REAL LIFE STORIES OF LOCAL HEROES WHO WILL BE BURIED AT THE SAMPSON VETERANS MEMORIAL CEMETERY
from Senator Mike Nozzolio
In a few short weeks, a lasting, permanent memorial honoring our Nation’s veterans will be established on the site the former Sampson Naval and Air Force Base where over a million sailors and airmen trained in preparation for battle to defend America.
Saturday, July 30th will mark the official opening of the Sampson Veterans Memorial Cemetery. The cemetery will be a final resting place for veterans who have sacrificed to keep our Nation free.
Heroes don’t strive to become heroes. People are called to heroism, and the heroes are those that answer the call. Every one of the 60 veterans who will first be buried at Sampson answered that call, and all served with honor, dignity and valor. In the days leading up to the cemetery opening, I
would like to share some of their personal narratives of courageous service to our Nation.
The dedication ceremony will take place on Saturday, July 30th at 11:00 a.m. at the Sampson Veterans’ Memorial Cemetery, just south of Sampson State Park along Route 96A in Romulus.
In anticipation of the opening of the Sampson Veterans Memorial Cemetery, I present to you the real life stories of three local heroes who are to be laid to rest on this hallowed ground. Many more narratives of those who will be interned at the cemetery will follow in the days and weeks ahead:
Dana L. West – June 17, 1910 – June 28, 2009
As a Navy veteran who served in World War II, and later a coach, educator
and mentor for more than 30 years, Dana L. West’s dedication to his County
and his community never went unnoticed.
Before he enlisted in the Navy, Dana had a distinguished academic and
athletic career at Cortland State Normal School, where he was Captain of
the football team two years in a row and president of his senior class. His
athleticism and leadership would serve him well in the Navy.
Dana’s time as a petty chief officer and trainer at the former Sampson
Naval Base, now the site of the Sampson Veterans Memorial Cemetery, had a
unique significance in his life. Aside from being the start of his
honorable service to our Nation, Dana’s son Richard was born during the
time he was stationed at Sampson. Richard West would go on to have an
outstanding Navy career of his own, serving proudly in Vietnam and
Operation Desert Storm and attaining the prestigious rank of Rear Admiral.
During World War II, Dana bravely served aboard the destroyer USS Gyatt.
Returning home, he worked to receive his Master’s degree from Syracuse
University and went on to devote his life to educating others. For 36
years, he was a coach, teacher, mentor and later, principal to the students
of the Port Byron School District.
Dana also served as commander of both the Port Byron and Cayuga County
branches of the American Legion, and remained committed to preserving the
legacy of the base where he once trained by becoming a member of the
Sampson World War II Veterans. In addition, he chaired the Cayuga County
United Way and the County’s human services board.
Dana’s loyalty and commitment to his community earned him great respect
from all who knew him. In 1999, after Port Byron had constructed a new high
school, the district sent out a survey about naming the school. The
feedback from the community overwhelmingly supported naming the building
Dana L. West High School.
Dana passed away at the age of 99 on June 28, 2009, surrounded by his
immediate family, including Ruth, his wife of 55 years. He is also survived
by his five children, 11 grandchildren and four great-grandsons. After his
passing, the school which meant so much to him and now bears his name held
a celebration of his life and many accomplishments. Now, only a short
distance away, he will be laid to rest on the hallowed ground where he once
proudly began his military service.
James Vincent Ellis, Jr. – August 13, 1932 to December 9, 2005
James Vincent Ellis, Jr., of Seneca Falls, achieved a degree of distinction
unknown to most. In 1954, after graduating from Niagara University with a
Bachelor’s Degree, James enlisted in the United States Army, fully willing
to sacrifice his own life to preserve our American freedoms.
For twenty years, James dedicated his life to serving and protecting the
citizens of our great Nation, fighting in both the Korean Conflict and the
Vietnam War. James was a highly decorated and respected serviceman,
earning a total of seven medals, including a Bronze Star Medal and an Army
Commendation Medal in recognition of his loyal service. Because of his
hard work, dedication, and exceptional leadership skills, James had a
tremendously successful career in the military, eventually attaining the
prestigious rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
Though James’s public reputation was that of a notable and highly respected
military man, his family remembers him as simply James, Dad, or “Papa”: a
man with a kind smile and a big heart. His granddaughter, Morgan, has fond
memories of her grandfather assembling her toys and presents every
Christmas morning, surrounded by mounds of crumpled wrapping paper and
plenty of good company.
James’s life was anything but ordinary. From the hundreds of men he led
during his service in the Army, to his many friends and family members,
James made an enormous impact on countless individuals’ lives. He will
never be forgotten.
James Vincent Ellis, Jr., a devoted father, husband, and honored Korean and
Vietnam War veteran, passed away on December 9th, 2005 at the age of 73.
James is survived by his wife, Mary, his six children, thirteen
grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.
It is truly an honor to pay tribute to a man who made the most of life’s
abundant opportunities: Mr. James Vincent Ellis, Jr. Colonel. Father.
Charles “Scott” Sampson – February 10,1939 to 2005
Charles “Scott” Sampson was a man of great intellect, integrity, and honor.
A well-rounded and wise individual, Scott was also deeply involved in the
community, and is considered by many as local legend and hero.
In 1963, while Scott was working at the Seneca Army Depot, he was drafted
into the United States Army. While serving in the Army, he travelled the
world to help maintain peace in areas throughout Europe and the Pacific.
He rose to the rank of Sergeant E-5 while in Germany, and worked chiefly in
radio relay and as a carrier operator. His talents and skill earned him
the Good Conduct Medal. In 1965, Scott left active duty and enlisted in
the United States Army Reserves, in which he served until 1969 when he was
Scott returned to Seneca Army Depot and worked as the Education Director
until his retirement in 1993. Always one to keep himself busy, he served
as a United States Deputy Game Warden for 10 years while at the Depot, a
position which, as an avid hunter and fisherman, gave him great
satisfaction and fulfillment. He also worked as a State Hunter Safety
Instructor for over 45 years.
Scott’s legacy is perhaps best defined by his enormous contributions to
numerous regional publications like Field and Stream, New York Sportsman,
Finger Lakes Sportsman, and the Finger Lakes Times. A true scholar, Scott
penned his own fishing guide, Good Fishing in Western New York.
Greatness seems to run in the Sampson family. Scott was believed to be
related Rear Admiral William T. Sampson, the American patriot and hero of
the Spanish-American War, for whom the Sampson Naval and Air Force Base and
the cemetery where he will now be laid to rest are named. It is truly an
honor to recognize his descendent, Scott Sampson, a man whose legacy, both
familial and personal, is so deeply ingrained in our region.
Clinton C. “Sonny” Van Gelder – October 13, 1932 to January 22, 2011
Clinton “Sonny” Van Gelder was a dedicated American serviceman who
represented his Country with distinction and honor. As a U.S. Air Force
Veteran who trained at the Sampson Air Force Base, he will be laid to rest
on the very ground where he trained 59 years ago.
Growing up in Geneva as World War II was raging overseas, Sonny learned
about patriotism and sacrifice during one of the most difficult times in
our country’s history. With the start of the Korean War in 1950, the United
States once again found itself in an armed conflict, fighting for global
freedom and democracy.
Sonny soon heard the call, and enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 1952. He
would be one of more than 250,000 airmen who would be trained at the
Sampson Air Force Base. He would always remember his basic training at
Sampson, and the base itself as a symbol of his service to our Nation.
Sonny would serve throughout the Korean conflict until 1956, when he was
honorably discharged from Loring Air Force Base in Maine. After his
discharge from the Air Force, Sonny remained a proud veteran and a life
member of the American Legion. He also had a successful 31-year career at
the Willard Psychiatric Center, and was a familiar face to students of the
South Seneca Schools as a bus driver for the district.
Sonny passed away on January 22, 2010 at the age of 77. He is survived by
his wife Eva Van Gelder; step-sons James and Jeffery Matthys; stepdaughters
Deborah Watkins, Charyl Whitcomb and Penny Williamson; sister, Norma
Litzenberger; eight step-grandchildren; nine step-great-grandchildren and
many nieces and nephews