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Sampson selected to be New York State’s first veterans cemetery

Local media outlets announced the news on Monday

New York’s first state veterans cemetery will be in Seneca County.

A nine-member selection committee voted Monday to designate Sampson Veterans Memorial Cemetery as a state veterans cemetery. The vote was unanimous in support of the site in the town of Romulus.

The state Division of Veterans’ Services recommended Sampson to the committee after receiving 11 responses to a request for information that was issued in February. The agency examined each of the proposed sites and released a report that endorsed Sampson to be the first state veterans cemetery.

Sampson emerged as the favorite because it is already operating as a veterans cemetery. The cemetery, which is located on land that was part of the former Sampson Air Force Base and Sampson Naval Training Station, opened in 2011. There are approximately 300 interments at the cemetery each year, according to the report released by the state Division of Veterans’ Services.

Photo by Robert Harding, The Citizen

The head start gave Sampson an advantage in many categories. Compared to other proposals, the cemetery serves the largest veteran population (131,254) within a 75-mile radius of the site. It has an actual budget — $132,872 for annual maintenance and operation expenses — instead of an estimated spending plan.

For cemeteries at other proposed sites, they could take more than a year to build and construction costs would be significant. Because Sampson was built in accordance with National Cemetery Administration standards, there wouldn’t be any construction costs.

The cemetery’s initial plan is to use 15 acres for 6,000 gravesites. More sections can be developed “at a minimal cost,” according to the state Division of Veterans’ Service’s report. The 162-acre site has the capacity for approximately 80,000 gravesites.

Joel Evans, the acting director of the state Division of Veterans’ Service, noted that the report issued by his agency was “advisory in nature.” The final decision rested with the selection committee, which first met last week.

There was little discussion during the 22-minute meeting on Monday. Bob Becker, a Schenectady resident and Marine Corps veteran who was appointed to the committee, relayed questions about Sampson he received from a veterans group in Binghamton. The questions included whether Sampson is open (it is already operating), who will oversee operations (Seneca County would transfer ownership to the state) and who it would serve (it would be limited to veterans and their spouses).

  • By Robert Harding, The Citizen (Link) 

State selects Sampson as state’s first veterans cemetery

It took 10 years, but Seneca County’s hope of having the Sampson Veterans Memorial Cemetery selected as the state’s first official veterans cemetery became reality Monday.

State officials and the governor’s office made the announcement Monday.

No one was happier with the news than former Assemblyman and State Sen. Mike Nozzolio of Fayette, who represented the county for more than 30 years.

“This is a great day for the people of New York state, the Finger Lakes region, Seneca County and for all veterans across our state and nation,” Nozzolio said Monday.

He got state funding in 2011 to use a portion of Sampson State Park off Route 96A in Romulus for a veterans cemetery. Seneca County was convinced to pay for operating it while the campaign to have it become the state veterans cemetery was waged. State grants paid for capital improvements, following national veterans cemetery standards.

Nozzolio agreed to serve as chairman of the Sampson Veterans Memorial Cemetery Citizens Committee after he left public office. He said he was approached by the late Steve Bull of Seneca Falls, who was trained by the Navy at Sampson, with the idea of a veterans cemetery on the south end of Sampson.

That was in the mid-1990s when Bull headed a group called Sampson Salts, a Sampson alumni group. “Steve asked me to carry the ball and make it happen. I agreed it was an appropriate idea and went to work,” Nozzolio said.

He said there were many obstacles to overcome. Those included the fact that Sampson was not close to a major metropolitan area and a “myriad” of bureaucratic snags.

“But little by little, we overcame them. We followed national veterans cemetery guidelines from the start to be ready for this moment and it paid off. We were a unanimous selection from about a dozen applicants for the honor,” Nozzolio said.

He predicts it will be a “seamless” transition from a county run to a state veterans cemetery. The next step will be applying to the Veterans Administration by July for inclusion in the national veterans cemetery system.

“After over two and a half decades of perseverance, hard work, dedication and commitment to our cause, we are extremely pleased and grateful to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Site Selection Committee he designated for the unanimous selection of the Sampson Veterans Memorial Cemetery as the first New York State Veterans Cemetery,” Nozzolio said in a release Monday.

The 162-acre cemetery has 799 veterans and dependents buried there. The operation of the cemetery was assigned to the county Economic Development Corporation and William Yale, a Navy veteran, was hired as cemetery director.

Nozzolio said the citizen’s committee “was pleased to work with a great team that put together a winning proposal for Sampson” and “to create a permanent resting place of honor for our veterans in a magnificently beautiful setting located on hallowed ground where hundreds of thousands of sailors and airmen prepared for battle to defend liberty and freedom throughout the world.”

Sampson was the location of Sampson Naval Training Station during World War II and then Sampson Air Force Base during the Korean War period. The property was acquired by the state in 1960 and has been a state park for decades.

Nozzolio noted that Seneca County submitted a formal proposal to be the state’s veterans cemetery in March and was competing with 11 other proposals.

Sarah Davis, executive director of the county IDA and EDC, said the EDC “is thrilled by the news that Sampson Veterans Memorial Cemetery will be the first state veterans cemetery.”

“This is a momentous occasion for a community with such strong ties to the military and celebration of its veterans,” Davis said. “We are proud to have been able to keep the cemetery operating over the past decade and look forward to the recognition this news will bring to our county.”

Other local military ties to the county are the location of the former Seneca Amy Depot in Romulus from 1941 to 2000 and the designation by Congress of Waterloo as the Birthplace of Memorial Day in 1966.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Bob Hayssen, R-Varick, said thanks should start with the Sampson Salts for proposing the veterans cemetery idea to Nozzolio. “From there, Sen. Nozzolio led and took it all the way to the finish line,” he said.

He said the Supervisors also supported the cemetery idea, providing funding to operate and maintain the cemetery as if it was already a national veterans cemetery. He said the IDA also stepped up and took over the day to day operations.

“Now we are ready to show off, with pride, our soon-to-be state veterans cemetery,” Hayssen said.

Yale said he watched the announcement on the state VA website. “We are, of course, very happy with the selection. We have been preparing for this for ten years now. Although we didn’t know it would take this long, it was well worth the wait,” Yale said.

He said many people deserve credit.

“Sampson has a rich military history of service to the nation. We continue that tradition at Sampson now as the first state veterans cemetery. It is an honor to be selected and we look forward to continuing to provide a resting place for our nation’s heroes for many years to come,” he said.

Statements of happiness with the decision also were made by Nozzolio’s successor, State Sen. Pam Helming of Canandaigua, and Assemblymen Jeff Gallahan, R-Manchester, and Phil Palmesano, R-Corning.

  • By David Shaw, FL Times (Link)

Sampson selected to be state’s first veterans cemetery

Seneca County will be the home of the state’s first veterans cemetery.

That decision came on Monday with a vote to identify Sampson Veterans Memorial Cemetery as a state veterans cemetery.

The vote was unanimous among the nine-member committee tasked with selecting a site for the state’s first veterans cemetery. The size of the property and existing operation made Sampson a front-runner in the selection process. However, there were nearly a dozen responses to the state’s initial request.

The region’s state lawmakers were not only instrumental in the naming of Sampson as the state’s first veterans cemetery, but applauded the decision ahead of Memorial Day.

“It has been my honor to fight for Sampson’s designation as New York’s first state veterans cemetery. This is the good news we have all been waiting for. It’s the result of years of hard work, dedication and perseverance by local veterans, Seneca County, and retired State Senator Mike Nozzolio, who made this one of his top priorities. The tireless work by these individuals has been awe-inspiring, and it reflects our enduring commitment and responsibility to support and honor our veterans. My father was a U.S Air Force veteran who trained at Sampson Air Force Base. This recognition means so much to so many veterans and their families. Sampson Veterans Memorial Cemetery will continue to proudly serve as a lasting memorial and hallowed resting place for our nation’s greatest heroes,” Sen. Helming said

“The selection of Sampson Veterans Memorial Cemetery as New York’s first state veterans cemetery has been more than a decade in the making. Home to the birthplace of Memorial Day, Seneca County has a rich history in honoring our veterans, making Sampson the strongest choice for New York’s first veterans cemetery. Thank you to Sen. Mike Nozzolio for his visionary leadership, Chairman Bob Hayssen, Seneca County Manager Mitch Rowe, Cemetery Director Bill Yale and everyone who worked to make this possible,” Assemblyman Gallahan added.

  • Josh Durso, (Link)
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