February 01 , 2007

Homer soldier laid to rest

Hundreds turn out to honor Shawn Falter


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Members of a military Honor Guard acting as pall bearers on Wednesday carry the casket of Pfc. Shawn Falter to a burial plot at Glenwood Cemetery in Homer, following a service at Grace Christian Fellowship.    

Staff Reporter

HOMER — At the close of a touching eulogy for Army Pfc. Shawn Falter, Air Force Master Sgt. Andrew Lucas sent a simple message to his younger brother.
“Rest Shawn, you’ve done your part,” Lucas said. “Your brothers will take it from here.”
As his large extended family — including 12 brothers and sisters, among them three older brothers in the armed services — looked on, Falter, 25, who was killed Jan. 20 in Iraq, was laid to rest with full military honors in Glenwood Cemetery in Homer Wednesday.
Before the burial, more than 500 friends, family and neighbors packed Grace Christian Fellowship church on Fisher Avenue for the 75-minute funeral service.
As Brig. Gen. Margrit Farmer requested a round of applause for “a true American hero,” a standing ovation rattled the walls for several minutes.
Farmer presented Falter with a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star, calling him “strong,” “rugged” and an outstanding soldier.
“Shawn exemplified the finest ideals of an American patriot,” Farmer said, quoting Falter’s battery commander in Iraq. “He truly personified the very best we have to offer.”
Falter and three other soldiers from the Alaska-based 2nd Battalion, 377th Parachute Field Artillery Regiment were taken hostage Jan. 20 by gunmen disguised in U.S. Army-style uniforms from a provincial police headquarters in the Shiite holy city of Karbala in Iraq. All four were later found dead in a neighboring province, bound and executed, with bullet wounds to the head.
At Wednesday’s service, Lucas spoke about honor, character, courage and sacrifice — four words that are the “bedrock” for any American soldier, he said. He said his brother epitomized all of them.
“I truly don’t know if this war in Iraq is just or not … But I know Shawn’s actions were,” Lucas said. “When he left us he was taking care of his buddy on the left and his buddy on the right … my brother Shawn was and always will be a patriot.”
Lucas told a story about he and an 8-year-old Shawn, rushing to the store to get Valentine’s Day cards for a school party the next day.
Lucas backed his car into the house and immediately exclaimed that Russell Falter — Shawn’s father and Lucas’ stepfather — was going to kill him.
“Shawn looked up at me with those big eyes and said, ‘Yep, you’re a goner,’” Lucas said.
The two entered into a sacred “pinky swear” pact not to tell Russ Falter about the incident and, “up until three days ago, Russell never knew,” Lucas said.
Singling out one or two specific memories of Shawn Falter is impossible, his best friend, Matt Russell, said.
Russell remembered Falter as the type to always put the rest of the world first, and pointed to Falter’s upbringing as key to the person he became.
“Anybody who knows this family … knows he couldn’t possibly have come up bad,” Russell said.
Falter’s large family has been the ideal support system, Lucas said, and three of Falter’s older brothers read texts during the funeral that were either important to Shawn Falter or of especial comfort.
“So when you walk the wood where once we walked together … and spotting something, reach by habit for my hand,” quoted Falter’s brother David Lucas, reading from Nicholas Evans’ book “The Smoke Jumper,” his voice cracking. “Listen for my footfall in your heart. I am not gone but merely walk within you.”
Another of Falter’s brothers, Marine 1st Sgt. John Sackett, read from “In the Event of My Demise,” a poem by Tupac Shakur that was important to Falter because it expresses a hope that death was for “a principle, or a belief that I had lived for,” while Army Staff Sgt. Jason Sackett, another brother, read “A Soldiers Prayer,” a soulful lament written by an unknown author during World War II.
The service also included a passionate sermon from Army chaplain Lt. Col. Allen Ferry, who urged the audience to be grateful to Falter and all men and women in the service “when you step outside and breathe in the fresh air of freedom,” and a presentation from State Sen. James Seward (R-Milford) of a legislative resolution saluting “our hero from Homer.”
As the service concluded, the Honor Guard and Falter’s family escorted the casket from the church, and a seemingly endless procession of cars made its way to the cemetery.
From Fisher Avenue — where employees of National Grid working nearby draped flags between two ladders raised from their trucks — through the village of Homer — where the procession was greeted by a sea of American flags many hundreds of residents stood in respectful silence to honor Falter. The Homer school district canceled classes Wednesday in tribute to Falter.
At Glenwood Cemetery on Route 281 in Homer, the crowd was almost as large as it had been in the church. State police closed a half-mile stretch of the highway in front of the cemetery because of all the people standing in the road watching the burial.
Falter was honored with a rifle salute, and his mother, Patricia Greenwood, and his stepmother, Linda Falter, were presented with American flags.
After the service, Falter’s family and close friends gathered at the American Legion in Homer for a private reception.
At the reception, Seward posthumously awarded Falter the Senate’s Liberty Medal, the highest honor bestowed by the state Senate.
Associated Press writer William Kates contributed to this report.


Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Homer firefighters Mike Keegan, left, and Capt. Bob Johnson hang the American flag between two ladders spanning Main Street Wednesday. Shawn Falter’s funeral procession passed beneath the flag.


Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Branden Brown holds an American flag as other Homer High School students and football players pay their respects.


Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Marine Staff Sgt. John Eckhardt Jr., a reservist from Homer, salutes as the procession passes along Main Street.


Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Homer students Meagan Hartquist, left, and Tessa Haugen display a flag along  Main Street during the procession.


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer   
An Honor Guard folds one of two flags draped over the casket of Pfc. Shawn Falter. The folded flags were presented to family members.


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer   
A bugler plays Taps after a rifle salute during Falter’s funeral.


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer   
Shawn Falter’s sister, Marjorie Falter, stepmother, Linda Falter, and a brother, Air Force Master Sgt. Andrew Lucas, leave the burial site at Glenwood Cemetery in Homer.


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer   
Falter’s other brothers — Marine 1st Sgt. John Sackett, left, and Army Staff Sgt. Jason Sackett, right, escort Falter’s mother, Patricia Greenwood, from the cemetery.


Bob Ellis/staff photographer
American Legion Post 465 members salute the hearse carrying Shawn Falter as it makes it way to Glenwood Cemetery.


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
A light snow falls as riflemen stand ready to fire a salute and Patriot Guard Riders line the road at Glenwood Cemetery during the military funeral of Pfc. Shawn Falter Wednesday.


Community gathers for procession

Staff Reporter

HOMER — Johnna Tracy shared in the grief Tuesday communities in other parts of the country have felt over a fallen soldier.
Homer is experiencing it firsthand, she said.
“It just hits home,” she said. “Now I know what they were going through.”
Tracy, an American Legion Ladies Auxiliary member who lives in Homer and has a daughter in the Marine Corps Reserve, was one of more than 100 Homer residents who lined Main and Cayuga streets Wednesday afternoon, standing in silence in the bitter cold and falling snow as the funeral procession for Pfc. Shawn Falter passed.
Some onlookers were members of area American Legion posts, some had some a connection to the military, while others just showed up to pay their respects.
People started trickling downtown hours before the procession began, holding flags, waiting patiently, and chatting with friends and family.
Mike Dexter, a Vietnam War veteran who lives in Cortland, was waiting near the American Legion wearing a baseball cap with “Navy” printed on it.
Dexter said he came to pay his respects to a man who sacrificed his life for his country. He said he never met Falter, but still feels as though he knew him.
“Anybody that’s in the military I know,” he said.
Frank VanSickle, of Cortland, said he attended the procession largely to support the Falter family.
VanSickle said he wants the family, including Falter’s stepmother, Linda Falter, who he knows well, and dad, Russell, who he used to cook with at the Homer Elks Lodge, to know the community cares about their loss.
“Just pray and realize you have a lot of friends that are going to be with you,” was VanSickle’s advice to the family.
Carolyn Riley, an American Legion Ladies Auxiliary member who lives in Homer, said there was no question as to whether she would join other Ladies Auxiliary members, the American Legion and Homer firefighters in saluting Falter’s procession.
Riley said she was not surprised that so many other people, including those driving the more than 200 cars in the procession, felt the same way about honoring Falter.
“I knew it would be this long,” she said of the line of cars. “This event pulls people together.”
As cars started entering the village, drivers and passengers could be seen behind windows, wiping their tears.
The world seemed to come to a standstill as onlookers stopped moving, voices receded and church bells started ringing at a steady beat.
Prior to the procession, Richard Tice, a Vietnam War veteran who lives in Homer, said he knew the event would be hard for him.
“I know I won’t be able to speak when he comes by,” Tice said.
Tice said none of his close friends died when he was serving in Vietnam in 1969, but he and his friends came close to it three times when their helicopter was shot down.
Tice said Falter’s death also hit close to home because his two sons served in the military.
Sgt. John Eckhardt Jr., a Marine Corps reservist who lives in Homer and previously served in the Persian Gulf, said he attended Falter’s funeral because of the huge sacrifice Falter made.
Eckhardt said if he could say anything to Falter’s family, it would be that they should be proud of their son.
“He didn’t die in vain,” he said. “He didn’t die for nothing.”


Military funerals steeped in tradition

Staff Reporter

HOMER — Pfc. Shawn Falter received full military honors as he was buried Wednesday afternoon at Glenwood Cemetery.
As several hundred onlookers watched a family and a community mourn the loss of a son, soldiers performed time-honored burial traditions, some of which that date back to the ancient Greeks and Romans.
Falter was honored with the custom of rifles firing of three volleys over his grave, which comes from the Roman funeral rites in which soldiers cast dirt three times on the coffin of the dead, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.
The tradition has evolved throughout British and American war history, when it was common for an army to fire a musket three times, only then it was to announce they completed the burying of their dead and were ready for battle, according to a Department of Defense report on military funerals.
Prior to firing the shots over the grave, the flag-covered casket was carried from the hearse to the gravesite, by six uniformed members of the casket team marching in step under the instruction of an officer.
As part of a tradition that most believe began during the Napoleonic wars in Europe, Falter’s coffin was draped in an American flag with the field of blue placed over his head and left shoulder.
Falter’s casket bore two flags upon request from the family. Once the soldier’s laid the casket over the grave, the men folded each flag 13 times into a triangle with the field of stars facing up, a symbol of honor. The flags were then presented to his mother, Patricia Greenwood, and stepmother, Linda Falter.
The final tradition and probably the most somber moment of any military funeral is when the bugler plays “Taps.” The song is said to have been written by a Union bugler Oliver Wilcox Norton 1863 after a bloody Civil War battle.
The song was officially adopted by the Army in 1874 and began being played at funerals in 1891.
Army officials were not available to comment on specifics of the graveside services for Falter.
In addition to the traditional components of the ceremony, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have brought new participants to the funerals of soldiers killed in combat.
The Patriot Guard, who had members present for Falter’s service, formed in August 2005 by a group of veteran bikers who were outraged when religious group called the Westboro Baptist Church began protesting servicemen’s funerals.
Patriot Guard chapters have since sprung up nationwide and are primarily made up of former servicemen dressed in leather jackets with patches of their respective branches and old units sewn on the back and sleeves.
According to the group’s mission statement, its goal is to protect families from any protestors during a military funeral.
“Each mission we undertake has two basic objectives. Show our sincere respect for our fallen heroes, their families, and their communities and to shield the mourning family and their friends from interruptions created by any protestor or group of protestors. We accomplish the latter through strictly legal and non-violent means.”
The Patriot Guard riders have traditionally acted as a physical barrier between protestors and the soldiers’ families.
Although there were no protestors at Falter’s funeral, the guard still extended its services, creating a noticeable presence at the burial.
Many mourners standing outside the cemetery on Route 281 could clearly see the group’s affect as the men stood facing Falter’s grave with their backs to the road, holding American flags above their heads.
When the six soldiers of the casket team laid Falter’s casket over his grave, a gust of wind snapped the riders’ flags taut, blocking the view of onlookers with a wall of black leather jackets and red, white and blue banners.



Spitzer budget gets mixed reaction

Staff Reporter

Gov. Eliot Spitzer intends to shake up the status quo, and he hopes that his 2007-08 budget proposal will be the tool to effect the change that could turn New York state around.
Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton (D-Ithaca) said the governor has presented a very ambitious agenda, it includes some much needed reform, especially for education.
“It’s going to take time, and it’s going to take a lot of support within the districts. We’re all accountable for getting the kind of resources, for getting the kind of training, and getting the kind of accountability,” Lifton said this morning. “We need someone with a vision here, and I think he understands that all of our kids need to get an education and get a shot at getting that Regents diploma and moving on to college.”
However, Lifton said that any reforms within the health care system would have to be done very carefully in order to protect those that are most vulnerable.
“He’s got the big picture, and I think he understands what needs to be done in every area,” she said.
Cortland County Administrator Scott Schrader said the budget offers some relief for embattled counties.
“As far as our county’s concerned, and counties in general, it’s looking like the governor is standing by his promise to end balancing the budget on the back of the local municipalities,” Schrader said this morning.
The proposal to reform the Wicks Law, which requires multiple bidders on every aspect of a capital project, is a step in the right direction, he said.
“He has proposed to increase the bidding threshold for projects to $1 million for capital,” Schrader said. “It would be nice to eliminate it entirely.”
Schrader said a drastic overhaul of workers’ compensation would be necessary to allow municipalities to compete on the same level as the private sector, although the budget proposal does allow for the damages in a lawsuit against the county to offset the costs of workers’ compensation-related claims.
Although state Sen. Jim Seward (R-Milford) said he’s “glad to see (the governor) join the state Senate in calling for property tax relief,” Seward said he is disappointed that the governor did not propose any tax cuts for small businesses or other economic development initiatives.
In a prepared statement, Seward indicated the governor’s honeymoon in Albany might be over.
“The governor has offered some significant proposals that merit our attention as a starting point for budget discussions,” Seward said in a press release issued following the announcement Wednesday of Spitzer’s $120.6 billion state budget. “We have a lot of work to do between now and when we finalize a (state budget).”
Seward applauded Spitzer’s proposals to increase funding for high needs schools across the state, and to ensure accountability among superintendents, board of education members and teachers for their performance.
Seward opposed some of Spitzer’s proposals.
“The 6 percent hike in state spending and the 8 percent jump in our state debt he proposes are serious concerns — taxpayers cannot support more state debt and the surest way to reduce the need for higher taxes is to restrain spending, especially in Medicaid,” Seward said. “We have to make spenders accountable for the wise use of tax dollars, and eliminate waste and fraud.”
Spitzer intends to continue rooting out Medicaid waste and fraud, and anticipates that the state would recover $400 million in 2007-08, an increase of $104 million over last year.
A significant proposed change to the way Medicaid is distributed to health service providers has also generated local opposition.
Under the governor’s plan, trend factors in reimbursement rates for hospitals, nursing homes, Child Health Plus, Family Health Plus and managed care plans would be frozen at current levels and reimbursement methodologies for certain hospital funding streams would be modified to reflect the mix of Medicaid cases within those programs or institutions.
“While we support Governor Spitzer’s proposals to expand coverage for children, increase primary care, and better coordinate care for the elderly and chronically ill,” a statement from Cayuga Medical Center reads, “we are concerned that other proposals within his budget proposal will make it more difficult to provide care. Most disturbing is the governor’s proposed reduction of the Medicaid trend factor, which is an indexed cost-of-living adjustment essential for hospitals and nursing homes to keep pace with the ever-increasing costs of pharmaceuticals, labor, energy and a multitude of other costs that increase every year.”
Tom Quinn, director of marketing for the Cortland Regional Medical Center, said that Spitzer’s proposal to freeze Medicaid reimbursements is “really disturbing.”
“It’s really something that’s important for hospitals and nursing homes to have that, because it allows us to keep pace with increases (in costs),” Quinn said this morning. “We certainly embrace the concept of strengthening the health care system with necessary reforms, but what we really oppose is the wholesale cuts that he’s proposed initially.”
Mark Roberts, a pharmacist and proprietor of the Medicine Shoppe on Groton Avenue in Cortlandville, said that one of Spitzer’s proposals, which would decrease the level of reimbursement to pharmacists for both Medicaid and Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage program recipients, means that pharmacies would make less money.
“This is a trend — there are limits as to how far it can go. What it makes providers do is cut back on services,” Roberts said, citing his pharmacy’s free delivery.


Homer native undergoes double lung, liver transplant

Staff Reporter

After more than 10 hours on the operating table Patti Prince, 25, received a double lung and liver transplant.
Prince, a Homer native living in Yorkville near Utica, received the transplant Wednesday morning at the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio.
“The most thoughtful, kindest person I know has a chance at life,” said Patti’s best friend, Beth Odell, of Cortland.
“I’m totally blessed just knowing her.”
Prince’s husband, Nathaniel, Prince, said his wife is in the intensive care unit at the Cleveland Clinic. He said that she was slightly sedated and she was able to communicate on a dry erase board.
“She is doing real good,” he said.
Prince was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at the age of 6 months.
The hereditary disease affects the entire body, but mostly the lungs, which can become severely damaged by thick mucus secretions over time.
Her donor was age 23, gender unknown and, according to Odell, died eight blocks away from the clinic.
“It was a perfect match,” Odell said of the _organs. “All we are thinking is, God bless the family.”
Over her life Prince has undergone five surgeries to stop the bleeding in her lungs, two stomach surgeries to release blockage in her intestines and a liver biopsy, Odell said.
“When she wakes up she is going to take the first real breath in her life,” Odell said.
She said the first thing Patti Prince is going to do when she gets strong enough is eat pizza and drink chocolate milk, then take her 1-year-old son, Brady, out for a walk.
Nathaniel Prince said it would be approximately three months before his wife would be able to come home.
“We are just hoping to get her healthy enough so that she can do what she is able to do,” he said.
He said that his wife’s main focus is to be a mother again and become independent.
Before the transplant on Wednesday, Prince had three sets of organs offered to her.
In one instance, everything was a match, both lungs and liver, but the final tests revealed the organs were infected with hepatitis B.
In another instance, the lungs were good, but the liver was damaged; in the third offer, the lungs were too small for Prince.
The new organs are not a cure for Prince. She will be on anti-rejection medication for the rest of her life.
Odell said the organs could last Prince from a year to 20 years, it all depends on how her body reacts to the organs.
“She has got her baby, her husband, her health and her miracle,” Odell said. “It is such an amazing gift. I kind of feel like Shawn (Falter) was pulling some strings for her.”
Odell was referring to Prince’s childhood friend who was a soldier killed in Iraq on Jan. 20 and buried in Glenwood Cemetery Wednesday.