Myron Havrilchak was among thousands whose houses and property in southeast Connecticut were substantially damaged by tornadoes that recently swept through the area.
Members of a Tennessee disaster relief team join with Army veteran Myron Havrilchak in saluting the flag at his tornado-damaged Connecticut home.
And yet, when a Tennessee Baptist disaster relief team arrived at Havrilchak’s residence in Southbury, they quickly realized something was on his mind that meant more to him than brick and mortar.
A veteran of the U.S. Army, Havrilchak proudly flies a flag in his backyard. But the storms had destroyed his flagpole and the 86-year-old was focused, with the heart of a soldier, 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 deployed to 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 soldiers 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,” Havrilchak said in a subsequent phone interview. “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 1951-1952 during Cold War tensions.
Havrilchak’s home was one of more than 150,000 buildings and structures damaged by the line of storms three weeks earlier that included four tornadoes, three of which had wind speeds exceeding 100 mph 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,” Sharp said. “So, that was an interesting little piece to the story.”
Sharp said he noticed a change in perception in the community regarding 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 – David Dawson is a communications specialist with the Baptist and Reflector, baptistandreflector.org, news journal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention.)