Dominic and Tom Etopio both served in the military during World War II. Dominic, now 96, was in the Marine Corps and spent some time stationed in Guam. Tom is 91 and he was an aviation electricians mate in the Navy, serving stateside.
The two brothers shared an unforgettable October day in Washington D.C. as part of WNY Warriors Flight. Together, they were able to see the WWII Memorial and look back on fond memories together. Tom said it was a huge relief when he learned his big brother would be coming home and that his first stop would be at Tom's naval base.
"When the war was over, I found out that my brother was going to be coming in on a troop transport," he said. "I went to the dock and met him. He was there for two or three days being discharged, so we had a nice visit."
WNY Warriors flight is organized by NYS Senator Rob Ortt's office. Two dozen veterans from WNY are invited to travel for a day trip to Washington D.C. The group visits the WWII Memorial, Korean War Memorial, Vietnam War Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery.
"Our WWII monument was built so long after the conflict," Ortt said. "It was way too late in my opinion, but it was done right. And so many veterans from WWII never got to see this."
This is the second annual trip and he plans to continue the tradition as long as he is able.
For Walter Stevenson, this was a trip he will never forget.
"This is something I'll cherish for the rest of my life," he said.
Stevenson served in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War. Originally from Philadelphia, he was stationed at the Niagara Falls Air Base. He'd never seen the Vietnam War Memorial before and knew it would be a difficult day.
His childhood friend never made it home from the war. Lance corporal James Snock of the Marine Corps died from battle wounds on April 28, 1967.
"I try to remember Jim when we were kids growing up," Stevenson said.
Stevenson dug through the massive book of names that list every person represented on the memorial. After turning through pages and pages of Smiths, he found the one name he was looking for. James Snock, Panel 18-E, Row 108.
"I was able to get closer to Jimmy just by being here at this wall," he said. "I felt touched by him."
One more chance to reunite with a childhood friend.
"It's not that I want to get him out of my memory or anything," Stevenson said. "It's just that I wanted to see him again. And I did."
Senator Ortt asks anybody who is interested in taking the next Warriors Flight to contact his office.