Veteran memorial at airport sits empty after theft two years ago, changes coming

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. A memorial dedicated to soldiers killed in Iraq sits empty after a theft two years ago.

The memorial is at the Rochester airport and an alert viewer brought it to our attention just before his flight this week. After a series of emails and phone calls by News10NBC things are starting to change.

The ceremonial rifles stolen from the memorial have been sitting in the Monroe County Sheriff’s evidence locker while the person arrested for stealing them goes through court-ordered treatment. But because of our story, the rifles were released and returned.

What’s left of the memorial is a glass case that sits empty. You can see it on the ground floor level of the airport through the west entrance. It once held battlefield crosses honoring five soldiers killed in Iraq from the 98th division, based in Rochester. Two years ago, a man broke in and stole two of the rifles.

Brean: “When you look at that, what do you think?”
Larry Strassner, Honor Flight: “It’s a shame. It’s a rotten shame. I don’t understand what goes through a person’s mind to do that. I can’t understand what use they have for it.”

Vietnam veteran Larry Strassner runs Honor Flight. The 78th mission taking veterans to memorials in Washington, D.C., is coming up.

Brean: “What would you like to see happen?”
Larry Strassner: “Well get it back to where it was originally dedicated. It was dedicated for a purpose.”

I started asking questions when a viewer contacted me about this Tuesday. Friday, the stolen rifles are back with the airport authority. The sheriff’s office returned them Wednesday after being secured as evidence since the arrest in 2021.

“It’s very sad and unfortunate that they were stolen in the first place,” said airport director Andy Moore.

The county decided to remove the rest of the memorial on the advice of its director of veterans services.

“The most disrespectful thing you can do with a memorial is have one there that is rundown or broken someway,” said Nick Stefanovic, director of Monroe County Veterans Service Agency.

At the time of the theft, the county was already working on a new memorial with a new battlefield cross. Renderings show what it could look like.

Brean: “What is the value of a memorial like that?”
Strassner: “It’s irreplaceable. Veterans waited an awful long time to finally be welcomed home. Some folks they have closure when they’re down in D.C. or anywhere they see these memorials. But basically these memorials, I think, my personal opinion, is awareness, just continued awareness and acceptance. That’s what veterans want. They just want to be accepted because the things that they did are not nice. They feel guilty that they did these things and they just want to be accepted because they believe, rightfully so, that the reason they did these things is so that we could help continue freedom and liberty.”

The veterans memorial at the airport is scheduled to be renovated in 2024.