Naomi Judd participated in a special Veterans Day service on Monday (Nov. 11) for a woman she credits helping her with her own success as one-half of the award-winning duo, the Judds.

The singer traveled to Manchester, Tenn. to pay tribute to her nursing mentor, 85-year-old Althea Cimino, who she says became the mother figure she never had after her own mother was emotionally distant.

“All of these years, I would visualize when I was performing that she was sitting on her couch smiling at me,” Judd says (quote via Nashville's Tennessean). “And it became this big thing in my mind and in my heart.”

Cimino, who served as an Army nurse in the Korean War, worked with Judd during her days as a nurse, prior to her success in country music. While the two have kept in touch over the years, Cimino was unprepared for her emotions when Judd presented her with the commemorative sword during the emotional ceremony.

“I was overwhelmed,” she admits. “My children were out in the audience and they were ducking down so I didn’t see them. I’ve been coming for three years and I just go and sit through it and come home. I was very, very, very surprised.”

Judd says she was honored to participate in the event. “I’m flashing red white and blue like a neon sign," she says of the event. "I’ve been hugged and kissed and it’s just an amazing awesome day.”