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Gov. Hochul Visits 1st NYS Veteran’s Cemetery For Memorial Day Service



Governor Kathy Hochul Monday afternoon delivered remarks commemorating Memorial Day and the recent establishment of New York’s first ever State Veterans Cemetery in Seneca County.

The cemetery was established earlier this year with the transfer of land ownership from Seneca County to the State and ensures the State can provide dignified burial options for New York’s veterans and their families for generations to come.

“Memorial Day is a sacred reminder of the profound debt of gratitude we owe to our fallen heroes,” Governor Hochul said. “The first State Veterans Cemetery honors brave men and women and the sacrifices they made to defend our freedom, preserve our democracy and ensure our safety, and I am proud to commemorate this commitment to our veterans and their families to ensure they can rest in peace.”




A transcript of the Governor’s remarks is available below:

I want to thank Joel Evans for performing the responsibility of being our emcee today. He’s doing a great job. Thank you, Joel.

Also, I don’t know if you know the story – when you see Reverend Director Viviana DeCohen stand here, you couldn’t possibly know her heroic story. She is a United States Marine. She served in Okinawa. She is one tough lady. I want to give her a special shout out for her service to our nation. And thank you for continuing your service to our nation and to our state in particular by accepting the responsibility of being the caregiver for all of our veterans because they are a part of our family.

And we both agree that we owe them yes, shelter and education – help if they need it, supportive services. But above all, they deserve our love when they return. So I want to thank you for being the person who does that so beautifully for us. I’m so proud. Reverend Binkewicz, I want to thank you for coming here, pastor at St. George Orthodox Church, and reminding us of the presence of God in our lives and that we should be walking with gratitude every day.

I want to also thank the elected leaders who are here, starting with our Assemblymember Jeff Gallahan, whose wife Lynn and I just had a wonderful tour of a place that is extraordinary – the birthplace of Memorial Day. Where else would be beyond Memorial Day, but the birthplace right up the road in Waterloo. So thank you for joining me. Thank you, Assemblymember, for joining us here today.

Brian Manktelow is here, our Assemblyman. Let’s give him a round of applause as well, Assemblymember, thank you for what you’ve done. Phil Palmesano is here, Assemblymember. Great to see you again, Phil. There’s a blast from the past here – Senator Mike Nozzolio. And I want to thank him for all the work he did to bring this vision of having New York’s first State Veterans’ Cemetery right here. So I want to thank him for his dedication in getting this finally finished. We also have Mitch Rowe, the County Manager of Seneca County. I want to thank Mitch for being here as well. And Michael Enslow, the Chairman of the Board of Supervisors of Seneca County.

Anybody else that I’m missing? Oh, I’m sure he is on his way – sorry. Important job, I come out of county government, as well as town government. The Assemblymember and I were sharing stories of what it was like to be town board members for many years. So I cut my teeth in local politics.

Also blessed to have someone who’s been at my side for – how many years? 39. A long time. My husband, Bill, 39 years of marriage and we know this area so well because Bill and I – also, I want to recognize Brian Stratton because I was thinking about some journeys Bill and I have made here on the Canal all the way from Buffalo to this very lake and camped at Sampson State Park. That’s a long trip. You have to be really close to your spouse to do that in a little boat on the Erie Canal. But we had a wonderful time.

And also the keeper of our beautiful parks – the person who’s responsible for what are really national treasures. And he’s right here, in the flesh, and that is Erik Kulleseid. I want to thank him for joining us as well.

It is a high honor for me to be here though on this occasion. Again, I’ve come here for recreation, to find peace of mind, sometimes to find an opportunity to support our local economy, stopping by Three Brothers and other little wineries here. So I’ve ridden my bike on your highways. I’ve been on the waterways. I’ve walked through your small towns in this beautiful county, in this beautiful part of our state.

But today is unique. Today is unique. And we must remember it is a solemn day. You may have a picnic waiting for you at home, perhaps not, but it is a solemn day. And let us never forget that. It’s also a day of remembrance, a day of reverence, but also a day of reflection and a day to recommit to our values as American citizens.

So, we are here. We think about what President Lincoln said at the dedication of a perhaps better-known cemetery, Gettysburg. I’ve been there many, many times, taken tours countless times because I love military history, the story of our nation – how we fought to preserve the union. And he said he recognized the people had given the last full measure of devotion, is to sacrifice your life.

So today, we honor those who had that selfless devotion to serve. Now, some were called to serve. Some were voluntary during peacetime, some enlisted during wartime. There’s a whole list of reasons, many different experiences have brought people to this place. But I will say this about this part of our state – this area is steeped in military history. We know the people are so proud of the legacy of the work that was done, whether it’s the submarines being tested on the lake right here, the military base, what happened here, the naval training station, the Air Force base, it all happened right here in this great county. That’s why we bleed red, white, and blue here.

This is part of our DNA as New Yorkers, but particularly those who are so proud to call this part of the state our home. And literally, hundreds of thousands of servicemembers trained right here. I’m sure some of your grandparents have stories, even some of your parents have stories. And it’s extraordinary. As I mentioned, we’re just literally 10 minutes south of Waterloo.

What is so significant about the first Memorial Day is that it was a way to commemorate those who fought in a very difficult time in our nation. I don’t know if people know the whole purpose of Memorial Day was to honor those who died during the Civil War. That was a time when our country was fractured. Brother fought brother, father fought son. We were so divided as a country. It was really a test of whether or not we would survive this great experiment known as democracy, the one that our founding fathers so believed in.

But would it endure the test of time? Could we survive a civil war? And Memorial Day answers the question, yes – yes, we survived. And that is why, just right up the road here, the rest of the nation followed the lead of Little Waterloo in saying this is a time to reflect on the sacrifice, the loss of life, the families torn apart at that time had brought together in a sense of trying to heal the loss of a loved one.

But that history continued on as we fought other battles. And I think about those other battles. And again, there’s all – many connections to those. Our country is almost 250 years old. You realize that? Many battles are fought right here in our state – Saratoga, Battle of Brooklyn, Ticonderoga. Take the time over the next couple years to tour these sites. No other state can lay claim to so many significant sites where we had, as part of our history, our forefathers who fought to preserve – to fight for the freedom from an oppressive nation known as Great Britain. But also, we fought in World War I, the beaches of Normandy, Omaha, where my husband’s father landed at Omaha Beach.

We also had people fighting after Pearl Harbor – people in the South Pacific, like Assemblymember Gallagher’s father fought. I had uncles fighting in Korea. I had four more uncles fought in Vietnam, and I’ll tell you about this – are there any veterans from Vietnam here today? I want to tell you this: Our country owes you so much more than you received when you came home.

I know that from my uncles. My uncle was told when he came through the airport in San Francisco on his way back, “Don’t wear your uniform because you might be verbally assaulted.” You never got the thank you and I think that’s a black mark on our nation, the way we treated those returning from Vietnam.

And I have dedicated my life, in honor of my uncles and those who had to come to a country that wasn’t as warm and welcoming as we have been subsequently. So, accept an apology from a grateful nation that is long overdue.

We also think of the families left behind. There are people buried here. This is hallowed ground. People use that phrase often, but it is truly hallowed ground. It’s sacred ground. Since World War II, people have been brought home to rest here, more recently from Iraq and Afghanistan. And when I served as a Member of Congress, not representing Seneca County, but nearby Ontario County and many other beautiful Upstate counties, I wanted to be on the Armed Services Committee for one reason – I wanted to be able to see and experience what men and women in uniform were dealing with so I would be better prepared to deal with them when they came home.

I went to Afghanistan. I went to five bases. I sat and talked to people from New York in the mess hall. I asked them what their greatest fear was. And I assumed it would be the Taliban that were looking to attack them just right over the horizon. Their biggest fear was coming back to America, being homeless, not getting a job, being concerned they would have mental health challenges, and that broke my heart. They are across the world, away from their family and loved ones, and they have those worries on their mind – hopefully no longer. That was back in 2011, 2012.

We’ve made a difference in their lives, but we have so much more to do. And so, we are the home of over 700,000 veterans. We’ll honor our veterans, those living, and I honor those here today. We have a day in November. We’ll be back out there again speaking about those and our responsibility, our moral obligation.

But in honor of those who died, which is what Memorial Day is all about, I simply ask us this: Can we recommit to that audacious and bold idea of having something known as the United States of America? Can we put the focus on the word “united” once again? That’s what our founding fathers dreamed of. It’s been tested. We’ve come through some times. We had a civil war, my friends. But we always pull together.

And I guarantee everybody in this crowd does not exactly have the same political beliefs and you may not watch the same cable TV shows, but we are all joined in the knowledge we are so blessed to be in this place in this moment in history. This is the United States of America. But it only stays united if we continue ourselves to be soldiers, some in uniform, but some civilians, soldiers to protect the fundamental freedoms that our founding fathers envisioned. They’ve endured for almost 250 years.

That torch is passed to us to ensure that it endures during our lifetime, and we pass that torch to our children and they pass it to their children so 250 years from today, we are still the United States of America. Let’s commit in honor of those buried here today that we’ll go forth and do that together as one.

Thank you very much. May God bless all of our veterans. May God bless the United States of America.



The New York State Veterans Cemetery – Finger Lakes is located on 162 acres in Romulus, Seneca County, situated along Seneca Lake and adjacent to Sampson State Park. The Cemetery holds a special place in the heart of the New York State veterans community, as it is located on the grounds of the former Sampson Naval Training Station and Sampson Air Force Base. These sites were instrumental in training hundreds of thousands of Service members during World War II and the Korean War. Furthermore, the Cemetery’s location near Waterloo – the birthplace of Memorial Day – adds to its historical significance.
The New York State Veterans Cemetery – Finger Lakes pays tribute to the brave Service members who sacrificed their lives for this State and Nation. It is a place where families can find solace and take pride in the service and sacrifices of their loved ones. The Cemetery stands as a testament to the State’s unwavering commitment to honoring the memory of its Veterans, Service members and their families. There are more than one thousand veterans interred at the cemetery, representing every conflict from World War II to the present day.

Memorial Day was first recognized on May 5, 1866, in the Village of Waterloo, New York, when veterans and civic leaders marched to the community’s three cemeteries for grave site remembrance services honoring those who had lost their lives in the Civil War. In 1971, Memorial Day was officially recognized as a federal holiday and a National Day of Mourning and remembrance for those who lost their lives serving in the U.S. armed forces.

New York State Department of Veterans’ Services Commissioner Viviana DeCohen said, “Memorial Day is a solemn reminder of the sacrifices made by our brave servicemen and women who laid down their lives in defense of our freedom. It is a day to honor their memory, pay tribute to their selflessness, and express our eternal gratitude. The inaugural event at the first state veterans cemetery in New York is a poignant symbol of our commitment to ensuring a final resting place that befits the heroes who fought for our nation. May their legacy forever inspire us to cherish the values they fought for and uphold the ideals they held dear.”

New York State Department of Veterans’ Services

The New York State Department of Veterans’ Services (DVS) advocates on behalf of New York’s Veterans and their families, as individuals and as a group, to ensure they receive benefits granted by law for service in the United States Uniformed Services. DVS provides free benefits advising. Experienced and dedicated advisors — each a Veteran — work in a network of field offices across the state and offer Veterans and their families with professional help to resolve social, medical, and economic matters.

Veterans Benefits Advisors assist the claimant — whether a Veteran, spouse, child, or parent — in completing applications, obtaining necessary documentation, and filing claims for a broad spectrum of federal, State, local, and private Veterans’ benefits.  Veterans Benefits Advisors also assist by responding to follow-up correspondence and appealing an unfavorable ruling.

By working closely with other State, federal, local, and private agencies, DVS utilizes the expertise and resources of others to help Veterans and their families with specific needs, such as economic, employment, rehabilitation, medical treatment, home health care, education, and tax exemption.

For more information about veterans’ benefits, please make an appointment with a DVS Veterans Benefits Advisor by calling 888-838-7697 or visiting the agency’s website.

All Photos by Greg Cotterill, Finger Lakes Daily News.

(Here is a gallery of photos from Monday, just click on a picture and then use the arrows to change the photo.)

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