BYU College of Nursing sponsors a Utah Honor Flight experience each spring for local veterans. Participants travel to Washington, D.C. for three days to visit war memorials built to honor their service in World War II or the Korean War. Nursing students join the trip to practice the knowledge they have learned in clinical practicums regarding veteran support and care.
I had the privilege to accompany my neighbor last year as his guardian. Russell Payzant was 96 years-old and served in WWII as a mechanic in the United States Navy. He worked at the Alameda Naval Air Station in California until discharged. His total time in the military was 3 years, 3 months, and 3 days.
As his guardian, I was responsible for his well-being and looked after his healthcare and medical needs. The first night we were together, he could not find the medicine for his glaucoma prevention. We searched every inch of his suitcase twice but could not find it. When asked if the drops were needed, he told me, yes, or he’d go blind.
Now the panic began (I did not want to be the first Honor Flight guardian to harm their veteran).
I called the flight medic for our group to ask her opinion. Apparently, the drops were needed. Since it was a prescription, we would not be able to get a replacement that night, and we must find them.
I turned to Russ for guidance. Ironically, I was one of his church leaders at the time, yet I felt no inspiration for the situation. The thing that impressed me most about him was his faith in God. Without hesitation, he said he’d ask his heavenly friend for help.
Russ spent several minutes in prayer, on his knees, pleading with the Lord to allow him to find the eyedrops. I did the same, but he had a true connection to heaven. Moments later he got up, went to his suitcase and looked again. In a “secret” pocket was his medicine, placed there securely by his loving wife (who didn’t want it to get lost).
I looked repeatedly, but he had searched—searched for support from his Father.
Our time together was amazing! The rest of the weekend went well and we learned a lot about each other. I grew to appreciate him in so many ways.
Before our trip, he considered himself ‘only a mechanic in the war.’ However, after being greeted by cheering crowds in airports, at war memorials, and during a welcome home gathering with the National Guard, Russ considered himself a war hero. And for the next nine months, he had many stories to share with family and friends about his travels.
My friend passed away February 19, 2017; I am fortunate to have known this man.