August 4, 2009
Errors hamper efforts to track lives of Korean War dead

Bob Baird
Journal News columnist

It's beginning to look as if members of the Korean War Veterans Eagle Chapter are getting some help developing the stories of the 27 men from Rockland who lost their lives in what's been known as "the forgotten war."

As I reported here a few weeks back, many of those whose names are enshrined on the Korean War monument at Gary Onderdonk Rockland Veterans Cemetery at Rockland Community College have been swallowed by time, their lives becoming a blur in the passing years and decades.

The veterans were planning their annual memorial service marking the anniversary of the war's end when I wrote about their desire to learn more about the 27 men they honor each July.

Chapter President Dan Zevola had written us, hoping the newspaper could help find siblings or other relatives, friends or co-workers who might be able to provide information about the men's lives before they went off to war. They hoped to learn where they grew up, went to school and if they had been working before enlisting or getting drafted. They hoped to learn about family who might still be in the area.

The goal for next July is to match a life to each name on the RCC monument, to be able to tell their stories and preserve their memory.

Zevola says Eagle Chapter member Bob Frankl started getting calls right after my column was printed. Frankl, he says, was getting little bits of information that might lead to other sources.

One of the problems, as I pointed out, is that there's some uncertainty about the spelling of some names on the RCC memorial and the list Zevola provided us.

Almost nothing is known about five of the 21 men on the monument and there's some concern that part of the problem may be that their names haven't been spelled correctly over the past half-century.

One possible example is Alex Hirschberger, whose hometown is unknown. Several listings of Korean War dead on the Internet fail to clear that up, and add to the mystery by listing his first name as Axel.

References on the Internet to Stanley Tyrrell list his hometown as Suffern, but spell his name with just one "r".

Turns out the "rr" spelling was correct, based on correspondence from Stanley Tyrrell's family back in the 1990s, when Rockland's Director of Veterans Services Jerry Donnellan first started researching the 27 men.

An e-mail following my column confirmed the spelling, when Tyrrell's niece wanted to know if the veterans knew her uncle's story. "We were disappointed to find no mention of my father's twin brother Stanley," Cathy Tyrrell wrote, adding, "We wondered if this was because you could not include all who are listed on the memorials or if the Korean War Vets are lacking information on Stanley."

Indeed, I had concentrated on those whose lives were a mystery, which isn't the case with her relative, thanks to a packet the family sent Donnellan almost 20 years ago. It included not only personal information, but copies of letters Tyrrell wrote home shortly before he died in Korea on Feb. 6, 1951. According to Cathy Tyrrell, that was "one day after being wounded in only his second fight with the enemy." Had he survived, she says, he would have turned 80 on Sept. 22, along with his twin brother, Harry - her father.

One relative who contacted me and the veterans wasn't happy - with good cause.

Michael Nemeth of Stony Point was upset that the name of John R. Mackey had been misspelled in the list that accompanied my column.

Problem is, that wasn't the first time.

My associate, reporter Ben Rubin, learned about the spelling error when he covered the July 26 memorial service.

Returning to the office, he looked through our digital archives to find that we first published the error in 2003. It was later corrected, but when other reporters in other years went looking for the list, they copied the one containing the error. That's what I did when I used the listing with my July 19 column.

Ironically, in the column, I wrote about how there might be issues with some of the spellings passed down over five decades, little realizing we were contributing to the problem.

Speaking with Nemeth, I learned that Mackey had grown up in West Haverstraw, where a street was named in his honor after his death in Korea.

He was the son of Griff W. and Elizabeth Mackey. He was one of seven children and had three brothers, Bill, Homer and Ernest, and three sisters, Margaret, Mary and Elizabeth.

He attended Haverstraw High School, in the building that now houses Haverstraw Middle School, and was employed at the dye factory in Garnerville before entering the Army.

According to information available on several Internet listings of Korean War dead, Pfc. John Richard Mackey was serving near Tun-gi, South Korea, on June 23, 1952, when he "died of other causes."

The "other causes," Nemeth says, was a gunshot to the head by another member of his unit.

That individual, a conscientious objector, snapped and shot Mackey dead in front of an officer, says Nemeth, who adds that the incident was later the subject of a book.

Nemeth's mother, Elizabeth, is 87 and is Mackey's last living sibling.

After he read my earlier column, I also heard from David Shea of Stony Point, who said two of the 27 men grew up in New City.

He couldn't offer much more about Robert Laydon than that he lived in the Lake Lucille area.

But when it came to Charles Horn, Shea had a bit more information. Although Shea, a World War II Army veteran, was older, his younger brothers were Horn's buddies. They all fished together often, Shea says.

Horn grew up on South Main Street, in a house opposite the old Friendly's restaurant location.

As a young boy, Horn was the bat boy for the New City Farmers baseball team, which in the 1940s and '50s was made up of older teens and adults. Later, he played for the team, Shea says.

Horn was serving with Company G, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines when he was killed in action on Nov. 19, 1952.

Shea believes Horn is buried in Germonds Presbyterian Church Cemetery, off Germonds Road.

Before going off to war, Shea says, "I don't think Charlie was ever out of New City before."
Additional Facts
Korean War dead

Servicemen from Rockland who gave their lives in the Korean War are: Bruno Ablondi, Ira Augenblick, Philip T. Baker, Robert A. Brown, Louis Caputo, Sam J. Cervene, Henry William Cook Jr., Samuel W. De Freese, Roland DeGroat, Harold M. Diederich, Louis S. Duhaime, Peter D. Freytag, Raymond Flotard, William Herring, Alex Hirschberger, Charles Horn, Gregory Keenan, Robert Laydon, William H. Lucas, John R. Mackey, William McDade, Edmund McGrath, Norman P. North, James P. Osborne, James N. Smith, Stanley Tyrrell and William Van Dunk.