HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Earlier this year, a 96-year-old Pearl Harbor veteran returned for the first time since 1941. That trip was made possible by an organization called Forever Young Veterans based out of Memphis.
A local history teacher wanted to establish a Huntsville chapter, to provide the same type of experience for Huntsville veterans.
“The Lord’s opened this door for me," said Chris Batte, the Huntsville director of the chapter.
Batte's life changed this time last year, when she was looking for a World War II veteran to speak to her class.
"I went on Facebook and I asked if anyone know of anyone, and I found one. I found Sherwin Callender, and it’s been an adventure ever since," she said.
That speaking engagement spawned a unique friendship. So, it only makes sense that when the Pearl Harbor veteran got invited on a trip of a lifetime - to return to Hawaii - Batte was asked to come along and fly away.
“To go and spend time at Pearl harbor with a guy that was there, not to mention the other eighteen WW II vets, was an opportunity of a lifetime. So, of course I said yes," said Batte.
Forever Young Veterans pays for veterans ages 65-years and older to take "dream vacations" and return to the battlefield. Batte says it's a chance for healing and hope.
"They were retired and a lot of them were immobile, so the PTSD started to come up. So a lot of these men were just suffering silently," she said.
Chris witnessed first hand, these men leaning on each other, as they retraced some of their most painful memories.
"It gives them closure and it restores them, the other big thing is camaraderie," Chris said.
She claimed it was a full circle moment, a chance to see destruction erased and war zones become monuments.
While on the trip, Chris started thinking. "When I came home, I looked at my husband and I said, there’s got to be vets around here," she said.
Chris has decided to lead the first expansion chapter in the non-profit's history.
"Anybody interested, it’s open to anyone who wants to come," said Batte.
Naturally, she's looking for the veterans that would benefit from these trips, but she also needs volunteers and donations.
"The greatest generation is dying off and they’re taking away values we may never see again," she said.
In the future, Chris hopes to host monthly meetings and plan three trips for 2017. All centered around making sure the greatest generation doesn't become a forgotten one.
"To spend time with them, and to soak it up and to share it with other people, that gives me more joy than anything else really," said Batte.
If you know of a veteran who might want a "Dream Trip" back to the battlefield, or would like to donate to the Huntsville chapter, you can visit Forever Young Veteran's website or call Chris Batte at (931) 409-3812.