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Veterans Cemetery

May 24, 2016 - 2:35pm

Press release:

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) National Cemetery Administration (NCA) announced the name "Western New York National Cemetery" for the new national cemetery planned for construction in Pembroke, New York.

“The Veterans of Western New York deserve a final resting place worthy of their service to our nation,” said Ronald E. Walters, interim under secretary for Memorial Affairs.

National cemeteries are named based on the geographic location of the cemetery. VA relies on local veterans and community leaders to submit name suggestions. Of the names submitted, “Western New York National Cemetery” best met VA’s naming criteria and is consistent with the requirements specified in title 38 United States Code § 531, requiring VA property, including national cemeteries, to be named for the geographic area in which the facility is located. Any other name suggestion, such as that of a particular person, requires congressional action.

VA purchased the Genesee County property at 1232 Indian Falls Road off Exit 48A on Interstate 90 for $625,000 in May 2014. The cemetery will serve more than 96,000 veterans, their spouses and eligible children in the Buffalo and Rochester areas. The initial phase of construction will develop approximately 70 acres and provide for approximately 10 years of burials, accommodating both casketed and cremated remains.

The nearest open national cemetery is Bath National Cemetery located in Bath, New York, approximately 85 miles away.

January 24, 2016 - 4:00pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Veterans Cemetery, pembroke.

These are renderings of the planned veterans cemetery at Route 77 and Indian Falls Road in Pembroke. We just received digital copies and wanted to share them.  Keep in mind, these are not the final architectural plans, but proposed layout of the property.

Click on the first photo to view the slide show.

Previously: New national cemetery in Pembroke could open for first burials within three years

January 22, 2016 - 9:34am
posted by Howard B. Owens in Veterans Cemetery, pembroke.

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The first deceased veteran could be buried in the planned new veterans cemetery in Pembroke within three years, according to VA officials who presented information on the project at a meeting Thursday night at the VA Hospital in Batavia.

The VA's National Cemetery Administration is completing the planning process now, then an architect will complete the site design, which will enable the creation of construction documents so the project can go out to bid.

Before bidding can open, Congress will need to authorize spending for construction.

Spending approval is likely to be not much more than a formality, said Glenn Madderom, with the cemetery administration. The project has the support of New York's congressional delegation, so it should be included in the 2017 budget that Congress begins working on in October. 

Madderom shared the preliminary site design, which included an outline of an area to be constructed first so that that section could be opened for burials within 18 months of the start of construction.

The drawings shared with the audience of about 100 people, mostly veterans, included the entryway, flag assembly area, public information building, maintenance building, committal shelter and columbarium.

The cemetery has yet to be named. Local veterans are invited to submit name suggestions and one of the criteria for the name is that it have the broad support of area veterans.

It must also be a geographic name that will help anybody in the nation locate the cemetery. It can't be named after a person or other non-geographic identifier. It should have a positive connection to the history of the region.

Local funeral director Ron Konieczny, a veteran active in the American Legion, said that several families whose veteran loved ones have died have had their remains cremated and the urns are stored at Konieczny's funeral home awaiting internment in the new cemetery. What Konieczny wanted to know is, what about families whose loved ones were buried in private cemeteries, could those remains be transferred to the veterans cemetery?

The answer is yes, but the family must pay for the disinterment and transportation to the cemetery. Once the remains arrive at the gates of the national cemetery, the cemetery administration takes over.

There is no cost for any veteran or veteran's spouse and qualifying children to be buried in a national cemetery. The service, casket or urn, burial plot and burial service are all provided at no cost to the family.

Typically, Madderom said, when a new cemetery opens, there are the remains of 100 to 150 veterans waiting to be interred.

Questions about this service included whether married veterans each get their own plot and what about the veteran with multiple spouses.

In cases where both people in a marriage are veterans, both are eligible for their own plot or urn niche, or they could share, if they request that arrangement.

In the case where a spouse dies and both are veterans and they want to be buried next to each other, a neighboring plot is kept vacant. Otherwise, plots are assigned on a first come, first-served basis. There are no plot reservations (say, a request to be buried under a tree or a location with a view) in a national cemetery.

Which raised the question, about the veteran who remarries?

Multiple spouses can be accommodated, said Jim Metcalfe, who will be director of the new cemetery. 

"Yes we do have some veterans out there who do have three spouses buried with them," he said.

Other questions dealt with construction materials and vegetation.

Headstones are all uniform and made of white marble, which can only be obtained in Vermont and Georgia.

Architect Joseph G. Sporko, from the LA Group in Saratoga Springs, said he is looking at locally quarried limestone and bluestone for design elements, such as the entryway, in the cemetery. Native species for trees and plants will be given first consideration for inclusion in the landscape, but the plants must also be functional, such as providing appropriate windscreens.

An audience member asked about using Medina sandstone, but Sporko said there are no longer any sources available for Medina sandstone. A contractor in the audience who deals with stonework agreed with that assessment.

Mark Tillotson, from the VA's Office of Construction and Facilities Management, encouraged anybody who hasn't been to a national cemetery to do so. He said the VA takes a great deal of care in the design and care of veterans cemeteries. People who do visit are easily convinced their veteran loved ones should be lain to rest in such a beautiful setting.

"Once somebody sees a national cemetery, it's really a moving experience," he said.

Top photo: Glenn Madderom. Second photo: Mark Tillotson speaking.

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January 21, 2016 - 9:12am
posted by Howard B. Owens in Veterans Cemetery, pembroke, VA.

The VA Medical Center in Batavia is hosting a public meeting tonight to share information and solicit feedback on the planned veterans cemetery in Pembroke.

The meeting is scheduled from 6:30 to 8 p.m. in Building #4.

Speakers will include Joshua M. de Leon, National Cemetery Administration, Glenn Madderom, Department of Veterans Affairs Cemetary Development and Improvement Service, and Mark Tillotson, Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Construction and Facilities Management.

Officials will provide an update on the project and seek feedback on the master plan and design process.

The proposed 132-acre parcel will serve the burial needs of more than 96,000 veterans and eligible dependents for at least 70 years. The initial phase of construction will develop about 70 acres and provide for 10 years worth of interments.

The VA purchased the property at 1232 Indian Falls Road for $625,000 in May 2014.

July 8, 2014 - 2:16pm
posted by Julia Ferrini in pembroke, Veterans Cemetery, Sen. Schumer.

With a vast meadow in the heart of Pembroke stretching before him, Sen. Charles Schumer envisioned its new purpose. "We stand in front of hallowed ground," he said.

The site has been selected for a new Western New York Veterans Cemetery. This was Schumer's first visit to the location since it was chosen.

“With so many thousands of local veterans,” Schumer continued, “it was an insult to Western New York not to have a National Veterans Cemetery close for loved ones to pay their respects.”

The 132-acre parcel located at Route 77 and Indian Falls Road, Pembroke, is about 100 miles closer to Western New Yorkers than its sister in Bath, Steuben County.

At a gathering Monday, Schumer, alongside former military members and their families, proposed the new site to be named after local war hero William J. “Wild Bill” Donovan. 

“ ‘Wild Bill’ Donovan is a true Western New York Hero,” Schumer said. “I cannot think of any better way to commorate his life and honor our region’s veterans than by naming the Western New York Veterans Cemetery the ‘General William Donovan Western New York Veterans’ Cemetery.' ”

However, not all veterans received the proposed name with enthusiasm.

“Placing a name on a building is nice,” Joy Joyce, Oakfield-Alabama American Legion Post 626 vice commander, said. “But what makes this general any more important than other veterans?” 

“It doesn't matter who it's named for, it’s what it stands for,” said Vietnam Veterans of America New York State Council Western District Director Ted Wilkinson. “General Donovan is a respected man and deserves to be recognized. He should be an inspiration for people to come here.”

“I look at it as, by giving (the cemetery) an individual name, it gives it a tourist-attraction appeal,” said veterans advocate Patrick Welch. “By using a name, it will give people an opportunity to do the research; it's a way to honor an individual. From a historical standpoint, Donovan’s career (and its impact) spans the 1800s to the 21st Century.”

Donovan was born to immigrant parents in Buffalo, and attended St. Joseph Collegiate Institute and Niagara University. He remains the only American to earn all four of the highest military awards in the United States: The Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, the Distinguished Service Medal, and the National Security Medal. Furthermore, he earned the Silver Star and Purple Heart, as well as honors from several other nations for his service during both World War I and II.

Additionally, Donovan founded the Office of Strategic Services, currently known as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). 

“We are alive today because of Bill Donovan,” Schumer said. “People don’t realize it, but praise God there hasn’t been another terrorist incident that succeeded like the one on 9/11. That’s because our CIA, as well as our NSA, our Navy SEALs, and all of our armed forces have done a great job.

“(The terrorists) have tried,” he continued. “Believe me, I read the intelligence documents. I know. But because these people (CIA) are so good and unknown ... people don’t know one tenth of what they know, and it all started with Bill Donovan.”

In addition to the 132 acres currently procured, Robert and Frances Haegar have offered their 60-acre plot of land adjacent to the cemetery -- to enlarge the site to the 200 acres originally wanted. Robert Haegar is a 30-year veteran with the Navy Reserves.

“The land was my grandfathers farm,” Frances Haegar said. “It needs to have a purpose. We can’t do anything with it and it hurts me to see it go wild. It feels great for the land to be used for a veterans' cemetery.

“My father helped with this land. I spent my childhood here,” she continued. “It is a pretty site and it needs something to put it back to a nice site.”

The 60 acres will not only increase the size of the cemetery, but will also allow for better access.

“Hopefully we will live long enough to see this completed,” she said.

According to Schumer, the hope is that groundbreaking will take place at some point next year and 2016 for the first veteran to be interned.

“There is an old saying,” Wilkinson said. “Never judge a vet by the medals on his chest.”

September 4, 2012 - 9:13pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in pembroke, Veterans Cemetery.

There may be some opposition in Pembroke to placing a veterans cemetery on one of two parcels in the town, according to Bill Joyce, the new veterans services administrator for the county.

Joyce raised the issue with the Public Service Committee today during his first departmental review with the Genesee County Legislature.

He said the Town of Pembroke Planning Board may have some members concerned about taking farm land off the tax roles.

Pembroke Town Supervisor Ed Mileham confirmed this evening that he thinks there may be some opposition to converting farmland to a veterans cemetery, but said the issue hasn't come before the planning board yet.

"There's no doubt in my mind there could be some opposition because Pembroke is a farming community and they like their farm atmosphere here," Mileham said.

There's also likely to be support for the project because it will benefit the community, Mileham said.

"It would be something no other community got and we would be fortunate to get it," Mileham said. "Would we have to give something up, would we give up some tax dollars for it? Sure, but it's something a lot of communities would want to have and we've got good spots right here."

The advantages for Pembroke, Mileham said is attractive properties, close proximity to Buffalo and Rochester and easy access to the Thruway.

These are points in Pembroke's favor that Joyce, a Pembroke resident, also made and said the two locations in Pembroke under consideration make more sense than the location on the short list in Erie County, which is an industrial area.

"To me, not just because it's Genesee County, a veterans cemetary should be peaceful and serene," Joyce said.

Added Legislator Mary Pat Hancock, "and the locations I've seen are just gorgeous."

Mileham said the two locations in Pembroke under consideration by the Veterans Administration are at Indian Falls Road and Route 77, about 135 acres, and a similar-sized location at the end of Cleveland Road. 

About 50 or 60 acres of farmland would be taken out of production for the project, Mileham said.

The supervisor said the indications he's received from officials with the VA working out of Bath -- currently the closest vets cemetery to Buffalo and Rochester -- are that Indian Falls and Route 77 is a favored location.

County Manager Jay Gsell told legislators that the short list of sites has changed a couple of times as the VA came across unwilling sellers, inappropriate locations or environmental issues. Site planning experts with the VA have reduced the list now to these three possible locations.

It will take willing sellers at any one of the three locations to move the project forward.

As it is, construction is at least two-and-a-half years away.

March 7, 2011 - 2:17pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in veterans, Charles Schumer, Veterans Cemetery.

After years of indecision, it's time to put the construction of a new veterans' cemetery in Western New York on the fast track and Genesee County is the perfect place to build it, said Sen. Charles Schumer today at a press conference inside Batavia's American Legion Hall.

Schumer called on Gen. Eric Shinseki, secretary of veterans affairs, to set a hard and fast deadline for construction to begin and to appoint a regional ombudsman to move the process along.

"The purpose is twofold -- to get it done quickly and to have local input from our veterans' groups," Schumer said.

There are 200,000 veterans in Western New York -- representing a proud tradition of service, said Schumer -- and they and their families deserve a cemetery closer than Bath, which is more than an hour from Batavia.

"Families shouldn't have to drive 75 miles to see a loved ones simply because you want to give them a proper burial in a veterans' cemetery," Schumer said.

"If you looked at all the veterans in Western New York and dropped pins on a map, and you had to find the middle, it would be here, in Genesee County."

In January, the Veterans Administration announced it had narrowed its range of possible locations to the Batavia area. The VA is looking for a suitable 200-acre location and a willing seller.

Schumer said the role of the ombudsman will be to act as a liaison between the local veterans' groups and the VA, enabling the groups to make one or two site selection recommendations to the VA and then moving the process along quickly.

The ombudsman should be someone all of the veterans' groups respect and can work with, Schumer said.

"I will bird-dog this until we make sure a veterans' cemetery is built."

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