Linda Falter tried to hold back tears as she carried the honorary wreath over to the newly installed battlefield cross statue with her son’s name on it.
“It’s been very emotional,” the Cortland woman said moments after the Cortland Memorial Park rededication ceremony ended Thursday afternoon.
Her son, Army Pfc. Shawn Falter, was 25 in January 2007 when he was abducted and killed in an ambush in Iraq.
“Now, he’ll always be remembered,” she said. For years, she’s wanted her son and fellow Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans to have a monument in their honor. “When they told me that something was coming, it was just amazing. It’s such a beautiful statue. Although it’s sad, I know they’ll never be forgotten.”
The renovations at Cortland Memorial Park have been years in the making, said Gary Napieracz, president of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 377.
“We wanted to restore the monument and have an everlasting reminder of the price of freedom — our mission was to restore the memory of the many Cortland heroes who paid the ultimate price,” Napieracz said.
The monument was taken apart, repaired and restored with a new LED light eternal flame, new benches, a flag pole and refurbished engravings on the plaques.
“It’s because of Cortland County’s support that we were able to restore this beautiful monument,” Napieracz said.
Marine Corps veteran Norm Stitzel, chaplain of Veterans Search and Rescue, said the restoration has been a decade-long labor of love. The project included redoing the groundwork to stabilize the memorials, cleaning each plaque and creating a centerpiece for the battlefield cross statue.
“But this memorial park is not about the fundraising, the construction or even the ceremony today — it’s about the names on the plaque,” Stitzel said during the ceremony. He took a moment to clear his throat and compose himself before continuing. “The names on these walls represent precious American lives. We can gather here today in freedom and render honor to those who paid the price for that freedom that we so many times take for granted.”
Volunteers read aloud dozens of names of Cortland County’s fallen soldiers in their honor.
“Those names matter because of what they sacrificed,” Cortland Mayor Brian Tobin said.
“On Veterans Day, this is an opportunity for us to recognize and say thank you.”
Stitzel said the names not only represent the fallen soldiers, but also the families they left behind.
“These names represent a family that carries the pain of that sacrifice for the rest of their lives after they lost that loved one in uniform,” Stitzel said.
“Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it. It is our duty and responsibility not only to remind each other of this regularly but to educate the youth of this country with conviction.”
His vision is for teachers and parents to bring kids to Cortland Memorial Park, starting at the American Revolution monument and going from one conflict to another learning about history and honoring the lives that were lost.
“My hope is this memorial park will educate, motivate and inspire Americans of all ages — we owe that to the names on the wall,” Stitzel said.
Other Veterans Day events
- The Cortland Police Department and Police Benevolent Association honored Bob Messenger Thursday as the Veteran of the Year at their annual Veteran’s Day Breakfast at the Elks Lodge in Cortland.
Messenger is the transportation network coordinator for the Disabled American Veterans in Cortland and Tompkins counties. He coordinates rides for veterans to the Syracuse Veterans Administration Medical Center or the Tompkins County VA Clinic in Freeville, said David Gross, a DAV volunteer.
The free rides are critically important to some veterans’ health, Gross said.
“Some of them don’t own a vehicle,” he said. “Others couldn’t drive that far.”
- Guthrie Cortland Medical Center hosted a Veterans Day ceremony to honor the 20 veterans on staff throughout the hospital. Veterans were given coins designed to recognize excellence and show gratitude for their service. Other staff members were invited to take small American flags to place at the front entrance.
- Veterans groups in Cortland, Groton, Dryden and Homer had memorial events.
- A watchfire took place at the CNY Living History Center