July 30, 2014

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Seville woman works to honor fallen Vietnam war soldier

SEVILLE — One year ago, Betty Wright had an idea.

It was Veterans Day 2008 when the 80-year-old Wright stopped by a friend’s cafe in Seville and noticed a display honoring the four branches of the military and local veterans.

But there was someone missing from that display: Gary Eicheler, a Seville native who was killed in Vietnam.

“I said,‘You know, it’s time we did something for him,’ ” she said.

Wright drew a parallel to the Village, which has a park named after Cy Hewitt, who served in Vietnam, but nothing named after Eicheler.

“This town had two boys killed in Vietnam, Cy Hewitt and Gary Eicheler,” she said. “They named a park on Liberty Street after Cy, but they never did one thing for Gary. It bothered me over the years, and it bothered others, that we never did anything for both boys.”

Wright is working with the village to get the downtown trail that runs through Leohr Park named after Eicheler. Eventually, the trail abutting West Main Street is intended to end at Cy Hewitt Park, something Wright says is appropriate because she wants to honor both men, not just Eicheler.

“I do not want more for Gary than I do for Cy, nor do I want less for Gary,” she said.

She added that naming the downtown trail after Eicheler is especially appropriate because he and Hewitt died almost exactly one year apart from one another in January 1969 and 1970.

“Naming the trail after him that someday may end at Cy Hewitt Park is so appropriate — two fallen soldiers who died serving their country,” she said.

Eicheler died Jan. 3, 1970, three and a half weeks after he arrived in Vietnam, where he was drafted to serve. He stepped on a landmine in South Vietnam, and died hours later. He was 21.

“How much did he suffer for our freedom in that time?” Wright said.

Eicheler, who grew up across from Cy Hewitt Park, was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart. He is buried in Mound Hill Cemetery on Main Street.

“Gary was quiet, soft spoken, and just a wonderful, wonderful boy,” Esther Jarvis, the best friend of Gary’s late mother, Vivian Eicheler, said. “It was devastating.”

At least one relative of Cy Hewitt supports Wright’s idea. Pat Hewitt, Cy’s first cousin, said that as a fellow Vietnam veteran, he would like to see both young men honored for their sacrifices.

“I am absolutely for this,” he said. “Gary was a classmate of mine and my wife’s … and I think it’s fitting to properly honor him. The idea for the trail is great.”

Wright said she understands that the village is in financial straits, and she would work to raise funds for a plaque, stone memorial or sign for Eicheler.

On Oct. 20, the Parks Committee held a work session to discuss the possibility of naming the trail or some other park space in the village after Eicheler. Members of veterans advocate groups like Rolling Thunder and Hometown Heroes were there to support the proposal.

Committee member James Lovejoy said that “no one is opposed” to the honor, although he was unsure of a timeline because four new council members will be in office by January.

“We’re working on it, we’re in the process, but council is changing over … and we don’t know if we’re going to go through with it this year or in January,” he said.

Wright said she feels a memorial for Eicheler is a “long time coming.”
“I feel this is a wrong that needs to be righted,” she said. “I don’t have as many years ahead of me as I do behind me. I’m 80 years old and feel something has to be done.”

Contact Lisa Hlavinka at (330) 721-4048 or lhlavinka@ohio.net.