

The memorial is being dedicated in a ceremony Sunday afternoon, with dignitaries including Mayor Buddy Dyer, Rep. John Mica, and military personnel including some of Kittinger's former squadron members.

The 2 p.m. dedication ceremony at Col. Joe Kittinger Park is open to the public.