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Michigan teen helps raise $140,000 for Vietnam Veterans to fly to DC

Michigan teen helps raise $140,000 for Vietnam Veterans to fly to DC
Published: Jun. 17, 2022 at 10:29 PM EDT
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LANSING, Mich. (WILX) - The first-ever all-Vietnam Veteran Honor Flight from Michigan is Saturday.

The entire trip was paid for with money raised by a teenager in Kalamazoo.

Related: Upper Peninsula Veterans visit the memorials built in their honor

With all the pomp and circumstance of a military celebration, vintage T34 bombers flew over the veterans who will embark on a journey decades in the making.

“I’m excited to see what’s going to happen,” said William McCormick. “Sounds like it’s going to be very very nice.”

The 82 veterans served in the Vietnam War. When they returned home, they were scorned instead of praised.

“I felt real bad. I really was kind of shocked. I knew what was going on in the country. I was in Vietnam in 68-69 and what I do remember most that was shocking, when we arrived back at the San Francisco airport -- after a 13-month tour -- there was a colonel that met us in a little hangar and told us, ‘You’re going through the San Francisco Airport, you might get spat upon, or cat called, and if you do, you got to keep walking,’” recalled Bill Bachman. “Everybody in that room said, ‘I would dare someone to spit on me after a 13 month tour.’”

Those feelings are difficult for 17-year-old Alice Kraatz to fathom, who was born 30 years after the Vietnam War ended.

“One of my brother’s friend’s grandfathers told me told me a story when I was little, that he came home from Vietnam and the first thing he wanted when he got home was a steak dinner, and the minute he walked outside, somebody spat in his face,” Kraatz said. “And as a little 8-year-old, I just couldn’t understand why anybody would do that.”

That feeling stuck with her. When she was 13 years old, she started a statewide fundraising campaign to send Michigan Vietnam veterans to Washington. As the state president of the Children of the American Revolution, she recruited other groups to help by holding yard sales, collecting bottles and cans, and selling MIA and POW bracelets.

“It makes me very emotional just because I’ve seen how these veterans react when they’re finally thanked for service and welcomed home and this on such a massive scale is really really emotional for me, and probably everybody,” Kraatz said.

They raised more than $140,000 -- enough to pay for the trip.

“I don’t even have words to express how grateful we all are for her to do that,” said William Stokka.

When the veterans return to Kalamazoo, they will each get a special coin to remember their trip to Washington. It’s a trip that -- for many -- could be their last chance to see the memorials that honor their service and sacrifice.

“I’ve been around the world but never been to Washington, D.C. and it will be something I will treasure forever,” Stokka said. “I think everyone should go to the memorials at least once in their lifetime.”

The Children of the American Revolution Yellow Ribbon Honor Flight leaves Saturday morning. The veterans will take part in a weath-laying at Arlington National Cemetery, then to the National Mall to visit the memorials honoring those who served. They will receive the Vietnam War commemorative pin at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

More information on the Honor Flight can be found on its official website here.

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