WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has selected a 132-acre site just north of the Pembroke exit of the New York State Thruway as the location of Western New York’s new veterans cemetery.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat who has been pushing the VA’s National Cemetery Administration for years to locate a cemetery in the region, announced the VA’s move on Thursday.
“This site selection is great news for the many thousands of deserving veterans living in Buffalo, Rochester and beyond,” Schumer said. “With this new cemetery in Pembroke, these veterans and family members will be able to have a proper military burial near their homes in Western New York, and their families will be able to pay their respects without having to travel over 100 miles – something that can be a tremendous burden for many families.”
The cemetery will be located at 1232 Indian Falls Road in the Town of Pembroke in Genesee County between Buffalo and Rochester, the two metropolitan areas that it will serve.
The VA declined to comment on the decision until after it closes on the property. But in an interview, Schumer said the agency wanted the cemetery to be located between Buffalo and Rochester to serve both communities.
The purchase of the property, which is expected to be completed shortly, will allow the VA to get going on design work and then the construction of roads and other facilities.
“I’d say it will be a couple of years” before the cemetery is ready, Schumer said. “We’ll push the VA to move as quickly as possible.”
Patrick W. Welch, a local veterans activist who has been lobbying for the creation of the cemetery for eight years, said he is pleased with the location of the cemetery.
“While we would have loved for the cemetery to have been in Erie County, we’re not unhappy with the decision to put it in Pembroke,” said Welch, the former director of Daemen College’s Center for Veterans & Veteran Family Services. “The accessibility of the location, right off the Thruway, is great.”
Also, the location is great for residents of Buffalo and Rochester alike, Welsh added. The site is located approximately 30 miles from Buffalo and 48 miles from Rochester.
The Obama administration announced in February 2010 that it planned to locate a veterans cemetery in Western New York, answering the pleas of veterans’ families who otherwise would have had to drive to Bath, in Steuben County, to bury their loved ones in a veterans cemetery.
The site selection process took a long time for several good reasons, Schumer said. For one thing, the VA has strict requirements for the kind of properties that are appropriate for a veterans cemetery. And once it found some suitable properties in Western New York, some of the potential property sellers decided against selling.
The Buffalo News reported in March 2013 that the VA had selected the Pembroke site as its preferred location, choosing it over another parcel in Pembroke and vacant commercial property in Lancaster, which was the only Erie County location among the finalists.
An archaeological study of the preferred Pembroke site then had to be conducted.
“I am pleased that after four years of hard work, we finally have a site in place,” Schumer said. “After serving our country so valiantly, and for so many years, it is only appropriate that we develop a national shrine, on a beautiful piece of land right in our backyard, for our veterans’ final resting place.”
The cemetery will provide a burial option for approximately 96,000 veterans and family members living in Western New York. Of all the regions in the country, Western New York was one with the largest veterans population that did not have a veterans cemetery of its own, Schumer added.
“For too long, Western New York’s veterans have been denied the honor of being laid to rest among their fellow heroes right here in our community,” said Rep. Chris Collins, a Clarence Republican whose district includes Pembroke. “Today’s announcement of a veterans cemetery in Pembroke finally rights that wrong. This location will allow veterans from all around our region to be properly and locally honored for their service to this country.”