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War of 1812 event marks 200th anniversary

The annual War of 1812 commemoration Sunday in Cheektowaga takes on extra significance this year.

"We do a commemoration every year, but this is a special year because it's the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812," said Laura Hacker, a member of the organizing committee.

The ceremony begins at noon at Aero and Wehrle drives with a parade that marches a short distance to the Garrison Cemetery National Historic Site, where hundreds of American, Canadian and British soldiers from the War of 1812 are buried in mass graves.

For years, local veterans have been paying tribute at the small burial ground on the second Sunday in June, an event made more formal in 1985 when the Town of Cheektowaga took over the cemetery from the Buffalo & Erie County Historical Society.

"It's a special place," said Thomas M. Johnson, chairman of Sunday's event and a former Town Board member who spearheaded efforts to acquire the cemetery. "It was something the community had inherited, and I just felt it was an extra special responsibility the town should assume."

The origins of the cemetery date to 1813 in nearby Williamsville, where a field hospital was set up to treat war casualties.

The small cemetery in Williamsville could not handle all the bodies, and a farmer allowed the far end of his property to be used for graves.

In 1932, registers from the Williamsville Army hospital were found in Washington, D.C., listing the names of more than 200 American soldiers buried in the cemetery, but historians later put the number at closer to 500, which included more than 100 British and Canadian soldiers who were never identified, Johnson said.

The War of 1812 cemetery was designated a national historic site in 2002.

Sunday's parade will be followed by cannonades of the British 2nd Lincoln Artillery of Fort Erie, Ont., and a battle re-enactment by Boy Scouts from Canada, and Troops 104, Kenmore, and 554, Cheektowaga.

The event will conclude with the raising of the British and American flags; the singing of the British, Canadian and American national anthems; the playing of "Amazing Grace" by the Erie County sheriff's bagpipers; and a 21-gun salute.

A reception will follow at Pvt. Leonard Post Jr. Post 6251, VFW in Cheektowaga.