WASHINGTON – Sen. Charles E. Schumer and local veterans leaders are teaming up to ask the federal government to name Western New York’s new veterans cemetery after Buffalo native William J. Donovan, a legendary war hero who’s also known as “the father of U.S. intelligence.”
Schumer, D-N.Y., is scheduled to appear today at a news conference with several local veterans leaders to announce the idea, as well as a proposal to expand the 132-acre cemetery site in Pembroke by nearly 50 percent.
“Bill Donovan is one of our most distinguished war heroes and one of the great sons of Western New York,” Schumer said in an interview. “I’ve been working ... to find an opportunity to honor his memory, and we think we found a really good one.”
Schumer said his office has been working with local veterans leaders to find a new way to honor Donovan ever since the plan emerged to convert the William J. Donovan State Office Building in downtown Buffalo into a hotel.
Some veterans had been pushing to name Buffalo’s new federal courthouse after Donovan, but federal lawmakers coalesced instead around the idea of naming that facility after Robert H. Jackson, a highly regarded U.S. Supreme Court justice from Frewsberg, near Jamestown.
Donovan deserves recognition, though, given his record in World War I and in government, Schumer said. Donovan was the only U.S. soldier ever to receive the nation’s four highest honors: the Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, the Distinguished Service Medal, and the National Security Medal.
After World War I, Donovan served as U.S. attorney for the Western District of New York. And even though he was a Republican, Donovan became close with Democratic President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who in 1941 named Donovan as “coordinator of information.”
Tasked with consolidating America’s scattershot intelligence operations, Donovan in 1942 formed the Office of Strategic Services, which later became the Central Intelligence Agency.
“Because of Bill Donovan, many of us are much safer today,” Schumer said.
What’s more, Schumer noted that Donovan was “a true son of Buffalo” who attended St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute and Niagara University before going to Columbia University, where he became a football star known as “Wild Bill Donovan” – a nickname that would follow him throughout his career.
Given the support among local veterans for naming the new cemetery after Donovan, Schumer said he expects the Department of Veterans Affairs to agree to his proposal.
The VA agreed in late May to locate the cemetery at a 132-acre site just north of the Pembroke exit of the New York State Thruway.
The agency plans to award a contract for the cemetery master planning and design work later this year. That work usually takes up to two years, with construction lasting another two to two and a half years, although burials can generally begin a year into the construction process.
Schumer said he plans to meet soon with Bob McDonald, President Obama’s choice to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, and when he does, he will suggest that the VA purchase a 60-acre site that’s adjacent to the planned cemetery to expand the facility.
“We think the cemetery, which is now 132 acres, is going to need to be larger,” Schumer said. “There are 96,000 underserved Western New York veterans and their families. We don’t want to wait. I’d like them to purchase the land now before the price goes up.”