World War II Hero's Name Corrected
Deeds, not stones, are the true monuments of the great. John L. Motley
For decades, Lieutenant Joseph J. Thier's courageous efforts during World War II were recorded inaccurately. His name, affixed to a plaque at Memorial Circle in Rockaway Park, was changed slightly by human error. But because of his daughter's love and determination, the misspelling and other discrepancies will finally be righted.
Joseph Jerome Thier was born on April 26, 1911 in Brooklyn. Of Franco-German and Irish descent, Thier enlisted as a volunteer for military service for the Army in 1940, hoping to fight against the Nazis. Scheduled for discharge on December 10, 1941, Thier had to continue his service after the Pearl Harbor attacks on December 7, 1941 that devastated the country in both spirit and human life. He married his wife, Gertrude, at St. Ambrose Roman Catholic Church in Brooklyn on December 21, 1941, and was immediately sent for Officer's Training. The couple traveled together to his next location, the Army's headquarters in San Francisco, before Thier requested combat duty and was assigned to the 1st Infantry Regiment, 6th Army Infantry Division, M Company, in the Pacific Theater under General Douglas MacArthur. He saw action on other islands, such as New Guinea, where American casualties were heavy, before being shipped out to the Phillipine Islands. Thier was killed in action there, on the island of Luzon, on January 17, 1945, six months before the end of the war.
Mary Ruth Thier Klimow never met her father. Born in Brooklyn on August 19, 1943, she moved with her mother and grandmother to Beach 124 Street in Belle Harbor. Her mother worked in Manhattan to make ends meet as her father was fighting thousands of miles away. As a child, Klimow would map out the Pacific battles her father faced as a way to feel connected to him. It was difficult for Klimow, as she searched to find a bond with the father she never had a chance to meet.
When she was older, Klimow decided to find out more about her father and the time he spent in the military. In 1991, she joined AWON, the American World War II Orphans Network, and got in touch with men that served in her father's unit.
Eighteen out of the 19 men she contacted wrote back, relaying stories about their respect and admiration for her father.
After her father's death in 1945, the family stayed in the neighborhood for a couple of years, where Klimow attended kindergarten at St. Francis de Sales School, before moving off the peninsula. Klimow's mother was devastated and never wanted to return to the Rockaways and the memories it held.
It was here that Klimow's mother received the telegram that told of her husband's death. "It was so painful for my mother. She never went back," Klimow said. It was only recently, when she returned to the area for a wedding in June of 2005, that she made a quick detour to Rockaway before boarding a homebound flight from JFK Airport to California.
Klimow knew about the memorial tree planted in her father's honor on Beach 121 Street. "I have vague memories of planting a tree," she said. What she didn't expect to find was a slight misspelling in the plaque, and the wrong date of death and branch of service for Lt. Thier.
After going through her mother's personal belongings after her death in 1995, Klimow noticed a slight error made on the American Legion Gold Star Certificate, issued on June 15, 1945 for Lt. Thier. Given to her mother by the Daniel M. O'Connell Post 272 of the American Legion in Rockaway Beach, Lt. Thier's middle initial was an "L" instead of a "J" for Jerome on the certificate.
A slight error, the misspelling was never rectified, and stayed on record, winding up on the Memorial Circle plaque in his honor. Klimow is unsure how her father's date of death and military branch of service was wrongly documented.
Klimow turned to the Rockaway community to support her efforts in changing her father's plaque. Sandee Doremus, from Councilman Joseph Addabbo's Office, and Maureen Walsh, a perpetual advocate of Memorial Circle who aided in the restoration of the memorial a few years prior, are helping Klimow right the wrong. Walsh has volunteered to handle the plaque replacement, which will hopefully be fixed in time for this year's Memorial Day Parade.
Klimow, who said she "always had a soft spot for Rockaway, and the fond memories of it," is forever grateful to members of the community who have helped her change her father's plaque, and who understood how important the issue was to Klimow. "It encourages your faith in human nature, and the kindness of strangers."