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A dream come true – Sampson becomes state’s first veterans cemetery

This 2012 photo shows a Wreaths Across America ceremony being held at Sampson Veterans Memorial Cemetery. Evan Foster was one of several members of Boy Scout Troop 78 out of Ovid to help present the wreaths that day.


Spencer Tulis file photo / Finger Lakes Times

The famous philosopher, New York Yankee baseball great and Hall of Famer Yogi Berra is credited with many words of wisdom. Among those, it was Yogi who said: “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.” So true.

With the announcement last week by Gov. Kathy Hochul, as reported in the Finger Lakes Times by Steve Buchiere, I’m proud and grateful that our quarter-century quest to establish the very first New York State Veterans Cemetery in the National Cemetery System — on the hallowed grounds of the former Sampson Naval and Air Force bases — is officially completed.

The cemetery’s 162 acres have been transferred to New York state; the federal government has designated $2.8 million to make additional improvements to the site; and the Governor has designated the State Division of Veterans’ Services to oversee the facility.

The late Steve Bull, a veteran from my hometown of Seneca Falls and a Sampson Salt who trained at the base in preparation for WWII, 25 years ago shared with me his dream to create a veterans cemetery on the grounds of the former Sampson Naval and Air Force bases. When Steve passed, he entrusted his dream to me.

My eternal gratitude to the thousands of veterans from across our state and nation and the countless individuals, organizations and government officials who shared this dream and worked tirelessly to make it a reality, in spite of the seemingly insurmountable challenges we faced. Early on, many in Albany and Washington told us it was impossible, and it could not be done. We ultimately prevailed, and established a permanent resting place to honor our veterans, on this historic site, because it was the right thing to do, and we refused to take no for an answer.

From our early efforts, when the cemetery was still a dream, and over the next two decades, we had faith that if we developed a cemetery with the highest standards in full compliance with national cemetery requirements, New York would one day join the national veterans cemetery system and the cemetery at Sampson would be designated the first. New York was one of just a few states that did not have a state veterans’ cemetery in the national system.

Our initial challenge was to enact special legislation to acquire the land needed from the state that at one time was earmarked for a prison. Next, we began the uphill process of acquiring the state funds essential for designing the cemetery, clearing the land and beginning construction and renovations. I was proud and honored to help secure over $6 million in New York state funding for these critical steps.

Over the next decade, Mitch Rowe, our outstanding Seneca County Manager; the Seneca County Board of Supervisors, especially chairmen Bob Shipley and Bob Hayssen; the Seneca County IDA; my colleagues in the NYS Assembly: Assemblymen Brian Kolb, Phil Palmesano, Gary Finch, Joe Morelle and Jeff Gallahan and senators Pam Helming and Tom O’Mara, supported our mission and helped to achieve our objectives. Fate also blessed us by bringing to the Finger Lakes, Navy veteran Bill Yale who has operated the cemetery in an exemplary manner.

Special thanks to the original veteran cemetery committee members Carm Pascarella, Rick Connors, and Don Linborg, and our Sampson Veterans Memorial Cemetery Advisory Task Force that worked especially hard to garner public endorsements, assist in writing the application to the State’s Selection Committee and supporting our objective to establish Sampson as the first New York State Veterans Cemetery. That work included the creation of an outstanding video presentation that taken together made our application the logical and unanimous choice of the Selection Committee appointed by the Governor

Our decades-long struggle to create a world-class New York state veterans cemetery is now over. It was well worth the extensive effort, and is the first New York state veterans cemetery, officially established, now and for eternity.

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