Press-Republican

November 12, 2012

Time drags as vets pursue military cemetery

By IAN TULLY
Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — “I served my country in ‘Nam, and I should be buried in my hometown,” Mike Morse said. 

Morse grew up in Plattsburgh, although he currently lives in Florida. The cemetery he has in mind requires some explanation.

Morse, 63, owns and runs A-Plus Tool Sharpening in Clearwater, Fla. He served 28 perilous months in Vietnam, survived three heart attacks and overcame prostate cancer that left him disabled.

After his death, he wants to be buried in a veterans cemetery here in the North Country, but the closest state burial ground is 130 miles south in Saratoga Springs. 

Despite the North Country’s lack of a state cemetery dedicated to those who served in the military, Morse is hopeful one will be constructed before he needs it.

“I don’t want to be the first one there, but it would still be comforting.”

NOT QUICK, EASY 

The idea of a state-owned veterans cemetery is not only Morse’s idea, nor is he the first to hope for one.

Steve Bowman, Clinton County’s director of veterans affairs, said he has worked for 13 years to move the project forward alongside vets who want to see it established. The effort is targeted on locating land, securing grants and persuading state lawmakers to pass the legislation that would pay for the cemetery. 

He said the proposal has made a lot of progress but is still far from completion.

“It is not quick and easy,” Bowman said.

THREE SITES

Camp Gabriels, a former minimum security prison in the Town of Brighton’s Gabriels hamlet in Franklin County, is under consideration as a possible location. Also under consideration are a parcel in Schuyler Falls and property owned by the Macdonough family on Cumberland Head.

The sites were selected by an advisory committee, comprised of Bowman and representatives of other veterans’ organizations, for their accessibility and their links to military history.

The site on Cumberland Head is associated with the 1814 Battle of Plattsburgh. The one in Schuyler Falls, near Macomb Park, was part of a military training site in the 1930s but is now state-owned forestland administered by the Department of Environmental Conservation.

YEARS AWAY

Bowman said the obstacles to a new state cemetery lay in Albany, and he is concerned the political climate there will cause the project to take even longer than it should.

He estimated that, even if the site were already selected, all the necessary legislation passed to allow grant application to the Department of Veterans Affairs and that application were submitted, it would still take 10 years before construction on the site could begin. 

Bowman explained that Veterans Affairs only constructs a few cemeteries each year, and the wait for approved projects can be lengthy.

Both Assemblywoman Janet Duprey and State Sen. Betty Little have said they support the project, but Bowman said not everyone in Albany is as supportive.

OATH UNFULFILLED

The project is personally important to him, for though his will says he wants to be laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C., he would prefer burial in the North Country.

If a cemetery here isn’t approved, Morse and many other veterans would be kept from having their wishes honored by a country they fought to protect.

Bowman said he knew many veterans, including his predecessor Warren Manor, who died before they could be buried in a place that honored their service. That’s sad, he said, for when those in the military take their oaths to serve the United States, the country also makes an oath to them.

“Part of that oath is that Uncle Sam would take care of us for a lifetime.”