As we pause to honor those who have gone before us on Memorial Day, many will visit cemeteries across the nation. I'm pleased that this year's State Budget enables New York State to work with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to create a State Veterans' Cemetery.
I was proud to cast my vote in favor of this initiative. This year, we joined more than 30 states to create our own Veteran Cemetery--to honor our fallen and brave soldiers who died defending our nation and protecting our freedoms. In order for the state to participate in the VA's Cemetery Grant Program, the Commissioner of the State Veterans’ Affairs Department must have the legislative authority to complete and submit an application for a cemetery grant. That authority was granted this year.
The cemetery will be located in Putnam County and also will be maintained by the county. Putnam County donated the land and also accepted responsibility for the perpetual care and maintenance of the cemetery. The cemetery will provide a final resting place for many distinguished soldiers and their families--so more veterans can remain in their home state and closer to surviving family members.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs’ website, cemeteries must be operated solely for the burial of service members who die on active duty, veterans, and their eligible spouses and dependent children. Interment allowances are available for up to $700. The VA's Veterans Cemetery Grant Program is designed to complement VA's 131 national cemeteries across the country. The Veterans Cemetery Grant Program helps states, federally recognized tribal governments, or U.S. Territories establish new veterans’ cemeteries, expand, or improve existing veterans’ cemeteries. To date, the VA program has helped establish, expand, or improve 86 veterans’ cemeteries in 41 states and territories to include Northern Mariana Islands, and Guam, which provided more than 29,000 burials in fiscal year 2011. The VA has awarded grants totaling more than $438 million.
I'm pleased New York can finally take advantage of this federal funding to help bring honor and respect to more New York veterans and their respective family members. I hope that you and your family are able to celebrate Memorial Day. There will be much opportunity locally with parades, services and festivities in honor of those who have passed.
In honor of Memorial Day, I wanted to share with you a poem, "In Flanders Fields" by John McCrae, which inspired the tradition of poppies worn as a symbol of remembrance on this special holiday. It expressed McCrae's grief over the "row on row" of graves of soldiers who had died on Flanders' battlefields, located in a region of western Belgium and northern France. The poem presented an image of bright red flowers blooming among the rows of white crosses and became a rallying cry to all who fought in the First World War.
"In Flanders fields the poppies blow/ Between the crosses, row on row/ That mark our place; and in the sky/ The larks, still bravely singing, fly./ Scarce heard amid the guns below.
"We are the dead. Short days ago/ We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow/ Loved, and were loved, and now we lie/ In Flanders fields.
"Take up our quarrel with the foe:/ To you from failing hands we throw/ The torch; be yours to hold it high./ If ye break faith with us who die/ We shall not sleep, though poppies grow/ In Flanders fields."
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