TROY — Walt Disney himelf referred to his theme park as “the happiest place on earth.” Some truth was proven in this claim for Troy residents Lloyd and Judy Perry, when Lloyd was chosen as Walt Disney World’s “Veteran of the Day” on Monday, Dec. 25.
The Perrys, who are lifelong residents of Miami County, were touring the Magic Kingdom with their daughter, Olivia, and their grandchildren, Seth, Leah, and Luke, when Lloyd was approached by the staff for the role in the ceremony.
“We were walking along Main Street USA,” Lloyd said. “A member of the staff saw my Vietnam veteran hat, and she said, ‘Thank you for your service.’ I said, ‘I appreciate that.’ They asked me a little about my service, and I told the story about how 50 years ago to the day, I was in Vietnam with five days to go, just hoping to get home.
“She asked, ‘How would you like to be the ‘Veteran of the Day’ at the flag ceremony tonight?’ And I said, ‘Sure.’ They informed me of what to do from there.”
Held every day at 5 p.m. in the Town Square on Main Street USA, a formal ceremony called the Magic Kingdom Flag Retreat is conducted by Disney security members, Main Street operations personnel, and the Dapper Dans barbershop quartet, along with a special guest. This special guest is traditionally a veteran who is visiting the park.
The veteran participant is selected at random by the Magic Kingdom Entertainment Department, usually early in the day around “rope drop,” when the gates first open. Military-distinctive clothing is a clear giveaway to the staff in locating a participant.
According to the Perrys, the Christmas holiday turned out a bustling crowd.
“The park holds 75,000 people,” Judy said. “They closed the park off at 1o a.m. They got full so early, no more could come in all day.”
“The place was packed,” Lloyd said. “I mean, absolutely packed. It was so emotional. You’ve never seen so many people in your life.”
Lloyd and Judy claimed the ceremony upheld a sanctimony for the flag in ways they didn’t expect.
“There was more involved in it than I would’ve ever anticipated,” Lloyd said. “The flag they gave me to carry was huge, and a full band was there to play patriotic music.
“They coach you on what you have to do. When the band stops, you have to make a cadence and approach the flag in a column of four. They play a couple more songs, and then choose some volunteers to say the Pledge of Allegiance.
“Well, I heard some kids start to recite the pledge. I looked over, and it was my three grandkids. The same worker had asked me if the kids knew the pledge, but she didn’t tell me they were going to do that.”
Seth, Leah, and Luke, with the assistance of the Dapper Dans barbershop quartet, recited the pledge over the Town Square speakers as the flag was raised, a notable task given that not all schools require pledge recitation as part of the curriculum.
“We have to give a big thank-you to Troy City Schools,” Judy said. “The youngest boy is a kindergartner, and he stood there and said it as well as anybody else. A lot of schools have been dropping that out, but teachers in Troy have taught that very well.”
Lloyd was given a commemorative certificate, ornament, and pin for his status as Walt Disney World’s “Veteran of the Day,” as well as a number of free photos taken by the staff.
Seth, Leah, and Luke were each given a Christmas gift from Disney officials, as well as a free day back to the park for the whole family. The Perrys and their grandkids plan to use the tickets later this summer.
“It was just plain awesome,” Judy said. “It made the whole trip down worth it.”
“Those kids got a sight they’ll never forget,” Lloyd said.