Kevin Stiner | November 02, 2023
Returning Vets to Normandy
Nursing alum volunteered to care for WWII veterans as they revisited the site of D-Day.
Imagine an airplane full of World War II veterans, at or near their 100th birthday, traveling from the United States to Normandy, France. What might sound like a medical team’s nightmare was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for traveling nurse Brianna Streeter ’17.
While between contracts, Streeter decided to volunteer with the Best Defense Foundation during their journey to Normandy to commemorate the 79th anniversary of D-Day. She was part of a medical team assembled to ensure the wellness of 43 WWII vets enduring long flights between the USA and France, and 10-days of activities.
“An 8 ½ hour charter is a long time to be sitting, especially for people who might be on blood thinners, who are prone to blood clots, and other issues at hand,” said Streeter. “All our volunteers took shifts on the plane to help the veterans go to the bathroom or make them get up. I was up with a few of them because I was like, ‘Let’s get up and walk around to avoid blood clots.’”
Streeter played a crucial role on the medical staff that consisted of one doctor, two nurses, and five medics. The team monitored vitals, replaced bandaging, and oversaw medication to ensure the safety of all 43 vets.
“Even if I had to pay to go, I would have because it was such an honor being there with these guys because they’re special and there aren’t many left.”
Brianna Streeter ’17
Streeter was assigned to care for a group of seven vets, but assumed other responsibilities while she was there as many of the veterans needed additional assistance. One major experience that stood out to her involved Navy veteran Dick Rung.
Rung went through physical therapy based on a desire to not only return to Omaha Beach, but to stand and walk. Unable to attend the scheduled group outing due to a health complication, Rung insisted to the staff that he didn’t need to go. Soon after, the staff received a phone call from Rung’s daughter who mentioned how significant a return to the beach would be for him.
The impact of the call led Streeter and other volunteers to go out of their way to bring Rung back to the beach.
“Three of us carried him down to the beach in his wheelchair and stood him up and he got to take some steps,” Streeter shared. “He got to sit there and facetime his wife and he was able to show her on that beach where he was. In his own words he said, ‘Sometimes Omaha is 79 years ago, but sometimes it’s just yesterday.’ I thought that was profound.”
Rochester, NY-native, John “Jack” Foy, was one of several vets to disembark the group’s bus when it arrived at a German cemetery.
“Jack wanted to go and he was standing at the graves and there were a lot of SS soldiers buried there,” explained Streeter. “It was a weird dynamic for somebody that fought against them. They were the bad guys. He was staring out and was like, ‘I probably killed so many of these men.’ And he had a tear roll down his face.
“He said, ‘Going to that place and seeing the names of people on the headstones and seeing that there are other people there, that at a previous time I had hatred for the Germans, now I’m able to realize those are other human beings. They’re people fighting for their country just like we were.’”
About the Best Defense Foundation
The Best Defense Foundation honors and celebrates vets from past conflicts including WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and recent retirees. It is driven by volunteers and its Battlefield Return Program returns vets to former battle grounds to remember fallen comrades and gain closure, including the trip commemorating the 79th Anniversary of D-Day. Best Defense Foundation was founded by its president and former star linebacker in the NFL Donnie Edwards and his wife Kathryn Edwards.