By Karen Carr Keefe
Senior Contributing Writer
The Wheatfield Veterans Memorial will be the setting on Saturday, July 1, for a special summer event that features Army trucks and fire engines from all five Wheatfield fire companies.
The Wheatfield veterans summer event will take place from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. at the Wheatfield Town Hall Campus, 2800 Church Road. It is free and open to the public.
Representatives from the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station and the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office will also be on hand to talk to the public.
Families and kids will be happy to know that Steaksters food truck and Jaime's ice cream truck will be there selling refreshments.
Tom Kontak, chair of the Wheatfield Veterans Memorial group, said the July 1 event “is just a nice opportunity to get together.” This is the second time the event has been held.
He said kids will have a chance to sit in and pretend they are driving the Army trucks, the fire engines and even in the “crash truck,” the fire truck from the Air Reserve Station that responds first to any kind of incident that they would have on the runway.
There will be a tented area with tables and chairs – a place to cool down if it’s hot that day.
The Wheatfield Veterans Memorial was dedicated on Aug. 7, 2021. Kontak has helped coordinate the memorial effort since 2018. He said the summer event is held “to bring veterans together – because there are many in Wheatfield and the surrounding areas – and also to get the young people involved.”
He said even small children, ages 7 to 10, can be educated by the experience: “Let them see what the military has done for the country.”
One way that can happen is for them to see two artifacts that have been brought to the site – a Vietnam-era UH-1 Huey helicopter and an M-60A3 Army tank from about 1959.
“The Huey helicopter, which we refurbished between 2018 and 2019, is a product from the Bell Aircraft plant right here in Wheatfield,” Kontak said. “The engineering portions were done here, some test flight was done here, but more of the assemblies for the Huey helicopter were done by Textron in Texas.” Textron acquired Bell Helicopter in 1960.
Volunteers from the Wheatfield Veterans Memorial Inc. did all the work to refurbish the helicopter.
“Our group is all military, and they all have experience with the various facets,” Kontak said. “Crew chiefs know just about every nut and bolt on those Huey helicopters. … I was fortunate out of the group that I had four crew chiefs. We had such a vast amount of experience, if somebody were to take a helicopter apart and lay all the parts out, these guys could put this thing all back together again.”
He also had an engineering captain and a pilot in the group.
The Army tank had been used for training out of Fort Drum in New York, Kontak said.
The memorial is an ongoing project, and Kontak said donations can be made to: Wheatfield Veterans Memorial, 2800 Church St., North Tonawanda, NY 14120.
Also supporting the event are: American Legion Post 1451 in Wheatfield, WNY Purple Heart Chapter 264 of Lockport, and the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 77 of Tonawanda, which Kontak belongs to. He served during the Vietnam War from September 1966 until September 1972 as a medical specialist 4th class.
The Wheatfield Veterans summer event takes place from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. on July 1 at the Wheatfield Veterans Monument, 2800 Church Road. The event will feature military vehicles, fire engines, an on-site Huey helicopter and an Army tank, a food truck, an ice cream truck, and an opportunity for informal meet-and-greets with Wheatfield town officials, firefighters, veterans and representatives of the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station and the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office. (Contributed photos)