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Sacrifice and service: A Delta veteran’s caregiving journey to Normandy

Learn about Delta’s tangible example of paying it forward through the eyes of a Delta veteran during the D-Day Celebration charter to Normandy, France.
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For Delta employee Zaury Trinidad-Durden, volunteering as a caregiver for a World War II veteran on the journey back to the hallowed ground of the Normandy invasion the past two years served as an homage to both her fellow veterans and her family’s military legacy.

“It was a trip of discovery,” Trinidad-Durden, Coordinator-Flight Operations, said of her previous trips. “To the people of Normandy, it’s a celebration of their freedom, while it’s a solemn commemoration for us.”

In 2022, Trinidad-Durden cared for 103-year-old Dorothy Jones, one of the first women in the Navy’s WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Services) division. Even after two years, Trinidad-Durden still maintains a close relationship with Jones.

This year, Trinidad-Durden can’t wait to do it again. And this time, she'll direct a group of caregiving volunteers as a squad leader.

Delta chooses caregivers like Trinidad-Durden from members of the Veterans Business Resource Group. Any member of the group can apply, but only 15 are selected based on how they demonstrate ongoing service to their communities. The caregivers play a special role in each veteran’s trip, helping them get around and ensuring their every need is met.

It’s the third year in a row Delta has partnered with the Best Defense Foundation to honor World War II veterans with a special charter flight to Normandy – with this year being extra special as the 80th anniversary of the D-Day invasion that catalyzed the war’s end in Europe.

ZAURY’S WHY

In 1988, a young Trinidad-Durden, eager to take on the world, was sinking under the pressure of getting into a prestigious law school. She was on the verge of an existential crisis.

Her brother recognized her burnout and urged her to follow in his footsteps by serving in the U.S. military.

The family’s military ties run deep – as she puts it, “serving became part of our family’s DNA.” Her grandfather was a World War II veteran, her cousins served during the Vietnam War and her great-uncles served during the Korean War.

 “I approached [joining the military] as a fresh start,” Trinidad-Durden said. “That proved to be very important because it came in a moment in which I really needed to start defining my life.”

Trinidad-Durden would go on to have a respectable and honorable military tenure. She joined the U.S. Navy Reserves, training as an aviation machinist mate and serving in the VC-8 “Redtails” squadron.

Delta employee Zaury Trinidad-Durden’s military experience, in photos. Patches she earned are also on display.

Trinidad-Durden’s military experience, in photos. Patches she earned are also on display.

“I dared to enter a male-dominated field and succeeded,” Trinidad-Durden said. “It scared me, but hard work, determination and strong work ethic was what it took to claim my place.”

After her preliminary training, Trinidad-Durden would return to her home in Puerto Rico. While stationed there, Trinidad-Durden was promoted to petty officer 3rd class and was invited to cross-qualify for a law enforcement and security role. She would fulfill this dual role until 1996.

The following year, Trinidad-Durden’s journey at Delta would begin. Throughout her almost three-decade tenure at the airline, her military experience has served her well in roles spanning Flight Operations, Airport Customer Service and more.

Trinidad-Durden would also immerse herself into the thriving, tight-knit veteran community at Delta, which makes up about 11% of the overall workforce. One person she met was Mark Norris, another honored veteran whose Delta career spans almost four decades.

“I naturally gravitate towards veterans here, and we have a good camaraderie among us,” Norris said. “We all have each other’s back.”

Delta Veteran and Caregiver Mark Norris attends WW2 Veteran Andre Chappaz during the 78th D-Day Anniversary charter.

Both Norris and Trinidad-Durden have also participated in the annual Veterans Day celebration and Operation Care Package, a nonprofit that sends care packages to active military personnel. Norris founded and oversees both efforts.

Opportunities like the Normandy charter are what have helped Trinidad-Durden build lasting connections with fellow veterans – and a lasting legacy at Delta.

“Delta people have the biggest hearts on the planet and our veterans bring to the table so many things like grit and character,” Trinidad-Durden said. “When you meet a veteran, you gain a family member for life and that’s what I have: a loving tribe of brothers and sisters. My life is more meaningful and richer because of them.”

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