When Bud Allen was sorting through a pile of mail on his kitchen table, he opened a letter from a stranger.

It was from a high school girl in Chappaqua, New York; she wanted to say thanks.

Every other letter on Allen’s table, whether they were from family, friends, or unknown high school students, had similar messages: thanks for your service.

“I’ve got cards from all over the place,” he said. “It’s kind of humbling, and it’s emotional to read some of them.”

Earlier this month, Beverly Hills Vietnam War Veteran Dick ‘Bud’ Allen represented Florida in the Inaugural Purple Heart Patriot Mission # 1. Allen was one of the 50 Purple Heart recipients chosen from around the country to participate in the Mission.

“They had 33 attendees there representing 30 states, including Alaska and Hawaii,” Allen said.

The Patriot Mission is an all-expenses-paid trip to New York. From Aug. 5-8, Allen and the other chosen Purple Heart recipients visited historic landmarks including West Point, George Washington’s original headquarters, and the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor. They also attended ceremonies where they were honored for their service.

“It was a fantastic two days,” Allen said. “We were so well-received as combat-wounded veterans.”

Allen and his wife had the chance to tour historic sites around New York. For Allen, each site exists to remind modern citizens that men have paid — and are still paying — for the gift of freedom.

“You get to see how primitive it really was is the 1700s-1800s, and yet some very intelligent, beneficial people were making decisions for the whole country,” Allen said. “They gave up so much for what everybody else has today. Everything’s not free.”

The Purple Heart Honor Mission will continue to host the Patriot Mission annually, with the goal of extending recognition to Purple Heart recipients nationwide.

“We’re really focused on reaching out to those unregistered Purple Heart veterans,” said Vice-Chair of the Purple Heart Honor Mission Russell Vernon. “We want to make sure they take their rightful positions in the Hall of Honor.”

Last week, the Honor Mission documented and photographed each event of the two-day trip.

“They had photographers all the time with us,” Allen said, “and I had the opportunity to go on live-talk radio for a local station up there.”

Allen’s testimony will join the collection of stories in the Purple Heart Hall of Honor, a museum that preserves photographs, artifacts, documents, and live interviews of Purple Heart recipients across generations.

On the last night of the tour, the Mission organized a ceremony to honor its veterans. Each veteran was called up and introduced individually before an ecstatic crowd of over 1,000 people.

“They had a purple carpet going through this whole array of people,” Allen said. “We felt like we were coming out of a football stadium to see all the fans.”

Allen was the ninth recipient to be called up on stage to be introduced and thanked for his service. Soon after he went up, he was in for a surprise.

“I wasn’t really paying attention, just standing up there saying, ‘OK, thank you, thank you,’” he said. “Then I looked out, and my two sisters are out in the crowd….I had no idea they were coming. I was just so overwhelmed.”

The Mission organizers helped set up the surprise by assisting Allen’s two sisters and two cousins with accommodations during the ceremony.

“I was so impressed at how well they were treated and taken care of,” he said.

Allen served in the Marine Corps from 1965-1969. During that time, he served in Vietnam with Combat Aircrew HMM-363 for one year, one month, and one day. Upon completion of his enlistment, he became a licensed funeral director and professional for 38 years. He’s also Commander of the Citrus County Aaron A. Weaver Purple Heart Chapter 776.

Allen is a testament to the Purple Heart Honor Mission’s goal to recognize, support, and advocate for veterans who were wounded or killed in combat. For those who went all out for their country, the Honor Mission went all out to say thanks.

“It was overwhelming at times,” Allen said. “I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”