This Memorial Day, we’re highlighting the work of Honor Flight South Florida, an organization that provides all-expenses-paid trips for veterans to visit war memorials in Washington D.C. 

As one of our partner organizations in the Hayes Helps program, many of our employees have volunteered with Honor Flight to accompany veterans as they visit and reflect on the memorials built in their honor. We interviewed one of those employees, Nina Warsager, who accompanied a Korean War veteran in 2021.

Here’s what Nina had to say about this life changing experience:

What made you want to volunteer with Honor Flight?

I wanted to do it in honor of my dad, who was a Vietnam vet. He’s actually buried in Arlington Cemetery. So as soon as this opportunity came up, I jumped on it.

Who did you accompany on the trip?

I was assigned to an Air Force veteran who served in the Korean War And he absolutely blew me away. He’s a 92-year-old man who is very active. He plays golf once a week. He walks two miles in the morning and feeds treats to all the dogs in his neighborhood. He’s in better health than I am. 

What was the most memorable part of the experience for you?

Just seeing him and the others be acknowledged and how much it really meant to them was amazing. I cried the whole time. From the moment we walked through the parade that was held in their honor, to the flight home, I was very emotional. 

The whole trip was wonderful. The best part was on the flight back. They received letters thanking them for their service. While he was reading the letters, he was just amazed, and so overwhelmed by the fact that people were actually addressing letters to him by name. He was blown away that the letters weren’t just one liners, it wasn’t just a “thank you for your service.” 

The fact that people took the time to write 4-5 sentences to him was so emotional and overwhelming, that he had to stop reading on the plane and continued to read the rest the next day at home .

He could not believe that people took the time in writing that note of thanks to him. It was absolutely amazing how that little gesture went so far.

One thing that he said to me that stood out was, “I thought they forgot about us.” 

And I knew like right then I said this is why Honor Flight does what it does.

Tell us more about the relationship you formed with the veteran you accompanied. 

I spent basically 22 hours of my day with this one person, and we really made a connection. He was a talker, so he told me all about his life. Throughout the whole trip, I just felt really connected to how he was feeling.

At the end of the trip, he said, “I’ll never forget this day.” We arrived back around midnight, and his adrenalin must have been pumping. At the age of 92, he had more energy than I did, he wanted to end it with a drink! I couldn’t because I had to go pick up my daughter, but we made  plans to hang out again, and have a margarita. 

On Veterans day , I called him to have that drink. We met up at a restaurant near his home and toasted to a once in a lifetime experience. We both had margaritas!

Hayes Locums employees, Nina Warsager (left) and Julie Tchividjian (right), with the two veterans they escorted for the Honor Flight.

What did you learn from the experience that you didn’t expect?

I never realized that they felt forgotten and that made me feel very sad. How did it take this experience for me to understand that veterans feel this way? My dad was a Vietnam vet, and because he never wanted to talk about it, I never knew how he felt. It was an eye-opening experience and I hope to do it again someday. 

You know, you say things like Happy Veterans Day, or Happy Memorial Day, but after this experience, I feel like I really understand, for the first time, what those words actually mean.

Since their founding in 2005, Honor Flight has served nearly a quarter of a million veterans of World War II, The Korean War, and The Vietnam War, among others. We are proud to partner with them in ensuring that these veterans know that their service has not been forgotten.

If you want to get more involved in Honor Flight, you can find your local chapter here.