On Monday, a ceremony outside the former Byram School was hosted by the Byram Veterans, just as it has every Memorial Day at 10:00am.
The annual ceremony is not the biggest draw in Town. It conflicts with the parade in Old Greenwich, after all.
But the moment of silence under the majestic oak and sycamore trees in Byram gives one pause, as it should on a holiday dedicated to all those who gave their lives serving our country.
There is something about the worn brick facade of the former school and the memories created there. There is something about the family members positioned beside their loved one’s memorial marker. For a long moment, all is quiet but for busy birds in the tree canopy.
During World War II, Eugene Morlot, a custodian at Byram School, (now McKinney Terrace housing for residents age 55+ or disabled), wanted to honor former students who died during the war.
During the ceremony, John Macri Sr said that Mr. Morlot started a fundraising program with students and faculty to purchase and plant trees on the school grounds in honor of the 10 students who died during World War II.
Another tree was added for a former student killed during the Korean War. Two additional trees were planted for students killed during the Vietnam War.
In total 13 trees were planted and, later, brass nameplates were fastened to concrete bases at the foot of each tree.
In 1978 the Byram School was closed due to declining enrollment and remained closed until 1988 when it was refurbished by the Town and became McKinney Terrace.
As part of the renovations, the trees and markers were to be removed.
Mr. Macri said the Byram Veterans Association, along with the 9th District Veterans of Glenville stepped in and petitioned the Town to save the memorials.
For a time the markers were removed and mounted onto a black piece of marble. Another local resident at the time, Anne M. Kristoff, also fought to preserve the trees on the property. When the veterans markers were removed, Mrs. Kristoff pushed to have them returned.
According to Mr. Macri, at the time of the controversy, Frank Keegan was the Director of the Parks & Recreation Dept. As a boy he had attended Byram School and had participated in the dedication of the memorial park.
“As Director of Parks & Rec, he designated the area as a Town Park and together with the Byram Veterans and the 9th District Veterans cleaned up the area, planted flowers and installed the flag pole with a memorial plaque,” Macri said. “On November 11, 1989 the Eugene Morlot Memorial Park was dedicated.”
As per tradition, on May 27, 2019, at 10:00am the names of each of the 13 Byram School alumni who lost their lives in the service of their country was read aloud.
A small flag was placed underneath each tree next to the marker to keep their memories alive.
Following the brief ceremony, members of the family of Donald Repaci who perished at the age of 20 in Vietnam in 1969, gathered around a recently planted pin oak tree that replaced one badly damaged in a winter storm.
“We are just really appreciative and thankful that the Town of Greenwich and Byram Veterans rallied behind us,” said Liz Eckert, Repaci’s niece.
John Hartwell, a member of the Parks & Rec board said Donald Repaci had been his best friend and the two attended Greenwich High School.
“We grew up together. We were very close,” Hartwell recalled adding that he remembered when Donald’s mother receiving the telegram with word of his death.
“This is fitting. It’s a beautiful day with beautiful meaning,” he said, gesturing to the newly planted oak tree.
“I feel happy and honored to be here,” said Jeni Repaci, Donald Repaci’s niece. “People tell me stories about my uncle.”
“I remember when all these trees were first planted,” said Kay Repaci Benvenuto, Donald’s Aunt.
After the ceremonies were concluded there was a reception inside the former school where the Tiriolo sisters, Millie and Grace, who were there to honor their brother Joseph Tiriolo who perished in World War II on Jan 26, 1942.
“My brother was the first casualty in Greenwich in World War II,” Millie said. “His ship was hit just six weeks in – it was torpedoed off the coast of Delaware.”
“He was an outdoors person. He liked to hunt and would go to Massachusetts where he had a friend with a farm,” Grace recalled. “His name is on plaques at Town Hall, on Greenwich Avenue and here,” she added.
Also among those in attendance were the Macris – John Macri Sr who is a longtime member of the Byram Veterans, Nick Macri and his son Spencer – and Heather Smeriglio.
“This is my first time I’ve come,” Smeriglio said. “I’m from Byram and always marched in the Byram Veterans parade. This was a beautiful ceremony.”