January 20, 2022

Veterans memorial park installs battlefield cross statue

Valerie Puma/staff reporter

Norm Stitzel, of Veterans Search and Rescue, examines a monument Wednesday that veterans raised money to install as other monuments at Courthouse Park in Cortland were refurbished

Linda Falter was one of the first visitors at Cortland Memorial Park after its centerpiece was installed Saturday. The bronze battlefield cross statue will be a permanent reminder of her son’s military service.

“I was just amazed at how beautiful it is, it’s a fantastic monument,” she said.

Her son, Army Pfc. Shawn Falter, was 25 in January 2007 when he was abducted and killed in an ambush in Iraq. He is the only Cortland area resident to die in a Middle Eastern war.

“I think of it as my own, my statue for my son’s memorial,” Linda Falter said. “It doesn’t feel like it’s been 15 years, but the memorial has been a long time coming and it’s a job well done.”

A decade ago, many of the park’s memorials were in such disrepair that pieces of the monuments were falling off into the grass.

Marine Corps veteran Norm Stitzel couldn’t stand the thought of the memorials falling to ruin and the soldiers being forgotten, so he pursued renovations.

Stitzel, chaplain of Veterans Search and Rescue, said the restoration — a $30,000 project by the Vietnam Veterans Association and a $70,000 effort to other memorials — has been a labor of love. The project included redoing the groundwork to stabilize the memorials, cleaning each plaque and installing the battlefield cross statue with a surrounding fence.

“It’s one of those things that’s on your mind — you wish and you hope that you can do what you need to get something completed that represents everybody,” Stitzel said Wednesday. “When we got the statue on there Saturday — it’s hard to believe it, it’s really surreal — it’s something that’s been in your brain for so long, and now it’s here and it’s real.”

In coming days, Stitzel plans to bring holiday wreaths to place at each of the seven conflicts’ monuments.

“It’s special when people visit during the holiday times for these places to not just be buried in snow and leaves,” Stitzel said.

“When people come by and see wreaths at the cemetery or memorials, it keeps in their minds. These renovations aren’t just something we did and walked away from.”

Now, the park’s renovations are almost done, save for a few plaques, ribbons and lights, Stitzel said. At the base of the battlefield cross statue, a light will shine on a plaque in honor of Pfc. Shawn Falter.

“I look forward to seeing his name on there,” Linda Falter said. “A special thanks to Norm Stitzel and the local leaders that have all stepped up to make sure that all our veterans are remembered. It’s pretty phenomenal for a small town like this.”

She said she’s glad her family has a special place to honor Shawn, but she wishes his father were still alive to see the statue.

“His father passed away two years ago,” she said. “I’m sure he would be so proud, so honored to have it. I wish he could have seen this monument.”

Visiting her son’s grave has become a family tradition, Linda Falter said, but now she and Falter’s brothers will also visit the statue.

“We see a lot of people that come to visit and still to this day place things on his headstone,” she said. “Now, to have him right here in the center of town with his name right there, they won’t forget him. I think that’s a great tribute.”