More than six decades after West New York resident Joseph R. Lauria died serving his country during the Battle of St. Lo, in Normandy, France in 1944, his name finally appears on the local World War II Memorial at 428 60th St.
Lauria’s niece, Claire Hansen, and her husband, John, along with niece Patricia McKeon and nephew Joseph P. Smith, joined Mayor Silverio “Sal” Vega and Commissioner Michelle Fernandez-Lopez for the official presentation of the revised plaque on Tuesday, Aug. 5.
That date also marks the birthday of Lauria’s late mother, Clara Lauria, who never recovered from her son’s death, according to Claire Hansen.
“The mayor asked us if there was a special day that we wanted,” said Claire Hansen. “We thought it would be fitting if it were her birthday.”
At first, the plaque did not list Lauria’s name, because when he was drafted, he was registered as a resident of Hudson County and not specifically West New York. The plaque included the names of local heroes, and Lauria’s was not one of them.
“He gave the ultimate sacrifice, and he was not given the honor,” said Claire Hansen last week.
Claire Hansen said her grandmother was saddened every time she passed the memorial because she knew her son’s name was not there.
“We thought his name should be up there,” said John Hansen.
Proof of residency
John Hansen spent eight months researching military records, now available by the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and collecting proof that Lauria was in fact a resident of West New York.
“I got all the evidence together, and I called the town,” said John Hansen. “I spoke to some people in the mayor’s office, and I spoke to the mayor himself, and they said, ‘Sure, his name should be there and it will be there.’ ”
“It was a wonderful ceremony,” said Claire Hansen. “Everyone was so gracious and sincerely interested in having it done.”
Claire added that the family members who have since passed would have appreciated the ceremony. “We know they are all smiling,” she said.
Due to a lack of space in the column with the other names, Lauria’s name now holds a prominent place on the border of the plaque.
“His name stands out now,” said Claire Hansen. “He was last, but now he is first.”
“The other names are people that he knew,” said John Hansen. “He is now among his friends.”
Went to war at 19
Lauria was born and raised in West New York, where he attended Public School No. 1 and Memorial High School.
After he left for war at the age of 19, his mother wrote to him every day. After he died, her letters and letters from other family members were returned to her with the stamp “KIA” for “killed in action.”
“I have sat here and cried reading those letters, and I can’t just read them,” said Claire Hansen. “I have a very vivid imagination, and I am able to envision how that whole experience was.”
She added, “We have always heard stories about him, his personality, how alive he was, what a good worker he was as a little kid.”
The rosary he wore during the war was also returned to the family.
After Lauria’s death, his mother joined the American Gold Star Mothers, a volunteer organization for women of fallen soldiers that began in the wake of WWI by Grace Darling Seibold.
“She was so proud to be a part of that, and of course, so sad to be a part of that,” said Claire Hansen.
Lauria was initially buried in France, but the government later gave families of the fallen the option of having the deceased returned home.
His mother decided that his rightful resting place should be Flower Hill Cemetery in North Bergen, where the Aug. 5 ceremony concluded.
“I have sat here and cried reading those letters, and I can’t just read them.” – Claire Hansen