‘We love our country’: Family honors veterans by raising giant American flag in Thorp

THORP, Wash. — More than two decades ago, Shree Saini and her family immigrated to the United States from India; she came sitting on her mother’s lap.

“I was just 5 years old, so I don’t remember much, but I knew that we were just grateful and lucky to be here,” Saini said.

Since then, the family has fostered a deep sense of patriotism and a staunch love of America, which they wanted to showcase this Veterans Day.

“We wanted to do something really big for our veterans and honor them,” Saini said. “We love our country and we just wanted to show that we are truly united, especially after a very tough year.”

The answer? A 3,200-square-foot American flag — one of the largest in the country — displayed outside the family business, Shree’s Travel Plaza at 410 Gladmar Road in Thorp.

“It has been six months of non-stop meetings to get a flag that size constructed and installed,” Saini said. “We just wanted to have something that could symbolize a message of unity and hope for generations to come, hopefully even after my family is no longer here.”

Saini said the flag-raising was an emotional event, with hundreds of people from all walks of life in attendance. She said she was grateful to be able to share their love of the United States with everyone.

“My family is an immigrant family and we know the amount of resources, love and opportunities America has to offer,” Saini said. “Truly, anyone can come here and start from the bottom and really go after any dream they aspire to.”

Saini, 24, has done her best to take advantage of those opportunities whenever they have presented themselves and has been mostly successful, despite facing a series of life-altering challenges along the way.

When Saini was young, she loved to dance and wanted to do it professionally; at 12 years old, she learned she had a congenital heart defect and was told by her doctors she would never dance again.

After receiving surgery to implant a pacemaker, she went on to dance again, became a trained ballerina and was accepted to the Joffrey Ballet School in New York City.

As a young girl, Saini was constantly bullied; years later, she became a motivational speaker and advocate against bullying in order to help young people who share her experiences. At 15 years old, Saini enlisted her family’s help to create a non-profit dedicated to advocating and raising money for heart health, mental and emotional health, and other causes affecting people across the world.

Shree has studied journalism at the University of Washington, acting at Yale School of Drama, non-profit management at Harvard University and social entrepreneurship at Stanford University

In college, she was in a rollover car accident that left her with severe facial burns. After intensive treatment and hospitalization, Saini recovered and continued to work toward her goals. Since then, Saini has won a host of other pageant titles, including Miss India USA 2017, Miss India Worldwide 2018, and most recently, Miss World Washington.

During the virtual Miss World America pageant earlier this year, Saini became friends with the current title holder, Alissa Anderegg, who flew from New York to Thorp to come to the flag raising.

“This is my first time in Washington and to be able to spend it with hundreds of people, with our nation’s veterans, and to see that flag raised, it was a moment I’ll never forget,”Anderegg said.

Saini said she anticipates about 40 million people to see the flag annually and hopes that it will continue to bring people together.

“I hope people are more loving to each other,” Saini said. “Let’s continue to be empathetic with each other, have sincere conversations, truly listen to understand another person’s perspective.”