FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) – To a hero’s welcome, 91-year-old World War II Navy Vet Julian Syphax arrived at the airport for an honor flight to Washington, D.C.
He knew the day would be special, but had no idea it would be greeted like this.
“Thank you so much, I am honored. I am really and truthfully honored,” he said.
He also did not expect such gratitude from complete strangers.
“My cousin was a good dude, he serviced his country. He did not make it and I’m just overwhelmed and honored. Thank you so much,” someone told Syphax, shaking his hand.
Syphax joined the Navy at just 17. His service, patriotism and love of country inspired many he met.
“It was just an honor for me to have met him, shook his hand. I’m excited just to meet someone like that,” said Kim Jones.
But that’s only part of his story.
After his time in service, he became a firefighter. He was one of the first African American men to ascend the ranks in the segregated South, and it wasn’t easy.
“Really very hard to talk about it, because it was bad time,” he said. “It was a time I knew America was not very proud of.”
Reflecting on the climate of things today, he’s concerned.
“What really frightens me is I see us easing our way back to those times and it absolutely frightens me for the short time I have left. I hope we don’t make it, God knows I don’t,” Syphax said.
Despite his concerns, Syphax blazed a trail, clearing a path for others to follow, like Fort Lauderdale Battalion Chief Eric Peasant.
“If it wasn’t for the struggles he had to go through and the trails he had to, the obstacles he had to overcome, we probably wouldn’t be here today,” Peasant said.
While in the nation’s capital, Syphax will be getting a tour of the Pentagon, as well as possibly the White House, and going to the African American History and Culture Museum.