October 22, 2021

‘It means everything to me’

Veterans Day ceremony in Cortland pays tribute to those who served

Nick Graziano/contributing photographer

Sam Szczesny, 7, thanks World War II veterans Anthony Madonna, 97, left, and John Lansdowne, 94, for their service during Monday’s Veterans Day ceremony at the Cortland Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Sam Szczesny, 7, walked up to Anthony Madonna and handed him a folded piece of paper — on the inside it read, “Thank you,” with a couple of drawings.

Madonna, a 97-year-old World War II veteran, shook the child’s hand.

Seventy-five years ago, while the country was still celebrating the early days of Veterans Day, Madonna was serving the country in the Army in the European theater.

On Monday morning, in observance of Veterans Day on Sunday, the Cortland Veterans of Foreign Wars post on Main Street had a ceremony to honor those who served.

“On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month the fighting of World War I ended in 1918,” said Amanda Gallow, Cortland VFW post commander. “Due to the conclusion of the war to end all wars, Nov. 11 became a universally recognized day of celebration.”

Veterans Day is also the day that the World War I armistice was signed.

More than a dozen veterans and their families gathered Monday morning at the Cortland VFW for the ceremony. In honor of the post, a wooden plaque with the words “Freedom Not Free,” inscribed and a eagle in the center was unveiled.

This year, however, the thunderous boom of guns didn’t fill the air accompanied by the somber sound of Taps.

The reason was to help separate the ideas of Veterans Day and Memorial Day, said Norm Stitzel, a veteran and post member. “A lot of people don’t know the difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day,” he said. “We’re trying to get away from firing rifles and Taps.”

Veterans Day, Stitzel said, is to continue the camaraderie and honor those veterans still around.

John Lansdowne, 94, served in the Navy in the Pacific from 1943 to 1946. For the first few years after service he didn’t get much recognition on Veterans Day. “When we came back from World War II the World War I guys were getting all the highlight,” he said.

Lansdowne was feeling lucky Monday. Lucky to be alive and be able to see the 100th anniversary of Veterans Day. “It means everything to me,” he said.

For Stitzel, a former Marine, being around for the 100th anniversary was like being a part of a legacy and history. “One hundred years, my goodness,” he said. “It’s kind of mind-boggling.”

Earlier in the morning, the Cortland City Police Department offered veterans a breakfast and one particular veteran an award in the second year of the event hosted by the Community Restaurant.

Community-oriented Police Officer Jesse Abbott organized the event with assistance from the city’s Police Benevolence Association and Lowe’s home improvement center in Cortlandville.

Each year during the breakfast a veteran is honored with the PBA Veteran of the Year Award. Last year, the award went to Stitzel.

“It was pretty unanimous this year that Carl (Bullock) win it,” Abbott said. Bullock served for 23 years in the Army, then spent 19 years as the director of Cortland County’s Veterans Service Office.

Jeff Fitts, a city police officer, veteran and president of the PBA, said the award was to honor Bullock for all he has done for the country and veterans in Cortland County. “He was the first man to help me as a veteran and treat me like a brother,” Fitts said.

With Bullock’s help, Fitts said he was able to readjust to civilian life after the service.

Along with the award, Gerald Laird, the operations assistant manager at Lowe’s, presented Bullock with a DeWalt drill set.

“It’s great,” Bullock said. “It lets me know how much veterans and the community cares.”

Bullock said he had one of the best jobs being able to help veterans. “Everyone has been grateful to me, I’m humbled by that,” he said. “But it tells me I did a good job. It’s important to me.”