WASHINGTON (WIVB) — On a warm April morning, a group of local veterans traveled to our nation’s capital with Buffalo-Niagara Honor Flight. Mission 13 spent the day touring the monuments built to honor brave men and women like them.

“One of the guys that was in my Legion Post with me, he told me about coming here and it’s like man, if I have the opportunity to come, I am going,” said Wayne Braniff, an Army veteran who served in the Vietnam War era.

There’s a special reason why Wayne wanted to join the trip. Arlington National Cemetery was one of many stops for Mission 13. The historic cemetery is the final resting place for more than 400,000 veterans and their families — including Wayne’s brother, Patrick.

Wayne and Patrick were both American service members. Wayne entered the draft when he turned 18 and enlisted shortly after. Patrick joined the Navy.

At 26 years old, Patrick’s life was cut short.

“He was flying one of those planes that they use on the aircraft carrier — you know, when the wings come up,” Wayne said. “Him and the instructor that was with him, they flew right into a flock of vultures. The wings came up and then hit the cockpit and killed them both instantly.”

Because of distance, it has been nearly 30 years since Wayne saw his brother’s grave at Arlington.

“I live so far away, it’s kind of really hard for me to come back and forth here all the time,” Wayne said. “Now if he’d been buried near where I live, I’d probably be going to his grave all the time.”

During their Honor Flight trip, Mission 13 was at Arlington to see the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Wayne knew Patrick’s grave was nearby but didn’t know exactly where.

“There’s a guy from one of the other outfits that was out here and he got his phone out and looked it up,” Wayne said. “We walked right over there and there it was… About broke my heart.”

There were no longer 400 miles between them. The two brothers were reunited in spirit.

“I even told some of the people with me… I said, ‘Now, you know, he probably will come down from the sky any minute now and start talking to me,'” Wayne said. “Maybe he’s down here listening to me right now.”

Saturday, April 15 was a day spent honoring our veterans and those, like Patrick, who made the ultimate sacrifice — a day Wayne will forever hold close to his heart.

“Those tears in my eyes, they’re happy tears,” Wayne said. “I really, really appreciate everybody that’s here and helped make this trip possible because, without those people, I’d probably have never made it here. I’m just happy to come here and stand by his grave.”

If you are a local veteran and would like to apply for a future mission, Buffalo-Niagara Honor Flight is always taking applications. The next flight they’re taking applications for is on Saturday, Oct. 14. There is also a wide range of volunteer opportunities available.

You can watch more moments from Mission 13’s trip to Washington, captured by News 4 photojournalist Mackenzie Wright, below:

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Jordan Norkus is an award-winning anchor who has been part of the News 4 team since 2021. See more of her work here or follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.