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Sahlen's, Orange County Choppers to help turn East Aurora into permanent Vietnam Wall home

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

New York State Assemblymember David DiPietro announced Tuesday that one of the two traveling replicas of Washington, D.C.'s famed Vietnam Memorial Wall will be acquired and moved to a permanent home in East Aurora. To help fund the project, a local longtime meat producer and motorcycle maker featured on a popular cable television reality show are getting involved.

DiPietro explains that one of the two traveling walls, which are about three-fifths scale of the original, will be purchased and moved into Knox Farm State Park.

"It started with a couple salty veterans in East Aurora. When the wall came in 2009, a couple years later they were talking about it," he said, when explaining the genesis of the project. "When I became mayor from 2002 to 2008, I was on the Friends of the Knox Farm State Park board. I was the vice president, Seymour Knox was the president. It was right after the wall came in 2009 to the park, that a couple of people started talking about it, saying we'd love to have that wall here. It just took off from there."

DiPietro announced he has secured $100,000 from a State Parks grant to cover the cost of infrastructural improvements. It will cost an estimated $475,000 to acquire the wall and plans include construction of restrooms, a gift shop and welcome center. 

But to raise the private dollars to complete the project? Enter Orange County Choppers and Sahlen Packing Company.

"One of the ideas, since I was friends with Orange County Choppers and Santos Lopez from Orange County Choppers, we came up with the idea of possibly doing one of the Orange County Choppers TV shows and building a bike as a tribute to the Vietnam Wall, and then using that bike in a fundraising effort to secure the money," DiPietro said.

Lopez, who is vice president of marketing for Orange County Choppers, explained that the motorcycle is being constructed and will be featured in a future episode of the television series American Chopper, which airs on the Discovery Channel. The motorcycle will also be publicly unveiled in East Aurora at a later date. He wouldn't offer any hints about what the bike may look like.

"All I can tell you is it has a couple of wheels, a couple of handlebars, a headlight and a motor," Lopez said with a smile. "Watch the show."

Joe Sahlen, president of Sahlen Packing Company, noted his family business is about to celebrate its 150th anniversary and has been finding ways to give back to the community to thank them for their support. His company is sponsoring construction of the vehicle, though a dollar amount was not disclosed. Sahlen, along with DiPietro, sees moving a Vietnam Wall to East Aurora as the creation of a popular tourist destination.

"This, I anticipate, would be a regional attraction, not just for Western New York people to go and pay their respects but it'll also be a regional attraction," Sahlen said. "That's important. It puts Western New York and East Aurora on the map."

Credit Michael Mroziak, WBFO
An image of one of the two traveling replica Vietnam Memorial Walls, one of which will eventually be purchased and moved to a permament space at Knox Farm State Park in East Aurora.

Lopez spoke of the popularity of the motorcycle culture and added that this tribute to Vietnam veterans is a cause Orange County Choppers can embrace, starting with company founder and American Chopper personality Paul Teutel, Sr.

"Not many of you know but Paul, Sr. was a Merchant Marine back in the 1960s and actually carried ammo to Vietnam," Lopez said. "As a former Navy corpsman myself, the troops, veterans and programs and the wall means a lot to us, not just for Vietnam veterans but for all veterans."

The original goal was to complete and open the park in the spring of 2020 but DiPietro expresses hope that a robust private fundraising effort may make it possible to accelerate the schedule.

The traveling wall has made numerous stops in Western New York, most recently making its first visit to Niagara Falls this past July.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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