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Sahlen's, motorcycle manufacturer team up to bring Vietnam memorial to Aurora

An unlikely convergence of hot dogs, bikers, veterans and a state assemblyman is working to bring the traveling Vietnam Veterans Memorial permanently to Knox Farm State Park.

The idea started after the traveling memorial visited the park in 2009.

"It started with a couple salty veterans in East Aurora," said Assemblyman David DiPietro, R-East Aurora, during a news conference Tuesday at Sahlen Field.

It will cost about $475,000 plus the cost of installation and site design for the replica of the Vietnam Veterans Wall in Washington, D.C., according to DiPietro. The 80 percent replica will be 8 feet tall and 360 feet long, and contain all 58,317 names engraved on high-gloss anodized aluminum.

That's where Orange County Choppers, which manufactures custom motorcycles and has a program on Discovery Channel, and Joe E. Sahlen, the president of Sahlen Packing Co., come in.

Sahlen Packing will sponsor construction of a custom motorcycle by designers at Orange County Chopper, and the sale or raffle of the chopper will be used to raise money for the permanent memorial. Post 632, American Legion in East Aurora will purchase the wall.

"The partnership between Orange County Choppers and Sahlen's is going to make this dream a reality," DiPietro said. "This is going to be a national destination."

Joe E. Sahlen, president of Sahlen Packing, lives with his wife in Elma, and Sahlen Sports Park is on Seneca Street near the state park.

"It just made a lot of sense for us to be involved in it. We're just lucky to be in a position to support a venture like this," he said, although he declined to say how much he will donate.

DiPietro knows Paul Teutul Sr. of Orange County Choppers, and talked to him about designing the bike as a tribute to the Vietnam wall. It should be finished in about eight weeks, and will be featured on an episode of the television show in February, he said.

The chopper will be a singular design, said Santos Lopez, vice president of marketing for the company. Lopez said he is a former Navy corpsman and that Teutul was a merchant marine in the 1960s, and delivered ammunition to Vietnam.

"The troops, veterans, programs and the wall means a lot to us, not just for Vietnam veterans but for all vets," Lopez said.

As for the chopper, the big reveal will be on the television program, which also will feature Sahlen, East Aurora and veterans.

"All I can tell you is it has a couple of wheels, handlebars, hand brake and a motor," Lopez said of the motorcycle.

DiPietro said he had secured a $100,000 state grant for infrastructure at the state park. He said the wall would be erected in an open field between an access road and Seneca Street. Restrooms and a gift shop also would be built, he said. He expects the wall to be installed by the spring of 2020.

Sahlen will be entering its 150th year in business in a few weeks, Sahlen said, and the company is happy to give back to the community that has supported it.

"Much of what we are about at Sahlen's, being a fifth generation family-owned business, is recognizing how fortunate that we are to have reached that milestone. It's really the result of not only our hard work, but the people of Western New York and all of our customers who have bought our product for all these years," Sahlen said.

The motorcycle is expected to be unveiled locally on Memorial Day, with a re-showing of the television program at Aurora Theatre, DiPietro said.

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