‘We Don’t Want A Cemetery’
By Howard Schwach
The three men and one woman sat together in the back of the Beach Club, listening to artists and sculptors talk about their visions for a September 11 memorial to be built in Rockaway. The listened, but their minds were really on another memorial that they would like built in Rockaway, a memorial to the 265 people who died when American Airlines Flight 587 crashed into Belle Harbor on November 12, 2001.
The four, Hector Algarroba, John Brady, James Monte and Belkis Lora, lost a total of six relatives on the plane. They find it hard to understand why some in Rockaway continue to argue that a memorial to those who died on the plane as well as those five local residents who died on the ground should not be built at the site.
"I feel that I am part of this community now," says Hector Algarroba, "I come here to church each Sunday. I lost two of my family here. "I do not want to turn this land into a cemetery, as some believe. I want something for the kids."
Algarroba, who heads the HHS Foundation, an organization that provides sports equipment to the needy children of the Dominican Republic, says that he was "hurt" when nobody from Rockaway, not even the families of the five victims who lived there, came to the dedication of a living memorial that he sponsored in Astoria, on a slope overlooking the East River.
"We have to respect this land," he said, speaking again of the crash site. "It is hallowed ground."
The four have formed a new group, "The 587 Memorial Trust," to "spearhead a way to honor the respect and the dignity of those loved ones who died in the crash."
"We don’t want to ruffle anybody’s feathers," Monte, who lost his sister, 42-year-old Diane Monte on 587, told The Wave. "We have to do something, however, because people will still be coming to that street corner in five years if we do not."
"There is no feeling against building this 9/11 memorial and we don’t believe that there should be any contention about building this memorial either," he added.
"I have always been thankful for the good will and respect we received from this community," Algarroba added. "We don’t want something big or ostentatious. We want a learning center or a park, something for the kids to go to and remember."
Algarroba has asked the Rockaway community to help him in his mission of helping underprivileged kids in Santo Domingo. He asks those with old and unused baseballs, gloves and bats contact him at his website (www.hhsfoundation.homestead.com or at 718-726-3128.
Both the Chamber of Commerce and Congressman Anthony Weiner are reportedly working with the organizations representing the families of the Flight 587 victims.