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November 30, 2020 - 9:34pm

Video: Dedication Ceremony for the Western New York National Cemetery

posted by Howard B. Owens in wny national cemetery, pembroke, video.
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Randy Reeves, undersecretary for Memorial Affairs, a division of Veterans Affairs, during a dedication for the new WNY National Cemetery in Pembroke, announced that the cemetery will be ready to receive the remains of veterans with honor and dignity on or before Dec. 18.

Besides Reeves, speakers at the dedication included Sen. Charles Schumer, who spreadheaded the effort to bring a national cemetery to Western New York, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, Rep. Chris Jacobs, and Robert Wilkie, secretary for Veterans Affairs.

NOTE ABOUT THE VIDEO: The VA initially denied access to the dedication to six media outlets, including The Batavian. After some phone calls, we were granted access to the ceremony, which had already started. We missed the first five minutes or more and had no time to set up a microphone at the podium. Thank you to our friends at WBEN in Buffalo for sharing reporter Mike Baggerman's recording of the speeches to sync with our video.

Press release from the Office of Sen. Charles Schumer:

Celebrating a victory over a decade in the making, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today dedicated the Western New York National Cemetery in Pembroke. The senator was joined by Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) officials and Western New York veterans who have been instrumental in the push to create a veteran cemetery in Western New York.

Schumer explained that the establishment of the nation’s newest Veterans’ Cemetery in Western New York is a long-sought and well-deserved opportunity to honor the more than 77,000 veterans and family members in this region who will have a proper military burial at a site close to their homes, families, and communities they served and defended. This Veterans’ Cemetery will be the first and only of its kind in the Buffalo-Rochester area and will save thousands of military families from having to travel more than 100 miles in some cases to what was previously the closest Veterans' Cemetery in Bath.

The senator noted that a four-hour round trip was not often feasible for families of veterans who wanted to visit their loved ones, which is why he and local veterans have worked for over a decade to make a more accessible national cemetery a reality for Western New York.

U.S. Senator Charles Schumer said, “Today at long last, veterans across Western New York will have a fitting resting place and eternal place of honor right here in the very community they dedicated their lives to defend and serve. Dedicating this hallowed ground today answers the call of veterans who organized over a decade ago for a local National Cemetery. I was proud to take up their call and work alongside them to now realize this day. Now a grieving family will not be left to travel over 200 miles from their home to bury or visit their loved ones.

"Now the veterans of Western New York who have done so much for us and our nation will have a proper burial, at a National Cemetery close to their home, family and thankful community. The Western New York National Cemetery is a testament to the thousands of veterans across this region, who through their service and sacrifice in defense of our nation, have earned a place in our nation’s newest national shrine. “ 

Schumer has long fought to make the Western New York National Veterans Cemetery a reality. Beginning in the 2000s and culminating in 2009 Schumer, together with various veterans groups, led the charge to bring a much-needed veterans’ cemetery to Western New York arguing that a lack of a national veterans’ cemetery within a 75-mile radius of Buffalo and Rochester meant that it was long past time for the underserved veterans and family members living in Western New York to have a fitting burial option closer to home.

A group of veterans started the process to get a cemetery dedicated for veterans in Western New York in the mid-2000s. The group, organized by Erie County Veteran and Advocate Dr. Patrick Welch gathered over 10,000 signatures that he and other veterans provided to Senator Schumer that called for the establishment of a veterans' cemetery in Western New York. For several years, Schumer worked hard alongside the veteran's community of Western New York to push the U.S. Veterans Affairs Administration to establish a National Veterans Cemetery in WNY.

In 2010, the VA responded and announced it would establish a new veteran’s cemetery in Western New York as there where at least 80,000 veterans that resided at least 75-miles from the National Veterans Cemetery in Bath, which is the closest existing cemetery but still more than 100 miles away from Western New York.

In 2019 Schumer secured an additional $10 million that they VA said it would require to complete the cemetery’s Phase 1 construction. In January of 2018, Schumer called on the VA to complete the final acquisitions of two land parcels of 60-acres and 77-acres, respectively, in Pembroke needed to create the cemetery and one month later announced the VA had done so. In 2016, Schumer announced that following his push $36 million in federal funding for the construction phase of the cemetery in Western New York had been secured and included in the final continuing resolution (CR) package.

Doug Doktor, chairman of the Genesee County Joint Veterans Council, said, “Genesee County’s veteran community is extremely proud to be the host-county for the Western New York National Cemetery. Today we celebrate years of hard work to see this cemetery constructed and thank Senator Schumer who has been with us since the beginning and fought for years to secure the funding to make our Cemetery a reality.  Now local veterans have our fitting final resting place of honor close to home and our families.”   

Jim Neider, OIC of the Joint Veterans Honor Guard of Genesee County and member of the Glenn S. Loomis American Legion Post 332 Batavia, said, “We are deeply grateful to at long last dedicate the new Western New York National Cemetery and to know that local veterans and their family members will have an eternal home of honor right here in Genesee County. And we are thankful for partners like Senator Schumer who heard our call and stood with us at every turn to see that this day would come. As the home of our Nation’s newest National Cemetery we are gratified to host the cemetery and honor the thousands of Western New York veterans for their service and sacrifice to our nation.” 

The Military Officers Association of America Western New York Chapter representative said, “The Western New York Chapter of the Military Officers Association of America is gratified that Western New York veterans and their families will now have a final resting place that is both accessible and appropriate. Senator Schumer has been a steadfast advocate for this project. Now after many tumultuous years, we are able to eternally honor the countless men and women across our region who dedicated their lives in military service to our nation."

Patrick W. Welch, Ph.D., Marine Corps (Ret) and Western New York Veterans Advocate, said, “Today marks an historic and momentous day for Western New York veterans, their families, and our entire community. It was 16 years ago that the late Lou Palma invited me and a small coalition of Western New York veterans to begin calling upon Federal leaders to build a National Cemetery in our community. Our advocacy captured the attention of U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer who, along with his staff, worked with us for about three years to inform our efforts and strengthen our cause.

"By late 2008, our coalition had grown and we presented Senator Schumer with a petition signed by over 10,000 Western New Yorkers who supported our noble cause.  Since then, Senator Schumer has been the driving force behind the Western New York National Cemetery in the halls of Congress. Together, we worked hand-in-hand to bring Western New York National Cemetery into reality, and today we celebrate its dedication.”

Nicholas Stefanovic, director of the Monroe County Veteran Services Agency, said, “We’re glad join with veterans throughout Western New York to mark the dedication of the new National Cemetery. Now and for many decades to come we will have a fitting hallowed ground, close to our homes and our families, to honor our veterans for their service to our nation. We appreciate Senator Schumer’s long support of the veterans’ community to see this new National Cemetery now established in Western New York.”  

Laura Stradley, executive director of the Veterans Outreach Center in Rochester, said, “The new National Cemetery is vital to serve Western New York’s veterans and their families from Rochester to Buffalo and beyond. We appreciate Senator Schumer’s work through the years to bring this cemetery to fruition and ensure veterans will have the fitting resting place they deserve and earned through their honorable service to our nation.”  

A complete list of Schumer’s actions to secure a national cemetery in Western New York appears below:

  • In December 2019, Schumer secured the additional $10 million that the VA said it would need to complete the cemetery’s full phase 1 buildout;
  • In August 2019, Schumer announced the start of construction would begin so that the cemetery would be ready to accommodate first burials by the end of 2020;
  • In February 2018, Schumer announced that the VA had completed the final acquisitions of two parcels of land (60-acres and 77-acre) in Pembroke needed in order to begin construction of the new Western New York National Veterans Cemetery;
  • In February 2016, Schumer announced that the just-released President’s Budget for Fiscal Year 2017 included $36 million in funding for the construction phase of the newest National Veterans’ Cemetery in Pembroke;
  • In December 2015, Schumer launched his push to secure federal funding for the construction phase of the cemetery;
  • In July 2014, Schumer called on the VA to move forward on plans to acquire the adjoining 60-acre parcel that abuts the current 132-acre site. This would immediately make the cemetery nearly 50-percent larger to allow for decades more of use, increase future capacity, and enable the cemetery entrance to be built off of Indian Falls Road instead of the heavily trafficked State Route 77 to provide better access to the cemetery for veterans’ funeral processions and visitors;
  • In May 2014, Schumer announced that the VA had selected a site for the long-awaited Western New York Veterans’ Cemetery on a 132-acre parcel at 1232 Indian Falls Road in the Town of Pembroke, Genesee County;
  • In May 2014, Schumer announced that the results of the archeological cultural-resource study determined a finding of “no significant impacts,” thus allowing the VA to move forward on the purchase of the preferred site on Indiana Falls Road later that month;
  • In Sept 2013, Schumer wrote to the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (SHPO) to urge the agency to complete an archeological cultural-resource study required in order for the VA to complete the required approvals needed to close on the purchase of the preferred Indian Falls Road site in Pembroke;
  • In April 2013, Schumer organized a meeting at Daemen College with local veterans and VA officials to update Veterans on the VA’s timeline and in order for veterans to provide input to the VA;
  • In March 2012, after the VA failed to find suitable land to purchase following two separate solicitation attempts, Schumer wrote to then-VA Secretary Shinseki to urge that the VA put forth a clear timeline and path forward to avoid another protracted process that could come up empty. In response, the VA dispatched personnel to Western New York to conduct site visits at several sites in WNY, issued a final solicitation for sites, and developed several candidate sites for evaluation, of which one was the 132-acre site in Pembroke that the VA subsequently acquired;

Beginning in the 2000s and culminating in 2009 Schumer, together with various veterans groups, led the charge to bring a much-needed veterans’ cemetery to Western New York arguing that a lack of a national veterans’ cemetery within a 75-mile radius of Buffalo and Rochester meant that it was long past time for the underserved veterans and family members living in Western New York to have a fitting burial option closer to home. 

A group of veterans started the process to get a cemetery dedicated for veterans in Western New York in the mid-2000s. The group, organized by Erie County Veteran and Advocate Dr. Patrick Welch gathered more than 10,000 signatures that he and other veterans collected to Senator Schumer that called for the establishment of a veteran’s cemetery in Western New York.

For several years, Schumer worked hard alongside the veterans' community of Western New York to push the U.S. Veterans Affairs Administration to establish a National Veterans Cemetery in WNY. In 2010, the VA responded and announced it would establish a new veteran’s cemetery in Western New York as there where at least 80,000 veterans that resided at least 75-miles from the National Veterans Cemetery in Bath, which is the closest existing cemetery but still more than 100 miles away from Western New York.   

The total 269-acre site on Indian Falls Road in Pembroke is located approximately 30 miles from Buffalo and 48 miles from Rochester. The cemetery will provide a fitting burial option to approximately 77,100 currently underserved veterans and family members living in Western New York. Veterans with a qualifying discharge, their spouses, and eligible dependent children may be buried in a VA national cemetery.

Also eligible are military personnel who die on active duty, their spouses and eligible dependents. Burial benefits available for all eligible veterans, regardless of whether they are buried in a national cemetery or a private cemetery, include a burial flag, a Presidential Memorial Certificate, and a government headstone or marker.

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