BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Celebrating service and thanking our local heroes and neighbors by giving them the best day possible; that's the goal of the Buffalo Niagara Honor Flight and mission 11 did not fall short.
"Unbelievable. I've done a lot of things in my life but this, this tops it," said Jerry Basinski, U.S. Navy Veteran of Akron.
47 veterans and their guardians boarded a plane at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport. Landing in Baltimore to a water canon salute and applause from passengers. Their arrival caused the entire airport to stop and celebrate our heroes.
7 News took extra time with four veterans to learn their stories.
Jesse L. Washington, World War II Veteran
Washington was drafted at 18 years old, serving from 1946-1949.
As he reflects on his time, he says he enjoyed serving his country. Now 94 years old, Washington lives in Buffalo. He raised four daughters and two sons in the city he loves.
"I'm a good citizen. I want to live the rest of my life in Buffalo," said Washington.
Joanne Sterns, U.S. Marine Corps Veteran
The day brought fond memories for Joanne Sterns of Williamsville, the only female veteran on the trip. Between her time in the Marines and Army Reserves, she served our country for 22 years.
She joined after her uncle, a Marine Corps pilot, died. His plane exploded over the pacific ocean.
"It was the only funeral I have ever been to without a body and I cried. I said I am going to join the marine corps when I get out of high school and I did," said Sterns.
So she graduated from Williamsville South and went straight to work as a mechanic in between the Korean and Vietnam wars. She recalls working alongside many, brave women.
"We were known as the women marines. We did not connect with men...unless you wanted to date them," Sterns joked.
On the trip, her service and dedication to our country was recognized and immortalized in the Military Women's Memorial.
Anthony Gliszczynski, Vietnam War Veteran
Gliszczynski made history on Mission 11 as the first to bring along a service dog. He and WNY Heroes tagged along with Stan, who guided him along the way.
"He made me feel great. He knows when I get stressed out, he knows how to stop it. Best thing I ever did.">
Their relationship goes beyond companionship, Gliszczynski says Stan helped save his life.
"Life was miserable, I didn't want to go out, I don't want to deal with people. Something like this I could've never done. Once I got him. He made me not want to commit suicide," said
He served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War.
"Our country asked for help...I did my job.nI was one of the fortunate ones to make it home. 100%? no, but I still made it home, there were a lot of guys that paid the price," said Gliszczynski.
Bob Ayler, Vietnam War Veteran
The day was a first for Ayler, he'd never been to our nation's capital before, it was on his bucket list.
During the trip, he says it was important for him to pay an old friend a visit.
"A very good friend of mine. He was a combat medic. On the second tour on the berg. They were picking up the dead and the wounded and his chopper got blown out of the air," said Ayler.
His name is Steve F. Johnson. Ayler found his friend's name on the wall and took home a rubbing as a keepsake.
"They're the heroes. They say we're heroes. I appreciate that thought, but heroes are on the monuments and that," said Ayler.
Johnson was around 19 or 20 years old, Ayler estimates.
"We were all young," said Ayler. "I turned 17 on the ship. I was exposed to stuff that wow, I thought I was gonna die, really."
He describes his time in Vietnam as "hot", not in temperature.
"I mean 'boom boom' hot. You know, bombing and stuff like that," said Ayler.
He recalls agent orange and the consequences he lives with decades later. Cancer first showed up in 1991 and the diagnoses are ongoing. He described the damage its done to his body and his mind.
"Living with wounds and stuff like that... It just never leaves my head. I don't get treated for PTSD, but I know I've got it," said Ayler. "There was a general that said war is hell...it is. It's hell for the living...hell for the dead."
We asked him how he copes with the pain.
"Talking. I talk about my--what I've seen. I do a lot of praying. Praying that I want to live. My whole main thing is living," said Ayler.
Living for days like this one, where he gets to cross a must do off of his bucket list.
Buffalo Niagara Honor Flight's next trip, Mission 12, is planned for the fall.