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To remember and honor of our Nation’s veterans… now, and for eternity

Our decades long struggle to create a world class New York State veterans cemetery is now over. We all agree… it was well worth the effort…. to remember and honor of our Nation’s veterans… now, and for eternity.

Senator Michael Nozzolio

Memory is the most important form of honor. We honor the heroism and sacrifices of individuals by remembering them. This is especially true on Memorial Day. We come together to honor those who answered our Nation’s call, provided the ultimate sacrifice and gave to us all, in President Lincoln’s words, their last full measure of devotion.

This afternoon we commemorate on this hallowed ground where hundreds of thousands of sailors and airmen trained to defend America in countless battles from WWII well into the Gulf Wars.

Today is also special as it is the inaugural Memorial Day ceremony at the first New York State Veterans Cemetery and we culminate a journey that began only about a mile north from here at the Sampson museum, but took over a quarter century to complete.

On this day we honor our veterans and give thanks to the many who worked tirelessly to establish this cemetery as a final resting place of permanent honor to our Nation’s veterans, now and for eternity.

We welcome and give special thanks New York State Department of Veterans’ Services Commissioner Viviana DeCohen, herself an honored veteran of the United State Marine Corps. We especially appreciate her leadership and the support of her Department in establishing the first NY State Veterans’ cemetery as well as being here today to participate in today’s historic ceremony.

Last week I was able to thank Governor Hochul in person for her and Commissioner DeCohen’s work in establishing the cemetery, and today ask the Commissioner to extend our collective thanks to Governor Hochul from all of us assembled today.

It’s fitting we celebrate this the inaugural Memorial Day ceremony for the New York State Veterans Cemetery—Finger Lakes in the shadow of Waterloo, New York, the nationally recognized birthplace of Memorial Day…and further, in attendance is Brian Stratton, Director of the NY State Canal Corporation whose father, the late Congressman Sam Stratton, represented Seneca County and was responsible for providing the historical documentation and achieving the national designation that recognized Waterloo as the birthplace of Memorial Day. Thank you Director Stratton.

With today’s ceremony 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 late Steve Bull, a navy veteran from my hometown of Seneca Falls and a Sampson Salt who trained at the base in preparation for WWII, shared with me 26 years ago 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 earliest efforts we had faith that if we developed a cemetery with the highest standards, New York would one day join the national veterans cemetery system and the cemetery at Sampson would be designated the first in New York State.

It has been a labor of love and honor throughout the process. From enacting special legislation to acquire the land needed from New York State once earmarked for a prison, to the extensive uphill process of securing over $6 million in the state funds essential for designing the cemetery, clearing the land and beginning construction and renovations.

Mitch Rowe, our outstanding Seneca County Manager; the Seneca County Board of Supervisors, especially Chairmen Bob Shipley and Bob Hayseen; the Seneca County IDA; bipartisan support in the State Assembly: Assemblymen Brian Kolb, Phil Palmesano, Gary Finch, Jeff Gallahan and then Assemblyman and now Congressman Joe Morelle and Senators Pam Helming and Tom O’Mara, supported our mission and helped to achieve our objectives. Fate also blessed us by bringing Navy veteran Bill Yale to the Finger Lakes 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, who are each in the NY State Veterans Hall of Fame for their work, 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.

Senator Michael Nozzolio delivers remarks at Sampson Veteran's Cemetery on Memorial Day

I wish to take a moment to recognize and ask for your thanks of applause to the members of the Veterans Memorial Cemetery Task Force Members:

  • Michael Bowen, US Marine Corps, former President of NY State
    American Legion
  • Menzo D. Case, President and CEO of Generations Bank
  • Dewey Fellers, Commander, NY Naval Militia
  • Linda Fellers, Captain, US Naval Reserve, ret.
  • Joan Grela, NY State Senate Staff, ret.
  • Robert Hayssen, Chair, Seneca County Board of Supervisors
  • Douglas Logan, Sports Broadcaster, Veterans Advocate
  • Rena Nessler, the first woman President of NY State American Legion
  • Robert Nye, President FLCC, Colonel, US Army, ret.
  • Dr. Ken Padgett, former President NY Chiropractic College, trained at Sampson Air Force Base
  • Mitchell Rowe, Seneca County Manager
  • Jane Shaffer, President, Sessler Companies, Founder and major supporter of Waterloo Memorial Day Activities
  • Robert Shipley, Chair, Seneca County Board of Supervisors
  • Michael Smith, Navy Veteran, IBEW
  • Bruce Tuxill, General US Air Force, ret.
  • Bill Yale, Navy Veteran, Director, SVMC
  • Richard West, Admiral, US Navy, ret.
  • David and Darlene Duprey, Duprey Video Productions
  • Chairman: Michael F. Nozzolio, NYS State Senator, ret.,
  •   Lieutenant JAG Corps, US Naval Reserve ret., Lt. Commander NY Naval Militia, ret.


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