Memorial Day , 2006
Memorial Circle • Belle Harbor, Rockaway, New York

Mary Ruth Thier Klimow

I have a story about spelling last names, and modern technology:

When my mother got the telegram about my father, we were living in Belle Harbor, NY, a section of Rockaway Beach, Queens. The Rockaway peninsula juts off Long Island near JFK. Planes landing at and taking off fly over Rockaway. My mother and father were Brooklyn born and bred, but we moved to nearby Rockaway for the fresh ocean air recommended for my allergies.

In 1946 or 47, I had planted a tree for my father in what was to become a Memorial Circle
in the middle of Belle Harbor. I had not been back there since we left in 1948.  

On a visit to the New York area in late summer 2005, we needed a car to drive to the site of a family wedding. I knew there would be lots of time on Sunday before turning in the car, and it seemed like a good time for a return visit to Rockaway, it being so close to the airport. My husband was agreeable, and, although I had the street location of the Memorial, I did not know where it was, exactly. We found it easily. There was a monument in the center with 17 now mature trees forming a circle cut in the middle by the street; each tree represented a WWII casualty from Rockaway. I walked up to the tree nearest the car, and the bronze plaque beneath it took my breath away. We parked right at my father's tree. When I regained my composure, I noticed that my father's last name, Thier, was misspelled as Their (which was common all my life), the middle initial was wrong (L instead of J), and, the date of death was wrong. At that point, I knew I was sent there for a reason.

During the long flight back to CA, I had time to think through my course of action to have the plaque replaced with a correct one. It began with writing a letter to the New York City Councilman for that area of Queens. I received a quick response from a woman in his office who was already contacting the local Veterans groups who maintained the Memorial. The procedure then stalled for several months because the American Legion post had been closed and the Memorial turned over to another veterans group, and the man in charge of the Memorial had to be found. A few weeks went by without word until I heard from the President of the local Garden Club. The Garden Club ladies plant the flowers and physically maintain the Memorial because the veterans are too old for the heavy work; but the Garden Club did not have the funds to pay for a new plaque, and neither did the veterans. I sent a message that I was willing to pay for the replacement and then things moved swiftly. I was contacted by the foundry that made the incorrect plaque which replaced the original plaque which had been taken, along with some of the others, many years ago. The veterans had to rely on sketchy records, and old memories to replace the ones missing. Unfortunately, we had no family in the area they could contact.

I was invited to be the guest of honor at the 2006 Annual Memorial Day parade to place the wreath on the main monument and to unveil the new plaque under my father's tree. It was a beautiful warm sunny day, American flags were everywhere, including by each tree plaque. At the end of his introduction, the most recent Commander of the American Legion Post, finished with "welcome home, Mary," which brought tears to my eyes, and I felt I was home, again. After I had laid the wreath, everyone applauded and cheered and people came over and thanked me for being there, and for my father's sacrifice.

I felt like it was his homecoming too, long overdue. I knew he would be proud.
One glitch on this wonderful, old fashioned event; the last name was still misspelled on the new plaque!

By the time I called the foundry the next day, they already knew of the mistake, and had the reason for it. The lettering was set by computer, and their computer, like mine, will automatically correct "Thier" to "Their," and no one proof read carefully enough to pick it up. Within a few days, the plaque was changed again, and my new friends in Belle Harbor emailed that the correction was made. My job was done, but I still have to manually correct the spelling of my maiden name.

To see a tribute to 1LT Joseph Jerome Thier, Click Here!

2011 Update:

On Sunday, March 13, 2011, as promised, AWONer Joan Murry Marlow, of Larchmont,
Long Island, New York drove to the Memorial Circle in Rockaway -- and sent this confirming
photo to Mary. Having come full circle -- 1LT Joseph J. Thier -- thanks to his daughter,
is now correctly and permanently remembered for his service and sacrifice in WWII.

The Photos above were submitted with thanks to Mary Ruth Thier Klimow
and Joan Murray Marlow; and with thanks to Google Earth for the maps of the area.