Paving the way: La Crosse female Vietnam veteran prepares for Freedom Honor Flight

LA CROSSE (WKBT) — A La Crosse woman is getting ready to take the trip of a lifetime. She and other area vets will travel to Washington, D.C., this weekend on The Freedom Honor Flight to visit the memorials built in their honor.

Alice Holstein broke gender barriers during the Vietnam War in the Air Force, and it takes courage to pave that way.

Courage is something Alice has plenty of.

“Being the first woman was difficult, you have to be 150% better than a man,” Holstein said.

Alice was the first woman to run a combat intelligence shop for the B-52 nuclear mission. She also was the first sent overseas with bombers for Vietnam operations.

Alice wasn’t drafted for the Vietnam war– she volunteered.

“I was tired of sitting on my duff. I wanted to do something for my country,” Alice said.

Much like her father in World War II.

“(My father) did not need to go to war, but enlisted because he felt like he had to go,” Alice said. “He was very proud of me because I had done that. But I didn’t do it because he did it.”

Alice persevered through officer training school and then intelligence school.

“A lot of the women didn’t make it,” Alice said. “It was a real testing of who you were.”

At home and overseas, Alice pushed through.

“They made me feel unwanted, like I was in the way,” she said.

But when in uniform, Alice stood her ground.

“When I was briefing the officers on Guam, they would listen to me,” she said.

Alice’s return to the U.S., like the return for other Vietnam veterans, was hard.

“I didn’t admit that I had been in the military for a long time,” Alice said.

Alice didn’t come home to La Crosse until after she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

“The doctors told me it was a pretty bleak prognosis. And I got angry with them for that bleakness, and said ‘I’m going to be as well as I can be’,” Alice said.

Alice says she eventually found strength and hope working at the VA as an awarded peer support specialist.

“I have what I call a circle of love around me,” Alice said.

Now professionally retired, she continues to pave the way for mental health. Alice is an author, and has written several books.

She finds camaraderie in her fellow veterans.

“That’s the thing about being in the service. There’s this invisible bond,” Alice said.

Alice will share that bond with her bothers and sisters in arms on the Freedom Honor Flight– an experience she says she is looking forward to.

News 8 Now is going along with Alice and her fellow veterans for the flight to Washington, D.C., this Saturday.

Their story will be available on News 8 Now in the future.