Guest Post: Disney and My Veteran


With Veterans’ Day approaching, I wanted to write something that honors not only my own veteran hero, veterans and active duty military, but also Disney’s acknowledgment of our military personnel both past and present.

In my experience, Disney’s level of respect and appreciation is rarely equaled.

My hero is my husband Gary. He served in the U.S. Navy from 1966 to 1970 aboard the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Hancock off the coast of Vietnam. That war was unpopular here in America and many soldiers came home to a less than warm welcome.

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There was a lot of disrespect and anger toward these men who, for many, were drafted and were not given a choice but to serve. They left all they knew and loved to go to a strange place and fight people they knew little about for freedom and their country. After they returned home these veterans were pretty much forgotten: no parades, no parties and no acknowledgement.

They were the forgotten soldiers. It wasn’t until military personnel were returning from the middle east, and the attention was on the needs of these brave soldiers, did the nation start to remember other soldiers from another time.

My hero, Gary Hollenbaugh.

The Vietnam veterans — in fact all veterans and active duty military and their families — need to feel that their sacrifice was not expected but appreciated and acknowledged.

I first experienced the change in attitude on a family vacation to Walt Disney World in the fall of 2011. My husband, who is proud of his service, often wears a U.S.S. Hancock ball hat. He and I were waiting for our family by a bridge in Animal Kingdom, when a cast member walked to us with outstretched hand.

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Rivers of Light PhotoPass Memory Maker Prop
PHOTO: Gary and Polli Hollenbaugh at Rivers of Light. Behind them, The Golden Grammas.

Not exactly sure what was happening, my husband extended his own hand and shook the man’s hand. The cast member then thanked my husband for his service. We were dumbstruck. We both thanked him profusely. Even though the thanks come more often now, that first encounter will never be forgotten.

Our Disney experiences didn’t end there. This past March my husband and I returned to Walt Disney World. During that trip we were once again overwhelmed by the outpouring of appreciation for America’s veterans and active duty military.

We were again in Animal Kingdom in a shop. A lovely female cast member came up to us and thanked my husband for his service. She then sent two other cast members to find the item we were looking for while she stayed with us and talked for a while. She was so sweet and kind and we were very thankful for her help.

PHOTO: Gary and Polli Hollenbaugh at Tusker House with Mickey Mouse.

After our purchase was made, and before we left the store, she hugged us both and gave us fast passes for Animal Kingdom attractions. That encounter was the start of an amazing trip for us. There were so many “thank yous,” handshakes and hugs from cast members and park guests.  We never experienced anything like this.

Another memorable moment was when a little girl, maybe 8 or 10 years old, walked to us on a crowded Main Street in Magic Kingdom to tell my husband thank you and shake his hand. That gave us hope for the future. Her parents should be very proud.

Even the boat ride from Disney Springs to Port Orleans was amazing. The captain had been in the Navy and another passenger had served on the Hancock, although not with Gary. They chatted the whole trip back to our resort. Small world!

On our final day, as we were getting the last of our treats to take home, before leaving the Magic Kingdom, we stopped at the candy store on Main Street. Almost immediately we were approached by a lovely lady dressed in Victorian costume who introduced herself as the wife of the Mayor of Main Street U.S.A.. She too thanked my husband for his service and explained that everyday at the raising and lowering of the American flag, a ceremony takes place and she invited my husband to be an honored guest at the retiring of the flag later in the day. Because we were leaving we were unable to attend but we were honored by her invitation and her kindness.

I understand that there are discounts for active duty military and their families as well as military retirees. That is awesome. We have not experience these first hand but if their experiences are anything like ours, I’m sure they are blown away by the Walt Disney Company.

We have had so many amazing memories from our Disney vacations over the years, but some of our fondest and most cherished include the kindness and love we felt for my hero husband veteran and me by these wonderful people. Thank you so much!

To all our veterans, active duty military and their families, let me take this opportunity to say thank you for your service and sacrifice for our county.

Happy Veterans’ Day and may God bless you and the U.S.A.

Guest posts are the opinions of the poster and do not necessarily express the opinions of The Kingdom Insider or its staff, and are not officially endorsed by The Walt Disney Company.

[Feature Photo: Military Disney Trips]

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