It is a shame that with the metamorphosis of the Donovan Building to a combination hotel and law firm, Western New York no longer has anything named for one of its most famous and consequential sons, William “Wild Bill” Donovan. That’s why the proposal by Sen. Charles E. Schumer to name a veterans cemetery for the father of the CIA is entirely appropriate – and also insufficient.
Donovan is a real American hero, with roots that run deep in Western New York soil. He attended St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute and Niagara University before going to Columbia University where, as a football star, he acquired the nickname “Wild Bill.” It stuck.
He is 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 in 1941 he was named the nation’s “coordinator of information” by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. His task was to consolidate the country’s intelligence operations, and in 1942 he 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.
That deserves recognition, and for years, Buffalo provided it in the Donovan State Office Building at Main and Scott streets. But as momentum built to create an inviting waterfront in Buffalo, state offices were moved, the building was stripped and it was rebuilt as the new home of Phillips Lytle law firm and a Marriott Courtyard Hotel. The name Donovan appears nowhere on the building.
Since the state offices moved out, Schumer has been looking for another way to honor Donovan. Some pushed for the new federal courthouse on Niagara Square to be named for him, but that honor went to another worthy Western New Yorker, Robert H. Jackson, a former U.S. attorney general, Supreme Court justice and chief U.S. prosecutor at the Nuremberg war crimes trials following World War II.
So, for the past several years, Donovan has gone officially unrecognized in the city that gave him his start. Schumer wants to remedy that by asking the federal government to name Western New York’s new veterans cemetery in Pembroke for Donovan. It’s a fine idea; in addition to everything else, Donovan was a general and decorated veteran of World War I. We’re sure he would approve.
But Donovan is important enough to Western New York that Schumer and other Western New York leaders should continue looking for a bigger opportunity to honor him. He is a large enough figure that it would have been appropriate to name the new courthouse for him. Given that, a new cemetery, while a place of real honor, isn’t equal to the standing this hero deserves.