Sampson Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Seneca County Chosen by 8-0 Vote; Decision Marks Historic Step Toward the Establishment of New York’s First State Veterans Cemetery

Iconic New York Sites Will Be Lit in Red, White, and Blue Today in Honor and Remembrance of Those Who Died in Service

State Division of Veterans’ Services Will Conduct Online Remembrance for the Public

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that Sampson Veterans Memorial Cemetery, located at the site of the former Sampson Naval Training Station and Sampson Air Force Base in Romulus, Seneca County, has been chosen by a State-appointed committee as the site of New York’s first State Veterans Cemetery. This historic decision brings New York one step closer to establishing a permanent, State-owned resting place to honor the service and sacrifice of New York’s brave veterans and their family members. Governor Cuomo announced his commitment to establish New York’s first State Veterans Cemetery on Veterans Day 2019 and included this important goal in his 2020 State of the State agenda.

The Governor also announced today that iconic landmarks around New York State will be illuminated in red, white, and blue in commemoration of Memorial Day and in honor of the men and women of our nation’s armed forces who have given their lives to protect our freedom and the ideals we hold dear.

Governor Cuomo also announced that DVS will conduct a virtual statewide remembrance service to commemorate Memorial Day, inviting New Yorkers to provide photographs of friends and family members who served in America’s military and who have since passed away.

“We are forever indebted to the brave New Yorkers who served our nation in uniform and made the ultimate sacrifice so that we can continue to live freely and safely, and we will never forget their contributions to society,” Governor Cuomo said. “Our promise has always been to establish a permanent monument to these heroes and provide their family members — and people from across the state—a place to visit and honor their memories, and this site selected in Romulus is the perfect location for a sacred, final resting place. It’s an honor to establish the first state cemetery to honor homegrown heroes and I look forward to seeing the site open for New Yorkers and their families.”

Sampson Veterans Memorial Cemetery is situated on 162 acres along the eastern shore of Seneca Lake in New York’s Finger Lakes region. The cemetery is located on what was formerly the Sampson Naval Training Station and Sampson Air Force Base, where hundreds of thousands of servicemembers were trained during World War II and the Korean War. The site also served thousands more as a temporary college and as a separation center for service member discharges before the base’s official closure in 2000. The cemetery is also located a short distance from Waterloo, recognized across the country as the birthplace of the Memorial Day holiday.

Sampson is already a functioning veterans cemetery that operates in accordance with federal veterans cemetery standards. An initial 15 acres of the site have already been developed, providing for 6,000 planned grave sites and columbarium niches. The full 162-acre site provides the capacity to ultimately accommodate more than 80,000 grave sites. New York State’s Division of Veterans’ Services leadership team will visit the cemetery today, laying a wreath and participating in a brief Memorial Day ceremony.

New York State Division of Veterans’ Services Executive Deputy Director Joel Evans said, “On this solemn and sacred day, New York commemorates all of the valiant individuals who gave the last full measure of devotion to protect and defend our state and nation against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Having a State Veterans Cemetery will provide a dignified, state-owned final resting place that honors our Veterans for their service to our state and nation. We remember that it was a seemingly ordinary man, Henry C. Wells, in the small New York town of Waterloo who inspired the creation of this day following the Civil War. More than 150 years later, our state continues to keep the true meaning of this day alive, a day when we honor the fact that seemingly ordinary people doing unquestionably extraordinary things are the reason why our democracy remains strong. From the service and sacrifice of so many, we find continued inspiration to do everything in our power to realize their vision of America as a place of liberty and justice for all.”  

Division of Military and Naval Affairs Major General Raymond Shields said, “As New Yorkers enjoy this holiday weekend, I would urge them to think about – even for just a brief moment – the ultimate sacrifices made by our service men and women killed in our nation’s wars, so that all Americans can enjoy peace and freedom. We owe them that much.”

A nine-person site selection committee, created by state law and including members appointed by the Governor and legislative leaders, was charged with choosing the cemetery’s location:

  • Division of Veterans’ Services Deputy Director Joel Evans
  • Division of Military and Naval Affairs Major General Raymond Shields
  • Budget Director Robert Mujica (represented by designee Jesse Olczak)
  • Office of General Services Commissioner RoAnn Destito
  • Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos
  • New York State Senate Appointee Robert Becker
  • New York State Senate Appointee Thomas Butler
  • New York State Assembly Appointee James R. Bass
  • New York State Assembly Appointee Sergio Villaverde

The committee met on May 17 and again on May 24 and selected Sampson by an 8-0 vote, with one member absent for the vote. 

New York is one of only a few states nationwide that does not have a state veterans cemetery. There are more than 737,000 veterans who call New York State home, and both veterans and their families have advocated for the establishment of a state veterans cemetery for many years. Until recently, state law mandated an administrative process that involved setting aside 15 years’ worth of perpetual care costs prior to moving forward with the site selection process. Earlier this year, Governor Cuomo reached an agreement with the legislature and signed a law streamlining this process and reducing unnecessary barriers to the establishment of a state veterans cemetery.

The selection committee’s decision is the culmination of a search process that began in February with the issuance of a Request for Information to all local governments around the state, seeking responses from those that wished to have the first state veterans cemetery located in their jurisdiction. The Division of Veterans’ Services received 11 responses to the RFI, which were used to conduct a study and prepare a related report focused on the options available for New York’s first State Veterans Cemetery.

The unanimous decision by the committee members marks an important step toward the establishment of the dignified, State-owned final resting place that New York’s veterans and their families so deserve. The Division of Veterans’ Services will now work with partner agencies to determine the 10-year costs of operating and maintaining the Sampson cemetery. Following that step, the Division of the Budget and the Office of State Comptroller must determine whether such funds exist. When both of those steps have been completed, DVS will be able to apply to the National Cemetery Administration to receive federal funding for the establishment of the first state veterans cemetery. 

The landmarks that will be lit include:

  • One World Trade Center
  • Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge
  • Kosciuszko Bridge
  • H. Carl McCall SUNY Building
  • State Education Building
  • Alfred E. Smith State Office Building
  • New York State Fairgrounds – Main Gate & Expo Center
  • Niagara Falls
  • Grand Central Terminal – Pershing Square Viaduct
  • Albany International Airport Gateway
  • The Lake Placid Olympic Jumping Complex
  • MTA LIRR – East End Gateway at Penn Station
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt Mid-Hudson Bridge

On the Division’s Facebook and Twitter platforms, each Service Member will be individually honored with displays of their military photographs and the listing of their names and branches of service in a unique design that incorporates the red poppy, the symbol of Memorial Day since World War I, and one simple but powerful word: Remember.