Veterans, organizers looking forward to Memorial Wall visit

CHESHIRE – Over the last seven months, Hayley Falk has been preparing.

Along with a dedicated group of volunteers, her committee and her father, Jeff Falk, Hayley, 18, has been working to make sure everything is set for the arrival of a special “guest.” 

It’s been 15 years since a replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall first set up at Bartlem Park in Cheshire, and Hayley has spearheaded an initiative to bring it back this spring. With the official announcement made last September, the clock is now ticking towards the moment when the wall is erected on June 1.

“It’s gone by so quickly,” said Hayley. “When we first announced (the wall would be coming), it was like, ‘OK, we have (almost) a year.’ Now, it’s going to be here in just a few weeks.”

Hayley is the founder of Because of the Brave, the local organization created to honor veterans and help with causes directly dealing with former military personnel. Hayley comes from a family of veterans, including her father, Jeff, who is a current sergeant at the Cheshire Police Department and a Navy veteran, and her grandfather, Don Falk, an Army veteran who served in Vietnam.

“We really do feel like Cheshire is a very patriotic town,” said Jeff Falk. “We knew this was the kind of project — not an inexpensive one — where we were going to need to have the backing of the town, and everyone was just very supportive right from the start.”

The event is being sponsored by Because of the Brave, in partnership with the Bozzuto’s Hometown Foundation and the Town of Cheshire. Donations and support have come from the entire community, including real estate agent Phil Giampietro, a former Cheshire police officer, who Jeff Falk described as the event’s “biggest supporter, and Bob Bush, owner of Cheshire Sport Center, who helped to secure initial funding.

“Bob donated those T-shirts (in honor of John Gravil, a Cheshire resident who was killed in action in Vietnam), and the money raised went to the initial deposit for the wall,” explained Jeff Falk. “People have been proactively contributing … We have had people reach out right from the beginning.”

The Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall is a three-fifths replica of the monument in Washington, D.C., and stands roughly 6 feet tall and nearly 300 feet long. Like the original wall, it is a chevron shape and has 140 numbered panels on which the names of the more than 58,000 who perished fighting the war are engraved.

The wall was created in 1985 by a Florida-based organization called Vietnam and All Veterans of Brevard (VVB). It is a different version of the replica that was set up in Cheshire back in 2007, which was “The Wall That Heals,” sponsored by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. However, the specs of the replicas are similar.

The visiting memorial will allow for residents to make rubbings of individual names.

In anticipation of the wall’s arrival, Hayley has been doing interviews with local veterans, creating short videos of the men sharing their memories. It’s been an eye-opening experience for the teenager.

“I knew (many) of them, but I didn’t really know them the way I do now,” said Hayley. “I know their stories now. I know what they (went through).”

In addition to the interviews, Hayley also organized several dinners for veterans, allowing them to meet and enjoy time together. Jeff Falk explained that one of the venues for the dinners has been Viron Rondo Osteria, and that owner Viron Rondos offered his services.

Hayley recalls one time, during dinner, sitting with a veteran and listening to him share his story.

“He was talking about being stranded in Vietnam, fighting for his life,” she said. “I just felt so humbled to be able to hear his story.”

One of the main components of the dinners, however, has been their free-flowing nature. The veterans just talk amongst themselves, about anything and everything.

Jeff Falk said during one dinner veterans spent much of the time talking about high school.

“I think what the vets appreciate is that they are just being taken out to a nice meal,” said Jeff.

One of the last interviews was with Cheshire native and Medal of Honor recipient Harvey “Barney” Barnum. Hayley and Jeff Falk traveled to Virginia late in April, where they were invited to stay overnight at Barnum’s home.

Barnum was so impressed with the work Hayley has done in preparing for the arrival of the wall that he recently nominated her for a prestigious award that’s connected to the Medal of Honor.

“A lot of veterans are just amazed at what Hayley has done at such a young age,” her father said. “Hayley is doing this because she cares, because she’s compassionate about what (the veterans) have done.”

Now that the countdown has begun, Hayley is beginning to feel excited.

“I can’t wait for the students to be able to come over and see this history,” said Hayley. “I can’t wait for them to be able to learn the stories of these veterans and hear what they experienced. They will finally hear from them.”


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