With the Vietnam Veterans Memorial at Courthouse Park in Cortland in disrepair — with slabs of granite sidings loosely hanging on and names fading — Rep. Claudia Tenney said Tuesday it’s crucial to resurrect the memorial to keep the memory of the fallen alive.
“Remembering the heroic service of those who came before us is so vitally important and we simply cannot take our liberty and prosperity for granted,” said Tenney (R-Oneida).
Tenney and state legislators who represent Cortland County and local officials spoke to raise awareness of the need to repair the memorial and their efforts to help.
“Without the help of our elected officials, it probably would never happen,” said Gene Barnes, who is on the board of directors for Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 377 in Dryden, which is helping raise money for the project.
Tenney explained the Remembering Our Local Heroes Act, a bill she co-sponsored in the House of Representatives that would allow local governments or non-profit organizations to apply for up to $100,000 to build, repair or renovate veterans memorials, according to a news release from Tenney’s office.
The Vietnam memorial was built in 1968 — at the height of the Vietnam War — and hasn’t had any repair work since, said Barnes.
Years of deterioration, from humans and nature, have caused gaps in the sealant and pieces to come loose, he said.
The chapter is working to raise $30,000 to renovate the monument, which would include removing an elongated section of the memorial and adding an LED light to illuminate its flame. Additionally, the original gold paint of the engraved names would be repainted.
“This is a Cortland County memorial and we’re getting our donations from Cortland people,” Barnes said. “We can’t forget these Cortland people (veterans). They don’t deserve this.”
Gary Napieracz, the president of the chapter, said about two-thirds of the $30,000 has been raised so far.
State Sen. Peter Oberacker (R-Maryland), who was also in attendance along with Tenney and Assembly Member Anna Kelles (D-Ithaca), spoke of a TED Talk video he saw that inspired his campaign motto, “Save the Shoes.”
The video describes a volunteer firefighter who, excited to be at the scene of his first fire, is told by his captain to go retrieve a pair of shoes from a scene and return them to the homeowner, which leaves the firefighter feeling dejected for not taking on a more active role.
The owner, though, notes the act as the most memorable measure of gratitude in a thank you letter she wrote a few weeks later.
Restoring the memorial, like saving the shoes, can leave a lasting effect, he said.
“The smallest act can have the greatest impact,” Oberacker said. “Don’t ever forget. Don’t ever think that by simply saving a pair of shoes, you’re not doing your job.”
Tenney and Oberacker were also scheduled Tuesday afternoon to travel to Marathon and speak with officials regarding federal funding for a water infrastructure project in the village.