It was the mission of a lifetime – an opportunity to give back to what has been dubbed “the Greatest Generation,” and to learn from its members.
A group of five Le Moyne nursing students recently accompanied 63 veterans from Syracuse to Washington, D.C., as part of the Honor Flight Network, a nationwide program that fulfills the wishes of veterans to visit the memorials created in their honor. It was the first time most of the veterans had been to the monuments, and it’s safe to say they made the most of the opportunity. In a single day, they saw the World War II, Korean War, Iwo Jima and Vietnam memorials, as well as the Lincoln Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery.
In alignment with the College’s mission of service to others, the Le Moyne students participated in Honor Flight strictly as volunteers. Their chief responsibility was to ensure the health and safety of everyone on the trip. That included not just the veterans, the majority of whom are in their late ’80s and ’90s, but the guardians who accompanied each one of them. This task was made more challenging by the fact that, although the calendar read October, the weather in Washington rose to 91 degrees Fahrenheit the day of their visit. The Le Moyne students, all of whom are registered nurses, were prepared, though. Prior to leaving for Washington, they took an extensive medical history of each of the veterans and, once they arrived in the capital, they made sure that everyone was well hydrated, had any medication they needed, and paced themselves throughout the day.
“The veterans were so appreciative of everything we did,” recalled Lisa Sikora ’14. “That alone gave the trip so much meaning.”
The students were led by Professor of Practice in the Department of Nursing Kara Keyes, who has served as the veteran health and safety director for Honor Flight Syracuse since its inaugural mission last year. Both she and Chair of the Department of Nursing Susan Bastable, who also participated in Honor Flight, stressed that the students were constantly attuned to the needs of everyone on the trip. Yet as they traveled between the sites, the nurses also had the opportunity to hear the veterans’ stories. (One man recalled training pigeons to carry messages for the Allies during World War II.) In turn, the students had a chance to express their gratitude to them for their service.
“History was one of my favorite subjects growing up, so I was thrilled to be able to do this,” said graduate student Danielle Downs. “So many of these veterans came home from the war, and simply went about their lives, returning to work and raising their families. It was wonderful to be able acknowledge all that they did for us, and to say ‘thank you.’”
For Katie LaMay ’14, whose grandfather served in the U.S. Army during World War II, visiting the monuments with a group of people who will forever be bound by their shared service to our country was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“The best part of the experience was seeing everyone smile at the end of the day,” she said. “We are all exhausted, but extremely happy, and I was grateful to share this experience with them.”