Jack Collins is not Nick Steri's brother, but Mr. Steri considers the bond between them to be just as strong as if they were related.
The two served together in the Navy during World War II on the amphibious ship LSM-32 and are the ship's last surviving crewmen.
Last weekend, Mr. Steri, 86, of Moon, got to visit Mr. Collins, also 86, in Binghamton, N.Y., because of the efforts of the Twilight Wish Foundation.
"It was really wonderful to see him," Mr. Steri said of Mr. Collins, who is in failing health.
The Twilight Wish Foundation is a national nonprofit that grants wishes to deserving, economically disadvantaged seniors. It paid Mr. Steri's round-trip airfare to Binghamton.
The two men shared memories of their service together, and Mr. Steri said it was just like talking to a brother he hadn't seen for a long time.
Mr. Collins, who worked as a machinist's mate on the ship, was happy to see Mr. Steri, especially because Mr. Steri had helped to save Mr. Collin's life and the lives of the ship's crew.
The Binghamton native never forgot Mr. Steri because of the bravery and heroism he showed on Easter Sunday, April 1, 1945 -- the first day of the Battle of Okinawa, one of the most bloody and protracted of the war.
Mr. Steri's memories of that are as sharp as cut glass.
He said he was manning a 20mm anti-aircraft cannon when he spotted three Japanese planes. They were kamikaze, aircraft the Japanese sent on suicide missions to crash their bomb-laden planes into the ships of the American fleet.
Mr. Steri, who worked as a yeoman on the ship, said he watched in horror as one of the Japanese suicide planes crashed into a nearby troop ship.
The LSM-32 was a relatively small ship in the massive American fleet off Okinawa.
"The ship could carry six Sherman tanks and 50 troops. We had a crew of 62 people," Mr. Steri recalled. Despite it small size, Mr. Steri's ship soon came under attack.
"We had a conning [observation] tower in the center of the ship, and I think the Japanese pilot mistook us for a mini-carrier," he said. Aircraft carriers were a primary target of the kamikaze attack planes during the battle for Okinawa.
"The plane started firing at us, and I fired back," said Mr. Steri, who remembers emptying three canisters of ammunition at the attacking aircraft.
"It stopped firing its machine guns, and I thought he had run out of ammunition, but the plane kept diving at us, and it came so close, I could see the pilot in the cockpit.
"Then it burst into the flames. The plane's wing hit my gun mount and it crashed into the 'drink,' " he said, referring to the ocean.
Mr. Steri's leg was injured by shrapnel from the disintegrating aircraft, but he didn't know he was hit until after the plane had crashed.
"My boot was full of blood from the shrapnel," he said.
"The captain congratulated me on a job well done and told me to go get my leg bandaged and get back on the gun because they needed me."
After the ship's doctor removed the shrapnel, Mr. Steri returned to his post. "You do what you have to do to save yourself and your buddies," he said.
Like many veterans from the Pittsburgh area, Mr. Steri came home after the war and took a job in a mill.
He went to work for Homestead Industries, where he studied to become a tool and dye maker, but when the workers went on strike, Mr. Steri found a new career as a credit manager, and later went into the vending machine business. He retired in 1986.
His father, also named Nick, had been employed at Homestead Industries, but died before the war when Mr. Steri was 13.
At 14, he went to work to help support his mother and sisters until he enlisted in the Navy in February 1944, at the age of 17.
Mr. Steri and his shipmates took part in the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the largest naval engagement in WWII, as America fought to take back control of the Philippine Islands from Japan.
Then after a short rest, the LSM-32 headed to Okinawa.
The ship logged 21,000 miles in two years at sea and was decommissioned in April 1946.
It found a new role as a grain ship, serving ports in the state of Washington.
Mr. Steri has a picture of his old ship from its grain-hauling days with the No. 32 still visible beneath a coat of blue paint.
"I'll never forget the typhoons," he said of the huge storms that battered the American fleet off Okinawa.
Mr. Steri compared being on the ship in a typhoon to being a cork in a gallon jug half-filled with water that was being violently shaken.
"The crew was all banged up. Some of the men had broken arms. We were all scared."
Looking back on the days of WWII, he said it was a time when everyone had a sense of duty to the country and those who fought the war had a clear mission.
"I didn't do anything I'm sorry for," he said.
For more information about Twilight Wish Foundation: www.twilightwish.org.
Bob Podurgiel, freelance writer: email@example.com.