PEMBROKE — The future Western New York National Cemetery, where work is in progress, was the site of a quiet ceremony Thursday afternoon to consecrate the ground where burials will take place.

Genesee County Veterans Service Agency Director William Joyce said the ceremony lasted about an hour and is something done at every national cemetery.

“They just do it once, prior to doing the first burials,” he said.

Joyce said the Department of Veterans Affairs wanted to handle the event as a solemn ceremony.

“It was total quiet while we were doing it, other than people saying the prayers and the consecration of the ground,” he said. “I think it was important because it should be a solemn ceremony. That’s what tradition of the VA for consecration of the grounds is.

“It led off with the presentation of the colors than the Pledge of Allegiance was led by myself. The director (Western New York National Cemetery Director James Metcalfe) gave a history of national cemeteries and the tradition of consecration of the grounds,” Joyce said. “Every one of the religious leaders came up and said a prayer. We started off with the Tonawanda Seneca Nation. The rabbi from the Temple Beth Zion was there. We had eight religious leaders there. The Seneca Nation said their prayer not only in their language, but they translated it into the English language. Then it was the rabbi, the Orthodox church and then the Catholic church.”

Bishop Joseph Coffey of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, participated in the ceremony, as did Fr. James Bastian, chaplain for the Buffalo VA Medical Center, participated in the blessing of the grounds with holy water.

Joyce presented the Honor Guard for Thursday’s ceremony. The guard included the following members of Botts Fiorito American Legion Post 576 in Le Roy: Officer-in-Charge Carl Hyde, Jr.; U.S. Flag Bearer Gerald Diskin; POW Flag Bearer Timothy Shefflin; Pistol Flag Guard John Rohl; Pistol Flag Guard Wayne Walker; Firers Brock Cummins, Richard Feneran, Gary Gavenda, Dennis McCumiskey, David Rumsey, Gary Bassett and James Williams. Tom Cecere of the Glenn S. Loomis American Legion Post 332 in Batavia and the Genesee County Color Guard was the bugler.

The cemetery, at 1254 Indian Falls Rd., is ahead of schedule, Joyce said. The VA said the cemetery, being built in two phases, will include a front entrance, an administration building, a maintenance building, a flagpole assembly area, a memorial walkway, committal shelters, columbarium and a public information center with an electronic gravesite locator, and restrooms. The first burials are expected late this year. The new national cemetery will serve the burial needs of more than 96,000 veterans for the next 70 years, the VA National Cemetery Administration said on a fact sheet. The administration says Armed Forces members who die on active duty and veterans who were discharged under any conditions other than dishonorable are eligible to be buried in a national cemetery. Go to https://www.cem.va.gov/burial_benefits/eligible.asp for more information on eligibility.

“They’re way ahead of the schedule for construction of it. They’re going to take out bids for turf and that will be where the first burials will be where the ground was blessed yesterday (Thursday),” Joyce said. “The administration building shouldn’t even be in construction — that is in construction right now. The committal shelter, They’re going to have two on site and they have one built already.”

Joyce said he and another person are on the Memorial Committee which will be accepting donations. He said the committee can’t start accepting donations for the cemetery until paperwork is completed. He said donations will be used for needs such as a golf cart to take a veteran’s family to his or her gravesite if anyone in the family is wheelchair-bound, for example.

“A lot of people who talked to us said, ’Tell us where to send it (a donation).’ You can’t send it anywhere yet,” he said.

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