Letters, cannon fire mark veterans tribute

Homer High School’s Living History Club hosts its third annual Remembrance Ceremony


Photos by Joe McIntyre/staff photographer   
Civil War re-enactor and Homer High School Living History Club member Chelsea Weaver reads a war letter during the club’s Veterans Day Remembrance Ceremony Saturday at Homer High School. About 50 people attended the event.veteransWorld War II re-enactor Jon Jehu reads a war letter during the ceremony.

Staff Reporter

HOMER — At approximately 10:07 a.m. Saturday, traffic was stopped in either direction on Route 281 in front of Homer High School as three cannon blasts filled the air.
The explosions marked the beginning of the Homer High School Living History Club Veteran’s Day Remembrance Ceremony, the third year the event was held.
About 50 veterans, parents and bystanders listened intently as letters of soldiers in wars past and present were read by high school students and staff. Nine letters were read, including one from a soldier who wrote a letter that was to be given to his wife in the event of his death.
On July 14, 1861, Maj. Sullivan Ballou wrote a letter to his wife, which read in part,If there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath, or the cool air cools your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by. Sarah do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for thee, for we shall meet again.”
Sullivan died a week later at the Battle of Bull Run.
A local soldier — Jeff Weaver,  who was serving in the Army in the early ’80s — wrote one of the nine letters and the rest were taken from books.
“I think it is great that veterans are being remembered,” said Jane Delair, a Homer resident and a former Marine. Soldiers past and present need to be honored, she said.
“I am very proud of them,” Adair said of those fighting today. “It is not easy to leave home and family to get shot at.”
Donna Birchenough, a resident of Homer, is a mother of two students in the Living History Club.
Her twins, Tonya and Joel, 16, were decked out in Civil War garb; like all the students, they wore a dark blue coat and kepi, a hat common in the era. Most of the students wore light blue jeans with their coats.
John Vandenburg, a veteran of the Vietnam War, said he was glad to see the Veterans Day event.
“For a long time, nobody did anything,” he said. “Now people show a little respect.”
Vandenburg served with the 75th Airborne Rangers for three years in Vietnam. Without hesitation he said, “yes,” when asked if he would do it all over again.
Vandenburg added, there are two reasons why terrorists would not come to this part of the country, “Me, and me when I get mad. There are too many vets that would and will defend this country.”
Among the medals pinned to his lapel was the Purple Heart for an injury he suffered in Vietnam.
Vandenburg said he feels good to see the amount of time and effort the students put into the ceremony.
Kimberly Moffitt, of Cortland, came to bring one of her sons for basketball tryouts and stayed for the ceremony.
“I honor them,” she said of veterans. “They are my idols.”
Moffitt said her 15-year-old son, Bradley Arnold, will most likely join a branch of the armed forces when he graduates high school.
“He has wanted to go into the service since he was 3,” said Moffitt. She said if Bradley had just recently brought up the idea of joining the military, she would try to change his mind, but “this is the only career he has wanted for 12 years and I wouldn’t change his mind for the world.”
Paul Andre, an art teacher for Homer High School and organizer of the ceremony, said the Living History Club was formed to do something for Veterans Day and Memorial Day.
During the ceremony, Andre, who holds the rank of lieutenant in the re-enactors group, said the three cannons, replicas of Civil War cannons, were built by the members of the Living History Club. Andre said the club is building another cannon.
He said the members of the club are the only high school re-enactment battery artillery company in the country.
Joe Cortese, a history teacher at the high school, said of the club, “they waxed the tails of the Confederates they fight against.”
Whether or not people like the war, Andre added, they can support the troops. He is asking people from the area to donate things such as DVDs, iPods, compact disc players, shoes, sneakers, pants and sweat suits to be taken to wounded veterans at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center on Nov. 21. Cortese was one of the organizers for the ceremony and he also asked for donations for wounded veterans.
Andre, who read the Gettysburg Address at the ceremony, is also asking for donations for the Homer High School Education Foundation.


Forest tent caterpillar infestation may fade in spring

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — Egg mass counts performed by a SUNY Cortland professor in recent weeks indicate that in some of the areas most heavily infested with forest tent caterpillars this past spring and early summer, the populations might have started to collapse due to their own size.
Terrence Fitzgerald, a professor of biological sciences, is an expert on social caterpillars, such as the forest tent caterpillar, or FTC, known scientifically as Malacosoma disstria Hübner. Fitzgerald has been studying the FTC and its less-destructive cousin, the eastern tent caterpillar, for 30 years, and is working with a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“Nobody’s done a systematic egg count of Cortland County yet. My surveys have been mostly to the areas that I’ve been working in for the past couple of years,” Fitzgerald said Tuesday in his laboratory in Bowers Hall. “I could see whether the caterpillars were doing well or if they weren’t, and in many cases, they were not doing well.”
There have been large numbers of FTC in many parts of the county for the past three years and the animal had nearly overrun the south end of Skaneateles Lake and parts of Tully this past summer, although specimens could be found throughout the county in varying numbers.
Some homes around the lake were literally covered in the wriggling white-spotted, blue-lined, orange-fleeced insects, which hatch from their egg masses mid-April and feed on most kinds of deciduous, broad-leafed trees for the next two months.
The adult moths hatch at the beginning of July, mate, lay their eggs, and often die all on the same day, Fitzgerald said.
The FTC always retains a residual population in the area, but approximately once a decade, population explosions lasting between three and five years strip thousands of acres of forest.
In Fitzgerald’s survey areas in Tully, Solon, and the south end of Skaneateles Lake, the “epicenters” of the recent infestations, it appears that most of the caterpillars succumbed to furia gastropachae, a fungal pathogen, before they could lay their eggs.
“For two or three years in a row, where there were areas with massive defoliation, the population in those areas has collapsed,” particularly in Solon, Fitzgerald said. “This area was so heavily populated, we collected 16 pounds of caterpillars in an hour and a half.”
As the population size increases and more of the caterpillar’s food sources are depleted — 650,000 acres of forests across New York were defoliated by the FTC in 2005, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation — the caterpillars move from the trees to the ground.
“They come down to the ground and immediately pick up these spores, and within a few days they’re dead,” Fitzgerald said, adding that the disease spreads quickly.
Other parasites include a fly that lays its eggs on the FTC egg masses, the fly larvae then consuming the host FTC.
“The caterpillars died of disease before the flies could do what they had to do,” this past summer, Fitzgerald said. “The few caterpillars that did make it through and spin cocoons, did get hit by the sarcophaga(aldrichi, the fly). This was the second or third year of infestation, so the sarcophagawere out in full force.”



DEC reviewing bids for natural gas drilling on state forest lands

Staff Reporter

Contracts for the right to drill in local state forests may be awarded by this time next year, said Maureen Wren, spokeswoman for the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
Bids were accepted this summer, and they must be drafted by the DEC and reviewed by the state comptroller, Wren said.
Once the contracts are awarded, the companies will receive a permit to drill and then will start evaluating the land.
The land comprises 15 tracts in Cortland, Tioga, Broome, Chemung and Steuben counties.
The land in Cortland County comprises Kennedy State Forest in Virgil, Harford and Lapeer, Hewitt State Forest in Scott and Tuller Hill State Forest in Virgil.
The company with the highest bid will likely be awarded the contract, but other factors, such as a company’s track record, are taken into account, Wren said.
Chesapeake Natural Gas, a drilling company from Oklahoma, bid highest on 11 of the 15 tracts of land, which include all the tracts in Cortland County.
The company bid $458 an acre to drill 4,416 acres in Kennedy State Forest; $832 per acre to drill in 937 acres in Hewitt State Forest; and $458 per acre to drill in 2,437 acres in Tuller Hill State Forest.
Fortuna Energy, of Horseheads, bid highest on the remaining four tracts of land.
Natural gas drilling has become more popular over the years, as the demand for cheaper and cleaner fuels has increased. Natural gas forms naturally in the earth when organic material decomposes under pressure.