More than 1,000 veterans have participated in Assemblymember Steve Hawley's annual Patriot Trips. On Thursday morning, two busloads rolled down the Thruway on their way to Washington, D.C.
Hawley says the original trip was a Father's Day present for his dad: a trip to Washington, D.C. to gaze upon the memorials, museums and tributes to America's armed forces in our nation's capital. Every year now, the Batavia Republican models his Patriot Trips on that original.
He says the greatest part of the trips is the sharing of stories and bonding.
"It doesn't matter when you served, how old you are or what branch of the service you were in, those sharing of the experiences - whether you were in combat or serving overseas or stateside - really help a lot and and I see tears after tears at every one of the monuments - the Korean, the Vietnam, the World War II. It's very, very moving," Hawley says.
Hawley, who served seven years in the Army National Guard and Reserves and is the ranking minority member of the Assembly's Veterans' Affairs Committee, says the first trips included no Vietnam War veterans.
"Vietnam vets were not welcomed back with open arms. They were eschewed and thought less than heroes," Hawley says. "That era now comprises the most number of veterans that take this trip every single year - the Vietnam era - and they are now feeling the thanks, not only of fellow veterans, but of others in Washington, D.C. who come up and thank them for their service."
Thirty-eight Vietnam War veterans are making this year's trip, along with four World War II, six Korean War and a half-dozen Iraqi Freedom and Desert Storm-era veterans. Hawley says a past trip even included a veteran who was at the flag raising at Iwa Jima.
Funding for the trip is subsidized by local businesses and community groups. The group returns Sunday evening.