The Rolling Dutchman -
Travelling Across America For Veterans
Robert Van Vranken, a.k.a. The Rolling Dutchman (or just Dutch), had the opportunity to meet some wounded veterans of the Iraq War earlier this year, and came away impressed with their dedication and courage and humbled by the experience. As the son of a Korean War veteran, Dutch has always had an appreciation for the sacrifices made by veterans and now he felt compelled to do something to honor those who have served America.
"I wanted to show my own appreciation for the job they have done," said Dutch. "And at the same time, I wanted to raise awareness of what veterans have gone through and remind other people that we all really owe them our thanks." So he came up with the idea of travelling east from his Minneapolis, MN home to New York City, meeting as many people as he could along the way, and reminding the public to thank veterans for their service.
So he started east on June 1, 2007, with no established itinerary, route, or plan, just intent on reaching New York by the end of the summer and increasing awareness about veterans and veterans issues along the way. "Im not sure exactly how I came up with the idea," said Dutch. "It just kind of came to me and seemed like the right thing to do. I had plenty of vacation time saved up at work, so off I went." It wasnt quite as simple as that, since an accident with a municipal bus earlier in the year had resulted in the amputation of Dutchs left leg above the knee, requiring him to use a scooter for mobility.
By the time he rolled into New York City on October 17, Dutch had traveled more than 1,600 miles, across eight states, for nearly eight months, all aboard a Pride Legend Scooter, for the purpose of raising awareness for wounded American veterans. It was an exhausting journey, worth every moment.
"The whole idea was just to get people to stop for a moment and think about veterans and thank them for their service," said Dutch. With media coverage from dozens of newspapers and radio stations along the way, as well as personal visits to many veterans health care facilities and the chance to meet countless people on the road, Dutch figures he accomplished his mission. "The trip reached a lot of people," he said. It raised money for the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Minneapolis, MN, as well, but that was a bonus. "It was about raising awareness and I guarantee we did that." Receiving coverage in dozens of local newspapers and nearly as many television stations along his route, Dutch indeed became something of a celebrity as he rolled toward New York.
Along the way, Dutch saw many interesting sights, met thousands of interesting people and, most importantly he said, got to talk to hundreds of veterans at dozens of facilities between Minnesota and New York. Whenever he meets a man or woman who served in the United States Armed Forces, whether in war or peacetime, he hands them a business card that says, "Thank you for your service and dedication to our country." That simple gesture is greatly appreciated everywhere he goes, Dutch said. "One World War II veteran, at the VA in Minneapolis, told me that was the very first time anyone had just said thank you to him," Dutch recalled. "That was the biggest, most important part of the whole journey, to say thanks and get other people to say thanks."
The journey across half of America was not without its enjoyable moments as well, Dutch was quick to point out. "I never had any real plan. I just kind of looked at the map every morning, figured out which direction I wanted to go, and rolled that way until I found a good stopping point. You get to see a lot of great stuff about America that way." He remembered one day in Niagara Falls, N.Y., when a local hotel manager saw him on the television news and gave him free lodging for a night and a helicopter tour of the falls. "That was really something," said Dutch. "And Ive seen that kind of reaction everywhere Ive been. When people heard what I was doing, they were very supportive and just wanted to know what they could do to help."
Dutch is very clear that his trip carried no political overtone and was not intended as an endorsement of any party or point of view. On his myspace page, www.myspace.com/dutchmanrolling he makes this quite clear, stating, "The Dutchman is not a Democrat, or a Republican. He isn't for the war or against the war. The Dutchman simply wants to help as many American Veterans as he can." Also on his myspace page is the address to the Minneapolis VA, where you can still send a donation if you wish. But if you really want to support his cause, he insists, just thank a veteran.