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wny national cemetery

May 29, 2022 - 5:51pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in wny national cemetery, news, Memorial Day.

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For the first time since it opened, veterans, family members, and area residents gathered at the WNY National Cemetery in Pembroke to pay tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of their country as part of Memorial Day Weekend.

Photos by Alecia Kaus/Video News Service.

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February 16, 2022 - 5:44pm

wnyvetcemflags2021-4.jpgIf local veterans are willing to commit their time to provide military funeral honors at the Western New York National Cemetery on Indians Falls Road in Corfu, then they need to present themselves in a dignified manner.

That’s the view of the Genesee County Legislature’s Ways & Means Committee, which at a meeting this afternoon, approved a resolution brought to them by William Joyce, Veterans Services Agency director, to fund honor guard uniforms for military funerals.

The WNY National Cemetery Honor Guard, Inc., consists of 78 members from eight Western New York counties, including 32 residents of Genesee County – all volunteers – who serve their fallen military members’ families at the burial grounds.

Pending a vote by the full legislature next Wednesday, the county will take up to $8,000 from a contingency account to make sure the Genesee County residents who are honor guard members have the proper uniforms.

“I’m really proud to be the Veterans Services officer for this county,” Joyce said, speaking to Ways & Means Chair Marianne Clattenburg, who initiated the possibility of county funding. “I don’t ask for that much, and really appreciate your work in backing this.”

Joyce said that the program will be coordinated by Tom Cecere, quartermaster for Genesee County members, who will keep track of the uniforms that will become the property of the honor guard. Veterans serving in this capacity will be required to turn in the uniforms upon leaving the honor guard.

“The $8,000 is a good start and it (the cost) may come down,” he said.

Legislature Chair Rochelle Stein said it is the legislature’s honor to provide the uniforms for the National Cemetery, while County Manager Matt Landers said that he will explore funding for this endeavor on an annual basis.

Joyce reported that the cemetery has conducted 811 burials from Dec. 18, 2020 thru Dec. 18, 2021 in all weather conditions and the new administration building is now open.

In related news, Joyce said that a local seamstress has repaired 278 flags to date – all at no cost to the cemetery foundation.

“We asked her for an invoice and she said she didn’t want anything,” he said. “She said that it was an honor that she was asked to do this.”

File photo: Flags at the Western New York National Cemetery. Photo by Howard Owens.

December 18, 2021 - 7:03pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in wny national cemetery, video, David Bellavia.
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Former Batavia resident David Bellavia, a Medal of Honor recipient, was the featured speaker today in a ceremony honoring veterans who have passed away and are buried at the WNY National Cemetery.

The event, Wreaths Across America, took place today at military cemeteries across America.  Friends, family members, and volunteers laid wreaths at the grave sites of the men and women who served this nation.

June 11, 2021 - 5:52pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Avenue of Flags, wny national cemetery, pembroke, news, veterans.

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Press release:

The Avenue of Flags is something National cemeteries display during Memorial Day. National cemeteries can either put small flags up at each marker or display an Avenue of Flags for Memorial Day. 

The Western New York National Cemetery has been recently approved to display the Avenue of Flags annually from Armed Forces Day (Third Saturday in May) to the Saturday after Veterans Day (Nov. 11).

Each flag that is flown along the Avenue has either draped a veteran's casket or accompanied a veteran's urn to their final resting place. These are known as interment flags.

Each flag has been presented to the next of kin of the veteran on behalf of the President of the United States and the branch of service the veteran served. Families donate their veterans interment flags to fly along the Avenue to represent their service and sacrifice to the country.     

The WNYNC Memorial Council is responsible for the maintenance of the flags as well as collecting the donated flags. The WNYNC Memorial Council is a newly developed council, begun within the last year to support the WNYNC.  

Photos by Howard Owens.

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May 13, 2021 - 9:27am

Submitted photos and press release:

The Western New York National Cemetery in Corfu is open; creating a nearby resting place for our nation’s veterans. A unique feature there will be the Avenue of Flags.

The Veterans Administration only permits official U.S. interment flags, also known as casket flags, to be flown here. Store-bought flags are not authorized.

This presentation of flying interment flags, lining the lanes in the Cemetery, will augment the reverence and prestige of this distinguished place.

Although there are more than 155 national cemeteries, only two others have this unique style of presentation -- using interment flags exclusively. They are the Indiantown Gap National Cemetery in East Hanover Township, Lebanon County, Pa., and the Black Hills National Cemetery in Sturgis, S.D.

An interment flag may be donated -- by a family whose relatives were entitled to military honors at their funeral -- to the Western New York National Cemetery Memorial Council(501c3) for display on the Avenue of Flags.

Many families have donated their flags to be flown in honor of all veterans and as a tribute to their deceased loved one, regardless of where the veteran is buried.

The annual presentation is set up in Spring for several Federal holidays and retired for the season after Veterans Day (Nov. 11).

Volunteers Maintain the Integrity of the Avenue of Flags

It counts on the aid of volunteer teams to maintain its integrity through the summer. Teams inspect the flags and when one becomes unrepairable or serviceable, it is removed and a new flag is put in its place.

Weather-worn flags are retired with dignity and their ashes placed in the graves of veterans who are interred at the cemetery in the future. Your loved one’s cherished flag will always remain at the Western New York National Cemetery to pay tribute to all those who honorably served their country.

Invitation to Donate Your Interment Flag

The Western New York National Cemetery Memorial Council respectfully invites you to donate your treasured interment flag to the Avenue of Flags.

It will fly to honor your loved one’s memory and all departed veterans. Also, if you would consider a tax-deductible donation to support the equipment and upkeep for this program, or wish to become involved with the Memorial Council itself, please contact us at the numbers below.

The Memorial Council is a 501c3 organization. Membership is open to all individuals, groups and organizations that wish to:

  • support our mission, through the traditions of God and Country;
  • associate ourselves together on special occasions to honor our living veterans;
  • pay tribute to the memory of our military comrades and their eligible family members whose mortal remains have been interred on the hallowed grounds of the WNY National Cemetery in Corfu.

The Council will coordinate ceremonies and events with the Cemetery staff during the year and provide any support needed that honors the memory of our Brothers, Sisters and eligible family members.

Become a Member in Good Standing of the WNY Memorial Council

To become a Member in Good Standing with the WNY Memorial Council you may do so by sending in “Lifetime” membership dues of $30.

Checks are to be written to WNY Heroes with “WNY Memorial Council Dues” written on the memo line to ensure it is placed in the correct account. 

Mail them to: WNY Heroes 8205 Main St., Suite 1, Williamsville, NY 14221

This is also the protocol for any donations with “Flag Committee Donation” on the memo line. A letter of thanks will go out on our letterhead with WNY Heroes tax exempt number on it.

For membership information contact:

William R. Joyce -- WNY Cemetery Memorial Council President / Cochair Avenue of Flags Committee

For Avenue of Flags information contact:

Mark Janik -- Chairman Avenue of Flags Committee

December 2, 2020 - 12:06pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in wny national cemetery, veterans, news, pembroke, notify.
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The WNY National Cemetery, which was dedicated in a ceremony Monday (see video), is now accepting reservations for interments for deceased qualified veterans, according to a spokesman for Veterans Affairs.

Les' A. Melnyk, chief of public affairs and outreach for the VA's National Cemetery Administration, said families and funeral directors who wish to schedule interments can do so by calling the National Cemetery Scheduling Office at (800) 535-1117. 

Interment dates and times are determined on a first-come, first-served basis in accordance with the family’s wishes and available time slots at the cemetery, Melnyk said.

Information regarding who is eligible for interment at a national cemetery can be found here.

November 30, 2020 - 9:34pm
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.

October 10, 2019 - 1:03pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in wny national cemetery, Veterans Cemetery, veterans, news, pembroke.

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Construction has begun on the new Western New York National Cemetary in Pembroke though the initial plan for Phase I construction has been cut back because of budget constraints, Veterans Affairs officials told a gathering of veterans Wednesday in Corfu.

The 132-acre cemetery will accommodate the remains of 96,000 veterans over the next 70 years but veterans at Wednesday's meeting were most concerned about the here-and-now: delays in construction; the need to scale back Phase I; and either budget shortfalls or mistakes by the VA in estimating construction costs.

Congress originally appropriated $36 million for the cemetery but the VA is now asking for an additional $10 million to complete construction.

One of the key legislative supporters of the cemetery has been Sen. Charles Schumer and his regional director, Chris Zelmann told veterans Wednesday that the senator continues to support the project and will fight for more funding once the VA validates the need for the additional $10 million in funding.

"It's paramount to the senator to make sure the VA moves heaven and earth to make good on its commitment to honoring our heroes in Western New York to ensure they can use the benefits they've earned and deserve," Zelmann said.

The vast majority of men and women who served in the U.S. military and received any discharge other than dishonorable are eligible for free interment at a national cemetery. 

Burials at the cemetery are expected to begin as late next year but for veterans who wish to have their remains cremated, their families will have to wait until Phase I-B is completed, perhaps not until 2022.

That phase will contain a columbarium, an arc-shaped area with rows of columns that will hold boxes for cremated remains. 

One woman at Wednesday's town hall said she's been storing her husband's cremated remains for four years.

One reason for the delay in construction said James Metcalfe, the new director of the WNY National Cemetery (top photo), in his experience working with two different contractors -- each phase has different construction contractors -- simultaneously can make it difficult to accommodate funerals. The goal is to get one section open for burials as soon as possible, then finish that construction before the second contractor begins work.

"We want internment and ceremonies taking place while there isn't so much underway at the same time both to maintain safety and a level of decorum," Metcalfe said.

One veteran expressed concern about the plan to use, temporarily, a trailer to house members of the honor guard. He said being an honor guard is physically and emotionally taxing and on days when they are performing services for multiple funerals, the members need a place to rest, relax, eat, and "hang their hat." He expressed concern that a trailer wouldn't be adequate.

Metcalfe said that while he can't provide the exact specifications of the trailer, he assured veterans that it would be appropriate and comfortable for members of the honor guard.

Eventually, the honor guard will have a permanent structure appropriate to their needs.

Assemblyman Steve Hawley, while acknowledging the bipartisan support for the veterans cemetery, said it's important for veterans and their families to keep the pressure on federal elected officials to ensure the project is appropriately funded. He said veterans should keep emailing and writing letters in support of funding.

"These are the people who served their country and they deserve a place to be buried with honor and dignity," Hawley said. "I'm not blaming any of you (motioning toward the VA officials). Even though some of us come from different political parties, it doesn't matter when it comes to taking care of our veterans.

"Today, I emailed Senator Schumer and my contact in the Trump Administration. If it's the money, it shouldn't matter when it comes to taking care of our veterans."

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Assemblyman Steve Hawley

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