Pay It Forward: Flying with Honor

"You can't understand it because you have not seen war."

In a life full of unforgettable moments, one particular day stands out to Dale Nelsen.

It's not his missions in Sicily and Burma — or even stepping onto Omaha Beach on D-Day.

It's a day not found in history books.

"I lost my cool. Tears came," Nelsen said.

It's the day he peered out at the World War II memorial as part of an honor flight trip to Washington.

"I left the memorial and composed myself," Nelsen said. "I come back and my guardian was there, Donna, and she put her arms around me and said 'are you alright, Doc?' and I said 'I am now.'"

The son of an immigrant father and a first-generation-American mother, Nelsen was just a slender 16-year-old when he signed up for the Navy in 1939. His father told him a war was coming, but that didn't stop him.

"I said 'well, dad, if there's going to be a war, I'm going to have to go anyway and I want to go," Nelsen said.

"Unfortunately, I lost both my dad and mother while I was overseas so I never got to see them again. That was hard. I didn't get the..." Nelsen's voice quivered even after more than seven decades. "I didn't get the coming home welcome like you see in the movies. It wasn't that way for me."

All of those memories came rushing back as Nelsen stared out at the memorial that day.

"Those memories may be deep and maybe even forgotten until you get in there and see the various memorials to the service men who served," he said.

Nelsen's solemn trip to his past was sponsored by the Honor Flight Network, a program that flies World War II, Korea and Vietnam veterans out to our nation's capital to visit the monuments and memorials erected in their honor. He was so moved by his trip, Nelsen knew he had one more mission to complete.

"I recall driving home from Dallas and I'm thinking to myself: I've got to find these guys," he said.

And find them he did. For the past six years, he has recruited veterans from all across Texas and Oklahoma.

That's why we're paying it forward to him to honor him for his 40 years of service to our country and his continued service to honoring the legacies of the men he fought alongside.

It's been 37-years since Nelsen sailed off into retirement the memories of his past still lining the walls of his office — each photo another unforgettable moment.

"What an experience it was," Nelsen said. "The Navy is deep in my soul.


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