By David Dawson
SOUTHBURY, Conn. — Myron Havrilchak, a resident of Southbury, Conn., was among the thousands of homeowners who saw their houses and property substantially damaged by the tornadoes that recently swept through the area.
And yet, when the members of the Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief team arrived at the Havrilchak residence on May 26, they quickly realized Havrilchak had something on his mind that meant more to him than brick and mortar.
Havrilchak is a veteran of the US Army, and he proudly flies a flag in his backyard. But the storms had destroyed his flagpole, and the 86-year-old Havrilchak, having the heart of a solider, was focused on rectifying the problem.
“When we got to his house, he was more concerned about not being able to properly celebrate Memorial Day (which was two days away) than he was about the trees in his yard,” said Larry Sharp, a member of the DR team from East Tennessee that was deployed in Connecticut. “So, we went to a hardware store, we purchased a piece of pipe, took it back to his house and drove it in the ground.”
Sharp said raising the flag amid the destruction and devastation in Havrilchak’s yard brought to mind the iconic image of the soliders raising the flag at Iwo Jima.
After the flag was erected, Havrilchak joined the DR team for a brief ceremony in the yard, during which they said the Pledge of Allegiance and saluted the flag. Several of the team members were moved to tears, as was Havrilchak.
“It was beautiful,” said Havrilchak during a phone interview this week. “I really loved it. I had to cry. I didn’t cry when I was young, but now that I am old, I cry.”
In addition to replacing the flag, the DR team — which included Gary Brooks (team leader), Ray Vanyo, Rick Taylor, Chris VanLoon, Jeff Landsdown, James Wade, Linda Wade, Amy Jones, Patricia Scott and Sharp — also made repairs to Havrilchak’s home.
“The DR people did a wonderful job and I will never forget them as long as I live,” said Havrilchak, who served in the Army from 1951-52 in the Cold War zone.
Havrilchak’s home was one of more than 150,000 buildings and structures that were damaged by the line of storms that ravaged Southwest Connecticut roughly three weeks ago. The line of storms included four tornadoes, three of which had wind speeds exceeding 100 miles per hour and were classified as EF-1s. Connecticut was also hit with two storms that made roads impassable and left many trapped in their homes. Two people were killed in their vehicles by falling trees, according to local news reports.
Havrilchak said he was amazed by the selfless attitude of the DR volunteers.
“All I can say is that they are the best people in the world that I’ve ever known,” he said. “It was a great privilege to have these gentlemen and ladies come to help us on their own time. I appreciate it so much.”
While chatting with Havrilchak, one of the DR members, Vanyo, found out that he and Havrilchak were from the same town in New Jersey. And although they did not live there at the same time, they were amazed to learn that their boyhood houses were just a few doors down from each other.
“The two of them had an immediate connection,” said Sharp. “So, that was an interesting little piece to the story.”
Sharp said he noticed a change in perception among the community members in regard to their opinion of the DR volunteers.
After initially sensing a “what good are they going to do?” attitude from the community, it took only a couple of days before Sharp said he heard people asking, in a hopeful manner, “Are the Baptists still here?”
“It was really neat to see that change,” he said, “and for people to realize that we are here to help.”
Editor’s Note: For more information about Tennessee Disaster Relief, including details on how you can contribute, click HERE.