About 25 area World War II veterans were treated to a visit to the World War II Monument in Washington D.C. on Wednesday. The vets say the excursion was enriching, enlightening and exhausting — exhausting in a good way. Mission accomplished.
Sarafino Saraf, 89, of Lockport rested all day Thursday and continued to savor the experience into the weekend. "I'm still going over it," the Army Air Force veteran said. "I always wanted to go to the World War II Memorial. It's one of things I wanted to do so bad."
Saraf signed up for a Hero Flight while he was living in Florida. His home in Florida was destroyed by Hurricane Charley and his Hero trip was cancelled because of the lack of sponsors.
Back home, he learned of the trip for Western New York veterans. "Boy, I was so happy," he said. "It's something that I wanted to do before I died. It was a wonderful day for me. It finally happened. I enjoyed every bit of it."
Sen. George Maziarz has sponsored the trip four times and there were no hitches.
The vets, who are all nearing 90, were humble and grateful. Some shed tears as they were greeted with applause. Travelers said thank you and gave handshakes at the Baltimore Airport just before 10 a.m. At 11 p.m. an honor guard was posted at the Buffalo Niagara Airport to welcome the weary travelers home.
Saraf, who served in Italy during the war years, came to tears two or three times. His guardian was lawyer Mike Morris of Lockport.
"When we landed in Baltimore, people were applauding, saying thank you and shaking hands," he said. "I kind of broke down. I didn't expect anything like that."
Saraf, whose tour lasted from 1942 to 1945, tried to talk to all the vets. Vets came from Niagara Falls, North Tonawanda and Tonawanda, but he was the lone vet from Lockport.
The man whose father emigrated from Greece came to tears again when the vets were greeted at the Buffalo Airport about 11:30 p.m. "I think that got to me too," he said. "I didn't expect them to be there that late. I kind of broke. Tears were in my eyes."
The Honor Flight itinerary was followed to the minute. The vets learned the history of the World War II Memorial on the bus ride from Baltimore to Washington. They had a wreath ceremony at the New York pillar and relaxed with a box lunch.
The agenda took them to the Korean, Vietnam and Lincoln memorials. The bus took them around the Capitol and into the Arlington National Cemetery where there are thousands of rows of monuments to servicemen who died.
The men of the Greatest Generation were humble and eschewed the title "hero" when they came home from war. The heroes, they said, were their friends that never came home.
The honor flight showed them, they are heroes.
Saraf wore his red T-shirt commemorating the trip to a buffet in Buffalo on Friday. A man asked him about it and after hearing his story, shook his hand.