A decade ago, Norm Stitzel watched a chunk of stucco fall from the veterans memorial wall in Courthouse Park — a sight that encouraged him to pursue renovations.
Last week, he stood in front of the newly installed Cortland Memorial Park sign and saw his vision becoming a reality.
“I was just floored,” Stitzel said Monday. “This has just been such a long time coming — for me to see that on there, I almost had to fight back tears.”
Stitzel, chaplain of Veterans Search and Rescue, and fellow veterans plan a rededication ceremony at 2 p.m. Thursday, Veterans Day, showing off the restored Cortland Memorial Park, including the wall listing Cortland County military service members killed in action.
Across from Veteran Search and Rescue’s project, the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 377 restored the Vietnam Veterans monument as a reminder of the price of freedom, said chapter President Gary Napieracz.
“Our mission was to restore the memory of the many Cortland heroes who paid the ultimate sacrifice, and to honor all veterans by providing a place for quiet reflection,” Napieracz said. The newly restored Vietnam Veterans memorial includes three benches for visitors.
The restoration project was not only for the fallen soldiers but for their families, Napieracz said.
At the rededication ceremony, veterans will invite a few relatives of fallen soldiers to place a wreath on the monuments. Although Veterans Day is different from Memorial Day — the first honors living veterans while second honors the fallen — Stitzel said he finds the rededication an appropriate choice for the Veterans Day ceremony.
- 11 a.m. — Cortland Veterans of Foreign Wars Tioughnioga Post 2354, 76 Main St., Cortland
- 11 a.m. — Groton American Legion Post 800, 307 Main St., Groton
- 11 a.m. — Dryden American Legion Post 1134, Dryden Village Green
- 11 a.m. — Chicken barbecue at Homer American Legion Post 465, 63 S. Main St., Homer
- 5 p.m. — Homer Police and Fire departments memorial, Durkee Park
- 6 p.m. — Watchfire ceremony at CNY Living History Center
People can buy $100 bricks in memory of a loved one. The bricks will be placed in the paving in front of the wall engraved with the names of those who died in wars. For details or to donate, visit vetsar.com or call 607-423-9031.
“This is one of those things that we don’t want to wait until Memorial Day next year,” Stitzel said. “On Veterans Day, we celebrate the camaraderie between veterans that are alive, but this year we can think of it as local veterans choosing to celebrate by rededicating this park, memorializing those killed in action.”
Stitzel said the restoration project is 98% complete, awaiting a few more plaques, ribbons and the fencing for the park’s centerpiece — a battlefield cross statue in honor of soldiers killed in the Afghanistan, Iraq and Gulf wars. The statue will be placed on its pedestal temporarily for the Thursday ceremony and will be installed permanently once the fencing is ready.
“Many man-hours have gone into this project, so I hope people join us on Veterans Day and be a part of the celebration,” Napieracz said. “If you see a veteran, just take time out of your day to say ‘Welcome home.’ It means so much to hear those words.”