Vietnam veteran turned farmer overcomes hardships

Survived Hurricane Michael devastation and house fire
Something recognized after tragedies like Hurricane Michael is a spirit of resiliency.
Published: Oct. 9, 2023 at 6:47 PM CDT
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PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - North of the sandy beaches we love lies a different kind of dirt.

It’s turf that’s sustaining life and fertile with memories, grown from the pain and hard work of an Altha farmer.

“They’ll [animals] come to the fence and rub on you and lick on you,” John Lafollette said.

He hung up his auto parts business to raise Purebred registered Black Angus.

“My cows come to work every day. They don’t complain, there’s no workman’s comp,” John said laughing.

He enjoys them so much he’s spent three decades in this line of work.

“I’ve never eaten one of them in all these years. I sell them for breeding stock. I’ve never eaten one of my own animals. I can’t bring myself to do it,” John added.

Before tending to the farm, John answered his country’s call for help during the Vietnam War.

“Three years, nine months, and 28 days in the Air Force,” he said.

“I flew OV10. We did forward spotting, looked for downed pilots and whatever they’d want us to do,” Lafollette explained.

If you know history, you know his return home wasn’t a warm welcome.

“People called us baby burners and all the nasty things. We had to put on civilian clothes and wear a uniform so we wouldn’t be picked on,” John described.

Despite that, John found peace in the green, hilly acres of his Altha farm with his wife, Kim.

That was until Hurricane Michael destroyed it.

“I recognized that wind, that movement right before the hurricane and I looked up and went ‘This isn’t going to be what it was supposed to be. This isn’t going to be a mild hurricane. This is going to be something different.’

And when it hit. It hit!” Kim described.

“It decided to come through Tyndall, and we’re right there, when the planes take off down there, they come right this way and fly over all the time. They wave at us sometimes,” John said.

Unappreciated after coming home from war, then seemingly forgotten after Hurricane Michael, John and Kim then had to stand and watch everything that they owned be reduced to rubble.

“I lost my shop I saved for over 20 years to buy a building,” John added.

A few years later, the couple became victims of a different type of disaster.

A fire burned their home to the ground in March of 2023.

Making matters worse, the Lafollettes didn’t have insurance.

“I tried to get the insurance I first got here. Two or three different insurances, where there’s areas, got the Volunteer Fire Department and you’re supposed to be within five miles of it and I’m a little bit further than that and one of the insurance companies would insure me if I dug a great big swimming pool because once they got here, they would not have a water to put it out. So, I didn’t have $30,000 to put a cement pond in my backyard, so I never had insurance,” John explained.

The award-winning farmer lost his prized possessions, as did his wife.

“It was my Christmas present, the Samsung washer and dryer, and it’s all gone,” Kim said.

“So, she didn’t have to go down the Creek and wash clothes on a washboard.” John teased.

“I was proud of that washer and dryer I was so proud of that washer and dryer and now it’s all gone,” Kim added.

John says they were only left with the clothes on their back.

“I say, they donated me some used men’s underwear. Never in my life have I worn somebody else’s underwear. So, the Chief of Police says ‘you’re not going to now either! Sit right here! Don’t leave! If I gotta handcuff you the steering wheel, don’t!’ He went and bought me two great big packs of underwear and said ‘Here!” John said.

John continues to battle an injury and stacked health problems.

Kim takes care of him, others in the community, and many animals while running her own business.

As much hardship as the couple has, something they appear to have more of is faith.

“But you know, I didn’t lose any family members. I got look really lucky, so that was it. And I thank God. I praise God for that, and I praise God today, after all of this, I praise God,” Kim said tearfully.

They continue keeping the faith while making the best of a camper they now call home.

If you’d like to help, the couple has a GoFundMe campaign here.

Kim also runs a business called Express Yourself America Inc., where she works to help fund their basic needs.

You can reach out to them at 850-928-9000 or 850-762-9000.