September 14, 1988 The Reveille

Bill Russell looked around the courtyard of the crumbling old Navy brig at Sampson State Park Saturday morning and said, "You know, we could hold the whole reunion right here if we could get the place preserved and fixed up."

Russell - President William R. Russell of the Sampson WW-II Navy Veterans - was talking about the year-old organization of boots - trainees - who went through the old Sampson Naval Training Station during World War II; and its campaign to influence the state and federal governments to convert the old fence-enclosed Navy jail into a memorial library, museum and gathering place.

He said thus far state legislators have not responded to the organization's inquiries, but when Finger Lakes Parks Commissioner Andrew Mazella spoke to the group at its reunion gathering Saturday morning in the Park Headquarters, he called the weekend "a sentimental journey" and urged the Old Boots not to stop with state lawgivers, but to take "The Battle For the Brig" to state and national representatives in their home states.

He observed that a half-million dollar effort would be needed to put the hollow square building back into occupyable condition, and said that while the battle was being fought very well at the moment, he hoped "you'll go home refreshed to continue the battle ... I know you will be successful."

Also supporting the effort is the Sampson State Park Superintendent Wally Dreher.

What Russell, of Corryton, Tenn., saw as he looked around the tree- and brush-invaded courtyard and the mouldering cell blocks and halls was a building housing memorabilia and literature of the War Years at Sampson, things collected from the rapidly-growing membership of the organization. The tally passed the 900 mark at reunion time this year and is expected to hit 3000 by the third reunion, scheduled for mid-September, 1989.

He saw a cleared and resurfaced courtyard surrounded by cleaned and reappointed assembly halls suitable for a large gathering, suitable for the functions of the organization, in future years. He envisioned restoration of one cell block to retain some essence of the building's original use.

"I can't understand the seeming disinterest of the state legislators," he said, declaring that the reunion and the historic and memorial significance of the building would bring thousands of people to the area every year, enhancing the local economy.

Support has come from the Seneca County Board of Supervisors, which earlier this summer passed a resolution supporting the brig restoration project, and represented at the reunion by Board Chairman Edwin G. Nelson. Nelson also is a member of the organization, having trained at Sampson during the war.

Assemblyman Michael f. Nozzolio told The Reveille Tuesday that he had been contacted by Barny Olschewske of Seneca Falls, Region 1 director, and that he stood "ready, willing and able to help this organization in any possible. They have come to me and asked for assistance, but we're waiting for specific cost estimates and proposals.

Photo at right>

SHARING REMINISCENCES with Anthropologist Louise Krasznowicz of Albany, who says she guesses she's a mascot of the group, are officers of the Sampson WW-2 Veterans who reunited last weekend for the second time at the Waterloo VFW Post and Sampson State Park. Krasznowicz, who was doing a study here last year when the first reunion was held, attended out of curiosity, made fast friends with some of the Old Boots and was an invited guest this year.

Her companions are Treasurer Paul McKee, of Medina, President William Russell of Corryton, Tenn., Division 1 Director Barney Olschewske of Seneca Falls and Area Representative Mike Yaremchuck of Weedsport.

SEZ IT ALL - The T-shirt worn by Don Hetler of Berwick, Pa., tells you where it's at when the Sampson WW-2 Navy Veterans get together at their early 1940s training site

"The Sampson development during World War II touched virtually every family in Seneca County and environs, and it's an important part of our historical past which deserves recognition. It would be a fitting memorial to those who served at Sampson."

Russell said that among the significant things coming out of the reunion and board and general membership meetings was approval of the by-laws with inclusion of a clause creating associate membership status available to any spouse or bloodline relative of a Sampson recruit, special trainee or member of its ship's company.

Also approved were sustaining memberships for other Navy veterans, of World War II, Korea and Vietnam.\

Both the Sampson group and the membership of the other categories, he said, are being encouraged to form auxiliaries, and he said he expected the first to be located at Waterloo Memorial Post 6433, Veterans of Foreign Wars, which has hosted the two reunions.

Also speaking at the gathering Saturday at Sampson were Capt. Leonard J. Zavada of Wyoming, Pa., a Sampson boot who made a career of the Navy and rose through the ranks to retire at his present rank; and Master Chief Dominick J. Cerra, ret., of Dunmore, Pa. Several other top non-coms and officers were recognized.

Speaking at the Saturday night banquet at the VFW was Rear Admiral M. W. Leukhardt, of the Naval Reserve Readiness Command in Scotia. Also present were Loretta Gleason of Rochester, who trained at Sampson as a nurse and retired as a lieutenant commander in the Navy Nursing Corps. and, said Russell, "some fellows with incredible battle records. They're just a great bunch of Americans."