By Jim Carney
Beacon Journal staff writer
FAIRLAWN: Scores of motorcycles and the truck carrying the pieces of a traveling Vietnam memorial wall rolled past Joseph “Zak” Zakrzewski and into the Catavolos Funeral Home and Rose Hill Burial Park on Tuesday.
Seeing the wall brought on a flood of memories.
“Every time I see the wall, it is a very emotional experience,” said Zakrzewski, a retired federal employee who decades ago was drafted into the Army and served 30 months in Vietnam.
Zakrzewski, 63, of Norton, was awarded a Purple Heart for wounds he suffered in the Army. He was among the spectators to witness Tuesday’s construction of the Dignity Memorial Vietnam Wall.
The wall, a traveling three-quarter-scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., was erected on funeral home property at 3653 W. Market St. It will be open for public viewing Friday through late Sunday, 24 hours a day, then will be taken down Monday morning.
George Catavolos, general manager of the Fairlawn funeral home and cemetery, said the arrival of the wall followed 3› years on a waiting list.
“I thought it would be nice ... to show we support those who gave their lives in Vietnam,” Catavolos said.
His Fairlawn business is part of the Dignity network of funeral homes and cemeteries. That organization owns the Dignity Memorial Vietnam Wall.
Volunteers took several hours Tuesday to construct the faux granite replica that is 240 feet long and 8 feet high. It is inscribed with the names of more than 58,000 Americans who died or are missing in Vietnam.
Shortly after the motorcycles and truck arrived in Fairlawn, Robert L. Gilbert Sr., father of Marine Gunnery Sgt. Robert L. Gilbert II, placed a Purple Heart and a Gilbert commemorative coin on the ground at the base of the memorial.
Gilbert II, 28, was killed in Afghanistan in March 2010.
“The freedoms we have are because of people who served, just like my son.” Gilbert Sr., a Richfield police officer, said. Those who have died in battle “give up their todays so we can have tomorrows.”
A Purple Heart float, made by Jaye Watson of Cuyahoga Falls and the men’s auxiliary of VFW Post 1062, will be on display along West Market Street while the wall is open to the public.
Watson initially made the float to honor her friend Richard Stoltz, a Vietnam veteran from North Canton and a double Purple Heart recipient, and others.
The Military Order of Purple Heart Chapter 699 gave Watson a plaque Tuesday to recognize her efforts.
Paul Suscinski, 64, commander of the local Purple Heart chapter and a Marine Vietnam veteran with two Purple Hearts, said returning home was difficult for Vietnam veterans. The Vietnam Wall pays respect to them, he said.
“This is our time,” Suscinski said. “We didn’t get it then.”
Catavolos said as many as 3,000 to 5,000 people are expected to visit the replica wall each day. He said his company paid for more than half of the $20,000 cost to bring it to Fairlawn, and that many local businesses, individuals and organizations helped raise the remainder of the money and contributed to bringing the memorial to Summit County.
“The community stepped up,” he said.
Sponsoring the wall, Catavolos said, is his company’s way to “give back to the community.”
There will be many activities during the weekend wall appearance, he said, including a raffle drawing for a new 2011 Harley-Davidson motorcycle. Money raised during the weekend activities will be split between Crossroads Hospice, the Fisher House and the Wounded Warriors Organization, Catavolos said.
Jim Carney can be reached at 330-996-3576 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.