“It feels so surreal that it’s real here,” says Alice Kraatz.
It’s been a moment in the making for her since she was eight years old, when a Vietnam veteran told her a story.
“That he came back from Vietnam, and the moment he stepped out, someone spit in his face,” she began to explain. “And as an eight-year-old I still can’t comprehend why anyone would do that.”
Alice carried that memory with her and was eager to change something. When she was 13 years old, Alice became state president for Michigan Society Children of the American Revolution.
“I wanted to do something that would have a real impact on people’s lives,” she said.
She wanted to send a special flight of only Vietnam veterans to Washington DC to see the memorials in their honor.
“I knew other states had done these Yellow Ribbon Honor flights with all the Vietnam veterans, and it had been a much more powerful experience of healing,” Alice said.
A big challenge with a high price tag of 140,000 dollars.
Though leaders were reluctant at first, this 13-year-old didn’t take no for an answer.
“I knew I had everything lined up and I could convince them it was feasible and I could do it,” Alice said. “It was a lot of driving around, a lot of calling. I owe a lot to my mother for that.”
Alice’s mother, Elizabeth, said it was either sinking or swimming.
“And Alice learned she could swim,” Elizabeth said proudly. “And every time I saw her able to represent her thoughts and ideas so eloquently to the public, I could step back and forth and just watch because I felt confident that she had confidence in herself.”
“If there was a road from Kalamazoo, Michigan, to New Delhi, India, we’d drive back and forth, around the state of Michigan, talking to different groups and raising funds,” Alice laughed.
Every mile driven, every second spent, well worth it.
Just a year later, Alice’s hard work amounted to the $140,000 she needed.
She has sent 82 Vietnam veterans to Washington, DC as part of the Children of the American Revolution Michigan Yellow Ribbon Honor Flight.
“I’m really excited to see the Vietnam Wall tomorrow especially through the eyes of not myself, but a Vietnam veteran,” said Alice.
The flight was supposed to be a few years ago, but COVID-19 kept all Honor Flights grounded.
Alice, now 17, has spent some time thinking about how she would make this once in lifetime experience extraordinary for these Vietnam veterans.
“Luckily, it’s considered a special Honor Flight, so we were able to put some of her creative ideas into action, which isn’t usual, Honor Flights run a certain way,” said Elizabeth.
Like a banquet the night before the flight, with all 82 veterans and their guardians gathered in one room.
“It’s just so incredible to see these faces that I’ve worked so hard for to get here, and that they’re all so excited to be here,” she said.
A day before it drives to Washington, on an emotional day of honor, remembrance and healing.
“I think I hope these veterans will feel a lasting impact from this Honor Flight and feel more willing to share what they’ve been through in the years to come,” said Alice. “And that my generation will recognize that these men are all heroes, whether we agree with the war that was waged or not.”