January 27, 2022

Work on Vietnam Veterans Memorial nearly done

Valerie Puma/staff reporter

Vietnam veteran Jim Evener walks past construction workers laying fresh cement Thursday at the base of the veterans memorial wall at Courthouse Park in Cortland. Veterans raised money to repair a number of monuments and add a battlefield cross as a centerpiece.

After months of fundraising and construction, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial at Courthouse Park in Cortland is nearly back to its original glory.

Before the renovation began, slabs of the monument’s granite siding were hanging on loosely, the propane torch stood unused for years, and the engraved names were beginning to fade.

Now, the monument is completed, save for some caulking. A 25-foot flag pole, three benches and a variety of plaques will be installed by next week, said Gary Napieracz, president of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 377. The chapter spent months raising money for the $30,000 project.

“We’re lucky, because of this community and others donating to this monument,” Napieracz said Thursday at an event to thank supporters. He was surprised by how many people came together to get the veterans’ projects completed. “We can change the park to make it a place the community will come to see, and walk away with a warmed heart.”

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial renovation took place only a few yards away from the Veterans Search and Rescue’s project to refurbish and upgrade other parts of Veterans Memorial Park.

“It’s a labor of love, but it’s important to everybody,” said Norm Stitzel, chaplain of Veterans Search and Rescue. “Ten years ago, I was standing behind that wall in uniform with a rifle, and I saw a chunk of white stucco fall off the wall into the grass.”

That scene stuck in his mind. Years later, Stitzel contacted Chuck Miller, director of building and grounds for Cortland County, to pursue renovations. Veteran Search and Rescue’s three-phase, $70,000 project has, so far, taken down the wall of engraved names and is currently redoing the groundwork to stabilize the memorial, cleaning the plaque, and sectioning off a large circular area and creating a base for what will be a battlefield cross statue.

As the third and final phase of the project, the bronze centerpiece statue is expected to arrive Sept. 27, Stitzel said. Alongside the statue, the memorial will pay homage to military campaign ribbons representing the wars.

A new addition to the collection of memorials is one marking the military missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“We only had one person from Cortland County killed in action in Iraq,” Stitzel said. Army Pfc. Shawn P. Falter was 25 years old when he was abducted and executed in an ambush in January 2007. “I talked with his family, and there’s going to be a plaque that will go on the front with ‘Pfc. Shawn Falter’ on it. That’ll be kind of the centerpiece of it all.”

“On either side of the plaque that says Cortland County Veterans Memorial, there’s going to be three 12-inch bronze branch insignias,” Stitzel said.

If Veterans Search and Rescue can raise another $10,000, he hopes to add a few more improvements,
including a ‘Cortland Memorial Park’ sign on the other side of the wall, with ground-level lights shining on the letters.

“We’re going to be looking at a lot of the project being finished by the end of the month,” Stitzel said. “We’re planning on doing a dedication on Veterans Day.”

Commemorative bricks
People can buy $100 bricks in memory of a loved one. The bricks will be placed in the paving in front of the wall of engraved names.

For details or to donate, visit vetsar.com or call 607-423-9031.