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May 22, 2012 5:40 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Two Fallen Service Members Join Vets Hall Of Fame

May 22, 2012 7:01 PM

When JoAnn Lyles was a little girl dressed in her Girl Scout or color guard uniform on Memorial Day, her childlike perspective led her to believe that the holiday paying tribute to the fallen of all the nation’s wars was all about the elderly.

“It’s always hard. It brings up memories, but it makes me realize how naive I was as a young child,” the Sag Harbor resident, 55, and now the mother of a fallen Marine, reflected on Memorial Day’s approach. “When you’re little, you’re thinking everybody’s old. I just always thought it was the old people who died.”

She paused. “And now I know all too well.”

More than four years have now elapsed since Ms. Lyles’s son, U.S. Marine Lance Corporal Jordan Haerter, died on April 22, 2008, early in his first tour of duty in Iraq, when an explosives-laden truck barreled toward his post guarding a barracks filled with other American troops, and exploded. He was 19 years old.

The young boy who grew up favoring Newsweek magazine over comic books, who loved online computer games, paintball and four-wheeling on the dirt section of Sag Harbor’s Division Street, the Pierson High School graduate who dreamed of becoming a police officer on either the Sag Harbor Village or Southampton Town forces, instead became the first Sag Harbor soldier to die in combat since World War II.

He and fellow Marine Jonathan T. Yale were standing guard that morning. When the truck kept accelerating, the pair opened fire, until a 2,000-pound blast claimed their lives. Military officials said at the time that his actions, which resulted in the early detonation of the bomb, saved the lives of dozens of Marines and Iraqi police and hundreds of Iraqi civilians inside the barracks.

About two years later, on June 4, 2010, another young East End man, U.S. Army 1st Lieutenant Joseph Theinert, was killed in action in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan. The 24-year-old from Shelter Island was leading a platoon of 20 soldiers on a mission when they had to regroup after coming under hostile fire from rocket-propelled grenades. Lt. Theinert disabled an explosive and started to disarm another when its trigger mechanism sounded, indicating it was about to detonate. He warned the soldiers under his command, who were able to get away. Only Lt. Theinert was killed in the blast.

With Memorial Day 2012 coming up on Monday, parades, tributes, moments of silence, and plenty of stars and stripes and red, white and blue the nation over will memorialize the sacrifices of those in uniform, including the two local young men—who, just this week, received another special honor for their sacrifices overseas.

The pair were posthumously inducted into the New York State Senate Veterans Hall of Fame in a ceremony held in Albany on Tuesday, an event to which Ms. Lyles and Lt. Theinert’s mother, Chrystyna Kestler, traveled together.

“Joe Theinert and Jordan Haerter are true heroes who gave their lives protecting the freedoms we treasure,” State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle, who nominated the pair, said in a statement released by his office. “They should be recognized and commended by our state and community.”

In pre-Memorial Day interviews, the families of Lance Cpl. Haerter and Lt. Theinert reflected on how life has changed in the years since those fateful days in 2008 and 2010.

“I think, for anybody who has lost a child to war, I think every day is Memorial Day,” said Lance Cpl. Haerter’s father, Christian Haerter. “On Memorial Day, I don’t just think of Jordan, I think of everybody who gave their life for our freedoms.” He added, “There’s not a day that goes by when I don’t think of Jordan. It doesn’t hurt any more, or any less.”

Lance Cpl. Haerter’s parents both spoke of involving themselves deeply with foundations set up in their son’s memory. In addition, a scholarship at Pierson High School now goes to students either joining the military or the police force. Soldier Ride cycling events for the Wounded Warrior Project have become a “Team Jordan” tradition.

His paternal grandmother, Lilly Haerter, 84, reminisced this week of how helpful Jordan was when she had to hang her laundry. In the four years since his flag-draped coffin returned to American shores, she has taken many strolls from her Harrison Street home in Sag Harbor to the Oakland Cemetery to “feel close” to him.

“I’ll never forget when he came home in the coffin,” she said. “I had many dreams, many nights when I woke up and tried to touch the coffin. It never lets you go, really. He shouldn’t have gone before me.”

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Thank you for your unselfish sacrifice Jordan, and God Bless you and your parents. My heart goes out to your family, and still hurts tremendously when I think about you.
By marybmary (53), east hampton on May 25, 12 10:05 AM
Thank you for your service and your selfishness you gave to our country, we will never forget you...God bless your family!
By skruel (23), Sag Harbor on May 26, 12 10:42 AM
If the Army and the Navy
Ever look on Heaven's scenes
They will find the streets are guarded
By United States Marines

Semper Fi Marine
By guest (67), Bridgehampton on May 29, 12 2:25 PM
8k run & 3 mile walk, Agawam Park, Southampton Rotary Club fundraiser