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Aurora-area veterans push Knox park site for national cemetery

Aurora-area veterans are pushing hard for 100 acres of Knox Farm State Park to be selected for a new national veterans cemetery in Western New York.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs announced plans for such a cemetery between Buffalo and Rochester nearly two years ago. But now, interest in East Aurora is keen in lobbying state officials about a grass-roots idea that would involve "repurposing" a 100-acre section of the mostly passive 630-acre park.

"I think it would be a win-win for veterans and the town," Aurora Councilman James Bach said after Monday's Town Board meeting. "It's a complement to what's going on there already. National cemeteries are pristine and like shrines."

Nearly a dozen local veterans showed their support at the meeting, with a handful asking town officials to show their support by passing a resolution. The board plans to adopt a resolution backing the suggestion at its next meeting in two weeks. "We owe it to our brothers who aren't here any longer," said veteran Jim Suttell. "Quite frankly, I'd love to be buried there myself. [The park] is beautiful."

Suttell and other veterans said a section of the park across from Christ the King Seminary would be an ideal setting, and would not interfere with other park activities. Suttell said veterans do not want to alienate the Friends of Knox Park group, which is active in brainstorming ideas for the park, which last week was named to the Seven to Save list of the state's most threatened historical sites.

"A cemetery is not going to be loud," Suttell added.

Talk became serious at the Aurora level about five weeks ago, with Bach jumping in to spearhead the push for area veterans. Local veterans met in mid-April with Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., who a year ago urged Department of Veterans Affairs officials to pick up the pace in their efforts to find a location for the cemetery.

There are six national veterans cemeteries in New York State, but the closest is in Bath, in the Southern Tier, more than an hour's drive from Buffalo and Rochester.

In all, there are 850 combined members of organizations based at East Aurora's American Legion post.

"Why can't the state government donate a section of Knox Park for a national veterans cemetery?" said Bill Adams, a Marine veteran of World War II and the Korean War. "When our time comes, we hope we can be buried in a national cemetery in Western New York."

Aurora Supervisor Jolene Jeffe encouraged the veterans to lobby their state representatives and write to them. She noted that Assemblywoman Jane L. Corwin, R-Clarence, assured her in a conversation Monday that she would meet with state parks officials about finding a suitable site.

"There is a commitment to at least research it and determine if it is feasible," Jeffe said. "It may be a little bit late in the process, but we'll do everything we can so we get full consideration."